Ten NFL free agents 49ers could target to improve defensive front

Matt Maiocco
NBC Sports BayArea
The 49ers will have their first opportunity to make necessary upgrades to their front seven in March with the opening of NFL free agency. Here are 10 possibilities.
The 49ers will have their first opportunity to make necessary upgrades to their front seven in March with the opening of NFL free agency. Here are 10 possibilities.

Ten NFL free agents 49ers could target to improve defensive front originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

The 49ers will have their first opportunity to make necessary upgrades to their front seven in March with the opening of NFL free agency.

The team's top priority entering the offseason is to bolster the outside pass rush, supplying a complement to the inside-rushing expertise of DeForest Buckner. En route to his first Pro Bowl, Buckner recorded a career-high 12 sacks, but nobody else on the 49ers generated six or more sacks.

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Teams are allowed to begin negotiating with free agents from other clubs on March 11, and the signing period opens March 13. So, here are 10 scheduled unrestricted free agents who could draw interest from the 49ers:

DE Ziggy Ansah, Lions

Remember, if most of these players were perfect, they almost certainly wouldn't become available on the open market as long as their teams have the franchise-tag option available. Ansah has been productive ... when he is healthy. And that's the problem.

Ansah had 14.5 sacks in 2015 and 12 sacks in 2017, but his even-numbered years were marred by injuries. New 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek spent five seasons with Ansah, so there's a relationship there.

DE Dante Fowler, Rams

The 49ers discussed a possible trade for Fowler from the Jaguars last season. But why give up something during a season that was going nowhere for a player who's scheduled for free agency at the end of the year?

San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was around Fowler for two seasons in Jacksonville. Fowler isn't a star, but he's an upgrade over what the 49ers already have, and that's important. The 49ers would have to grow comfortable with any off-the-field concerns, though.

DE Trey Flowers, Patriots

Yes, he can rush the passer, but he is more than that. He is an every-down player with his ability to stuff the run, too. Flowers has been consistent over the past three seasons, recording 21 sacks over that time, so the Patriots clearly want to keep him around.

DE Za'Darius Smith, Ravens

He's been a productive pass rusher in limited opportunities. He is 26, and coming off an 8.5-sack season. He played outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme, and the 49ers would have to figure out where the 6-foot-4, 272-pounder best fits in their defense. But on third downs, he certainly would line up on the edge and get after the quarterback.

LB Preston Smith, Washington

At 6-5 and 265 pounds, Smith easily could transition to the 49ers' edge-rusher spot. He had eight sacks apiece in his rookie and third NFL seasons, and he recorded four this past season. He's 26 and still has a lot of room for improvement.

LB Anthony Barr, Vikings

The 49ers should be looking to add at linebacker, but Barr might not be a three-down player. He is best-suited for the strongside position, where he would be on the field with middle linebacker Fred Warner and either Malcolm Smith or Elijah Lee at the weakside spot. Barr has averaged just two sacks over the past three seasons.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys

He played under the franchise tag last season and has vowed not to do that again, if the Cowboys decide to lock him up for another year. He had 14.5 sacks in 2017 and 10.5 sacks last season. He figures to be a hot commodity if he reaches unrestricted free agency, but it still seems likely the Cowboys won't let him get there.

DE Frank Clark, Seahawks

He's young (turns 26 in June) and coming off a 13-sack season. Clark is a dynamic pass rusher, with 50 or more pressures in each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. The Seahawks would like to bring him back, so they could use their franchise tag on him.

LB Dee Ford, Chiefs

After a 13-sack season, the franchise tag appears inevitable.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, Texans

The Texans likely will lock up the No. 1 overall pick from the 2014 draft for one season on the franchise tag.

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