The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of holes, but not a lot of cash to address all their needs in free agency.
Over the next few weeks, I will go position-by-position and list some inexpensive options that would fit inside the 49ers’ restrained salary cap.
One position that requires more competition, but is not high on the pecking order, is safety.
The 49ers have Jimmie Ward locked in for one spot, but his longtime partner in the defensive backfield, Jaquiski Tartt, is in line for a hefty pay raise.
Tartt is a solid safety, but it’s unlikely San Francisco can match the multiyear deal he’s projected to get.
General manager John Lynch is better served focusing on long-term commitments to left tackle Trent Williams and middle linebacker Fred Warner.
San Francisco could stand pat, with Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris as the lead in-house candidates to replace Tartt.
Yet, given their inconsistencies this season, the 49ers should target a high-upside safety that would provide depth or start.
There are three safeties that would be cheap, short-term fits for the San Francisco defense.
Safety Malik Hooker is the flashiest name. Despite major promise, the Indianapolis Colts declined the 2017 first-round pick’s fifth-year option.
Why did they do that? In four seasons, Hooker has played just 36 games, and missed 11.3% of his tackle attempts over his last 29 games.
However, Hooker’s draft-pedigree and ability to create turnovers (seven interceptions) is enough to make him an enticing reclamation project at under $5 million, similar to the one-year, $4.5 million deal Ward signed in 2019. The 49ers love those.
If Hooker plays to his potential, and remains healthy, the 49ers would reap major benefits at a low cost.
In the event Hooker proves too costly, two scheme-friendly alternatives are Jahleel Addae and Damontae Kazee.
Addae played seven of eight seasons with the Chargers, so he’s quite familiar with the Gus Bradley/Robert Saleh system.
The safety made just $864.7K in 2020, and would add experience and depth behind Ward and Moore.
Addae’s versatility allows him to step into either safety spot. This is key due to Ward’s injury history and Moore’s lack of experience.
The third option is the perfect balance between Hooker’s upside and Addae’s on-field reliability, but he comes with his own questions.
Kazee would be one of the most desirable safeties on the market, but the former Falcon is coming off a torn Achilles he sustained Week 4 against Green Bay. That’s an extremely hard injury to rebound from. Ask Richard Sherman.
Yet, he’ll turn only 28 in June, and prior to the injury, had not missed a game in four seasons. He’s proven reliable and has a knack for finding the football.
Kazee played his entire NFL career in the Dan Quinn/Raheem Morris system, and has performed well.
He had seven interceptions in 2018, and three more in 2019. He also has five career forced fumbles.
If the 49ers hire Morris from Atlanta, or promote current inside linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to replace Saleh, both Addae and Kazee would provide experienced starting options to a position group in need.
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