NFL free agency: The biggest swing 49ers could take at linebacker

The 49ers may choose to reunite with a familiar face to reinforce their embattled linebacker group heading into 2024.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

Perhaps the biggest in-house name for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, at least in terms of the dollar amount, is edge Randy Gregory. At 6-foot 5 inches and 242-pounds, this athlete is looking for a new contract among other free agents for 2024.

The 31-year-old defender tallied 2.5 sacks last year in the 12 games he played (starting in all but one of those contests). He made $14.3 million in 2023, split between the Niners and Denver Broncos, according to Over the Cap.

Letting Gregory go and signing a different (but familiar) free agent will be cost effective in addition to the potential that it is more productive, as well.

Despite the estimated $10.6 million extra in salary cap heading into the new season for each NFL team to operate under, the 49ers do not have a surplus of funds at their disposal.

Welcome back, Azeez Al-Shaair!

49ers should aim for a free-agent reunion with Azeez Al-Shaair

The linebacker is now a free agent after finishing the 2023 season for the Tennessee Titans. Fellow linebacker Fred Warner would be excited to have his former teammate again, and Al-Shaair can help guard against what could be a lengthy recovery for Dre Greenlaw, the Niners' No. 2 linebacker who suffered a serious Achilles injury in the Super Bowl that could hinder his availability for the upcoming 2024 season.

Al-Shaair previously played for San Francisco for four years, starting in 2019. He is arguably coming off his best season with 163 tackles, a pair of sacks and four pass deflections.

Having played under head coach Kyle Shanahan before, Al-Shaair will serve as an athletic and versatile asset for first-year defensive coordinator Nick Sorenson.

The five-year veteran out of FAU could command a deal worth four years and about $35 million. That averages out to be $8.75 million a season.

That number is almost $4 million more a year than last year's pay for Al-Shaair and is still more than $5 million less a year than what Gregory made in 2023. This contract helps the Niners' attempts to stay under the salary cap of $255.4 million.

A player missing out on the postseason after being accustomed to appearing in it can leave him hungry. San Francisco's sight and reach for the Super Bowl could feed the appetitte of Al-Shaair, making him an affordable lockup.

Just a few points away in both regulation and overtime, the 49ers fell that short of winning a sixth Super Bowl. After their second appearance in the past four seasons, the NFC champions look to return to the NFL's grandest of stages in 2024.

A key signing such as Al-Shaair can help the 49ers continue with their championship aspirations next year and beyond.

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