7 San Francisco 49ers free agents who could follow Robert Saleh to the Jets

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Ralph Vacchiano
·4 min read
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Solomon Thomas pre-game with headphones
Solomon Thomas pre-game with headphones

Every new head coach wants some familiar faces in his locker room. He needs players he can trust to get his message across, and guys who know and understand the systems his staff wants to run.

So it will make sense if the Jets have their eyes on some of the 27 San Francisco 49ers scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in mid-March now that former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is their new head coach. And no one will be shocked if the Jets use some of their massive salary cap space to lure at least a few of them to move East.

Here’s a look at some of the top candidates for such a move – the 49ers who could be the best bets to follow Saleh to Florham Park next month:

CB Richard Sherman

This feels like a no-brainer. He’s unlikely to return to San Francisco. Saleh needs veteran leaders on the Jets. The Jets need help in the secondary. Sherman loves Saleh.

He’s 32 and was hurt most of last year, but for a one-year, incentive-laden deal worth around $8 million, he’d probably be willing to come shepherd the Jets’ young corners into the Saleh era. He could also shift to safety, adding to his value, too.

CB K’Waun Williams

The Jets will need a slot corner to replace Brian Poole, and not only is Williams a favorite of Saleh from San Francisco, but he’s also a native of Montvale, N.J. He’ll be 30 in July, which may scare off some suitors. But slot corners rarely get big money. Two years, $12 million might be more than enough, even though some consider Williams one of the best slot corners in the game.

DE Solomon Thomas

Saleh was in his first few months as the 49ers' defensive coordinator when they made the 6-foot-2, 273-pounder the third overall pick of the NFL Draft. So the new Jets coach knows what they saw in him and why he hasn’t lived up to his potential.

Now coming off a torn ACL, he could be solid addition to the Jets’ front line on a one-year, prove-it contract. Maybe Saleh can untap his potential on a line that won’t be nearly as crowded as the one he leaves behind in San Francisco.

FB Kyle Juszczyk

He was so important to the Kyle Shanahan offense in San Francisco that they lured him there with a four-year, $21 million deal in 2017, and they don’t want to let him go now. If they can’t bring him back, there’s talk that the Packers, where head coach Matt LaFleur runs a Shanahan-style offense, might want him.

So of course the Jets, with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur coming from the 49ers, are likely to be interested, too. He’s a versatile weapon who can power a rushing attack as a blocker or line up as a slot receiver. One scout described him as the “underrated key” to that scheme.

DE Kerry Hyder

Top pass rushers are hard to find and are very expensive, so what happens if the Jets strike out, or pass on the top ones in this market? The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Hyder could be a steal.

He’s coming off an 8 ½-sack season after he stepped in to replace the injured Nick Bosa. He apparently wants big money, but he’s not likely to get it off just one productive year. So maybe the Jets can get him on a mid-range, prove-it deal for $10 million or so. He can stay with a coach who knows him, in a system he knows, in the hopes that he really can cash in later.

WR Kendrick Bourne

If the Jets are going to make a splash in the free agent pool and/or the draft at receiver, their Top 2 are likely to be set. Maybe even their Top 3. They could still use depth, and the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Bourne could be perfect. He had 49 catches for 667 yards and two touchdowns last season, which isn’t likely to land him big money or a starting job somewhere else.

QB C.J. Beathard

Yes, Joe Flacco is a better option at backup to Sam Darnold (or whomever), but the 27-year-old Beathard has the advantage of already knowing the offense after four years in it. He’s only the third quarterback in San Francisco, so he might prefer a place that either is rolling with an oft-injured starter or transitioning to a rookie. The Jets could sell him on being elevated to a backup role and an increased chance to actually play.