49ers' free agency picture by position, need two days into negotiation period

Matt Maiocco
NBC Sports BayArea

49ers' free agency picture by position, need two days into negotiation period originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

The 49ers no longer have a need at inside linebacker after one-plus days of the NFL's open negotiating period.

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But all of the other spots where the 49ers need reinforcements remain unchanged. And, in some cases, there are not any realistic, impactful options available on the free-agent market at positions of need.

The 49ers zeroed in on Tampa Bay free-agent linebacker Kwon Alexander on Monday and agreed to sign him to a four-year, $54 million contract to work alongside Fred Warner.

The 49ers, obviously, expect Alexander to make a full recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee to be the kind of elite playmaker he proved to be during his first three seasons with the Buccaneers, which included one trip to the Pro Bowl.

So where does this leave the 49ers with the official beginning of the NFL free-agent signing period scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday?

Edge rusher

Connecting the dots, the most likely addition would appear to be Detroit Lions free-agent Ziggy Ansah.

After all, 49ers vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew was Detroit's GM when Ansah was selected with the No. 5 overall pick of the 2013 draft. And new 49ers' defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was Ansah's position coach for five seasons.

Ansah, who turns 30 in May, is recovering from shoulder surgery, and no agreement appears imminent. The NFL Network reports that Ansah is scheduled to visit Buffalo and New Orleans for physicals. The 49ers could get involved, too, and they would have to give him a careful examination.

Veteran edge rusher Justin Houston, 30, whom the Kansas City Chiefs released, remains available on the open market. He would also provide an upgrade for a team that featured Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair as their top edge rushers last season.

Safety

Would the 49ers want to add Earl Thomas? The answer is yes. But do the 49ers want to extend the kind of contract that he is seeking? The answer is no.

The 49ers are hanging around, as the market for Thomas does not appear to be as robust as expected.

Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu agreed to terms with Washington and Kansas City, respectively, on deals that average a reported $14 million annually. (Collins agreed to a six-year deal, while Mathieu's agreement is for three years.)

Dallas appears to be Thomas' preferred destination, and they are also balking at the high price tag, too.

The 49ers have three safeties with starting experience: Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert and Marcell Harris. The belief is the 49ers would like to add to this position group. They remain interested in bringing back Jimmie Ward on a one-year deal. If the price is right, Thomas will be in the mix, too.

Cornerback

This is a key season for Richard Sherman, who did not look like his old self last season as he returned from a torn Achilles. But Sherman was never tested because of the 49ers' issues on the other side.

The 49ers invested third-round draft picks in back-to-back seasons on Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. The 49ers selected them to be starters, sooner than later.

At this stage, each of the free-agent cornerbacks will be seeking starter's money. There are some options that could fit the 49ers, such as Pierre Desir (Indianapolis), Darqueze Dennard (Cincinnati) and Bradley Roby (Denver).

However, none of those players would immediately step in as starters over Witherspoon and Moore. There would have to be competition, and that would have to be reflected in the kind of contract the 49ers would be willing to offer.

Wide receiver

The 49ers did not figure to find a starting receiver in free agency. Now, if Odell Beckham were available for a reasonable price from the New York Giants, the 49ers would certainly be interested. But that's another story.

Golden Tate is the top available wide receiver. He caught 74 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns while splitting time with Detroit and Philadelphia last year. After that, there's really nobody that stands out as a player who would walk into a starting role ahead of Kendrick Bourne and Marquise Goodwin.

Bourne, in just his second NFL season, caught 42 passes for 487 yards and four TDs to lead all 49ers wideouts. Goodwin has averaged 17.2 yards per reception in his two seasons. Ideally, the 49ers would like to use Goodwin in a more specialized role -- similar to how Kyle Shanahan deployed Taylor Gabriel during their time together in Atlanta.

The one free-agent receiver who probably fit Shanahan's scheme better than anyone else was Adam Humphries, but the 49ers already have promising slot receivers Trent Taylor and Richie James. Humphries agreed to terms with Tennessee, and the 49ers are not believed to have been in serious pursuit.

Running back

There's been some reports of the 49ers being in the mix for Le'Veon Bell. We're not buying it at all. Yes, he would be a significant threat as a runner and receiver. But he refused to play for $14 million last season, so that's an indication of what kind of money he would be seeking.

Moreover, Shanahan's teams have never invested franchise-type of money in a running back. The 49ers can be expected to add another running back to the competition at some point in the offseason. If they sign or draft a running back, that player would likely compete with Matt Breida for the right to suit up for games.

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Raheem Mostert will be in uniform as the No. 3 running back for every game he's available due to his special-teams contributions. Jerick McKinnon, whom the 49ers signed a year ago for his dual-threat ability, is on pace to assume his intended role as he rehabs from a torn ACL. Breida made the most of his opportunities last season. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season in 13 starts while battling an ankle injury for most of the season.

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