10 best NFL free agents in 2023 and are they a fit with 49ers?
By Peter Panacy
Niner Noise explores the 10 best-ranked players in NFL free agency and determines whether or not they’d be a great fit with the 49ers in 2023.
The San Francisco 49ers would love to be aggressive in NFL free agency this offseason. After all, having come up short and losing in back-to-back NFC Championship games, it might take only a handful of top-end players to push head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad over the top.
However, aggressiveness on the open market won’t come easily. According to Over the Cap, the Niners are armed with just over $6.6 million in salary cap space, currently.
Barring some serious roster jockeying, San Francisco simply won’t be able to afford some of the big-name players out there.
That said, player markets can be strange. A player who is believed to command top dollar might not wind up with a major market. Teams also find ways to create cap space, too, and the 49ers have been no strangers to that process in previous years.
So, with all that as a backdrop, would the 49ers wind up being a good fit for some of the best free agents available heading into 2023?
Niner Noise takes a look.
Top 10 NFL free agents ranked, would they fit in with 49ers in 2023?
Top-10 lists of almost anything can be subjective, and Pro Football Focus’ list of the 10 best free agents entering 2023 comes with a couple of head-scratchers, too, including Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith being ranked No. 2.
Smith is re-signed, so he’ll be off the list for our purposes. But, using PFF’s breakdown, let’s see how each of the remaining top 10 would fit in with the Niners, if at all.
No. 1: QB Lamar Jackson, Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, which means other teams can still make offers. Baltimore can either match those offers, or the other signing team has to dish out draft compensation, a minimum of two first-round picks, and the bidding only starts there and could lead to a sign-and-trade scenario.
Jackson would be a phenomenal addition to a run-first offense under Shanahan. The 2019 NFL MVP would also have incredible offensive weaponry around him, too, including All-Pros in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey.
Read More: Lamar Jackson to 49ers would be cool, but it isn’t happening
However, San Francisco doesn’t have a first- or second-round pick in this year’s draft, and it wouldn’t have anything close to the financial compensation Jackson will get.
No. 2: DT Javon Hargrave, Eagles
The 49ers found out just how good that Philadelphia Eagles defensive line was in the NFC Championship game last January, and the Niners have always put an emphasis on having that kind of D-line themselves, too.
Arik Armstead spent the bulk of 2022 dealing with foot and ankle injuries, while fellow defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was also injured and has been a notable disappointment since being selected in Round 1 back in 2020.
Hargrave, 30 years old, can play a number of different spots and would fit in a variety of fronts.
While expensive, interior linemen don’t cost as much as edge rushers, and the Niners have a need to reinforce the middle of their D-line. He’d fit nicely.
No. 3: S Jessie Bates, Bengals
Jessie Bates has been a commonly discussed free agent in San Francisco offseason talk, and the 49ers may lose Jimmie Ward and Tashaun Gipson this offseason anyway.
Bates is extremely reliable and has an excellent track record when it comes to health, and the Niners may seek that instead of retaining Ward, their longest-tenured player who also has a bit of an injury reputation.
With four interceptions and an 86.1 passer rating allowed, the 26-year-old Bates could be one of San Francisco’s bigger offseason free-agent targets.
No. 4: CB Jamel Dean, Buccaneers
The 49ers’ secondary could be in for some serious changes this offseason with Ward and Gipson possibly leaving, and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley could be on the move, too. He’s already coming off a torn ACL, and while the Niners would like to re-sign him, taking a chance on an upgrade might be what San Francisco has in mind.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not be in serious salary-cap hell, but they’re still over the mark by $5.6 million, and that means cornerback Jamel Dean is likely to hit the market.
Dean, 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, would be a solid pickup to replace Moseley, especially if new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks wants to implement more press-man coverage in the 49ers’ defensive backfield.
No. 5: LB Lavonte David, Buccaneers
It’ll be weird seeing veteran linebacker Lavonte David in anything but a Bucs uniform in 2023, but that appears to be where he’s headed.
David would be an upgrade at the position for almost any team, and one could make the argument that the Niners would benefit from having him alongside fellow All-Pro backer Fred Warner.
Despite David being well on the wrong side of 30 years old, he’ll still command top dollar on the open market, and San Francisco would be wasting financial resources on him while also knowing it has money invested in another solid linebacker in Dre Greenlaw.
Simply put, the 49ers are good here and don’t need David.
No. 6: WR Jakobi Myers, Patriots
At some point, the Niners aren’t going to be able to retain both Samuel and fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk. And they certainly won’t be able to bring aboard another pass catcher who’d be a WR1 on most teams.
In San Francisco’s case, New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Myers would probably be WR3 behind Aiyuk and Samuel.
That said, Myers operating out of the slot would make the 49ers offense that much more explosive, and it’d free up both Aiyuk and Samuel to a great extent.
It’s extremely doubtful the Niners would go after the former undrafted free agent out of NC State, but he would make Shanahan’s offense better.
No. 7: OT Orlando Brown, Chiefs
San Francisco does have a pressing need at right tackle with Mike McGlinchey poised to depart via NFL free agency, and it doesn’t appear as if the 49ers will make much of an attempt to re-sign him.
The Niners did extend backup tackle Colton McKivitz on the dawn of the league new year, but his ceiling is little more than a fill-in starter for a season or two, not a long-term answer who’d help solve the needs at right tackle.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ Orlando Brown is and wants to stay a left tackle, and San Francisco already has the best one in the game, Trent Williams, locked into that spot.
No fit here of which to speak.
No. 8: OT Mike McGlinchey, 49ers
The next players on PFF’s list were the Washington Commanders’ Daron Payne (franchise tagged) and the Las Vegas Raiders’ Derek Carr (released and signed with Saints), which leads to McGlinchey.
Is McGlinchey a fit with the 49ers? Yes, of course, he is. He played there for the last five years.
While there is no shortage of critics, McGlinchey will be a difficult player for the Niners to replace this offseason, and he essentially priced himself out of San Francisco’s comfort range anyway.
No. 9: CB James Bradberry, Eagles
There’s a run of running backs on PFF’s list after McGlinchey, and the Raiders and New York Giants already franchise-tagged Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley, respectively, while quarterback Daniel Jones got his lucrative new contract from the G-Men.
So, how about Philly cornerback James Bradberry?
Bradberry isn’t a fit for one key reason, and that’s what Samuel said about him between the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
Unless you’re a fan of drama, it’d probably be smart for the 49ers to hold off on this particular cornerback.
No. 10: OT Jawaan Taylor, Jaguars
If the Niners can’t re-sign McGlinchey, going after Jacksonville Jaguars right tackle Jawaan Taylor would be an excellent alternative option.
Taylor, who is both younger and potentially cheaper than McGlinchey, might not be quite as elite in run blocking as McGlinchey. But the former is notably better in pass protection, and San Francisco needs to improve that side of the O-line anyway.
In terms of scheme fit, the 25-year-old Taylor should grasp what Shanahan’s outside-zone system does with relative ease, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the 49ers made Taylor one of their bigger free-agent priorities along with trying to lure in Bates from Cincinnati.
NFL free agency officially begins on March 15.