The 49ers do not want defensive tackle DeForest Buckner or tight end George Kittle to ever reach free agency.
Retaining Buckner and Kittle appear to be the organization's top long-term priorities. They have contract rights to both players through the 2020 season.
But, first, the 49ers have to deal with the situations of players on contracts that are set to expire after Super Bowl LIV. The list includes three players who rank among the top 30 scheduled free agents, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 49ers' top-ranked player scheduled for unrestricted free agency, according to PFF, is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who came to the club in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos. Sanders is ranked No. 19 among all NFL scheduled free agents.
Everything has worked out well for both sides since Sanders joined the 49ers. In 10 regular-season games, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 and three touchdowns with the 49ers. He had two receptions for 33 yards in the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings and did not catch a pass against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Sanders, who turns 33 in March, made $10.15 million during the final year of his contract.
The only receivers ranked ahead of Sanders are Amari Cooper (No. 1), A.J. Green (6) and Robby Anderson (11),
One spot behind Sanders is 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead at No. 20. Armstead had his best season as a run defender and pass-rusher, yet did not make the Pro Bowl. Armstead registered a team-high 10 sacks during the regular season. He made $9 million this season on the fifth-year option.
Free safety Jimmie Ward ranks No. 29 among the NFL free agents after a season in which he remained healthy for the final 13 games and was a big reason no team gave up fewer big pass plays in the league than the 49ers. Ward made $3.8 million on a one-year contract this season.
Here is a look at the 49ers' other top scheduled free agents this offseason:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
C Ben Garland
DE Ronald Blair
DT Sheldon Day
TE Levine Toilolo
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
WR Kendrick Bourne
RB Matt Breida
LB Elijah Lee
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Emmanuel Sanders ranked as 49ers' top scheduled NFL free agent by PFF originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area