Seven best NFL free agents still available right now heavy on defense

Seven best NFL free agents still available right now heavy on defense

The biggest fish have been reeled in, but there still are plenty left to catch in NFL free agency. 

That's good news for the 49ers and the Raiders. Although San Francisco and Oakland were two of the most active teams at the official start of the league year Wednesday, both still have some clear needs to address this offseason. 

The Raiders could use a backup quarterback, and their NFL-worst pass rush has gone unaddressed over a month out from the NFL draft. Meanwhile, the 49ers largely stood pat in the secondary, despite bringing back Jimmie Ward and Antone Exum.

So, which players could fill those aforementioned holes on either side of the Bay (or both)? Here are seven players who still are available in free agency and could make a big impact in the 2019 season. 


Jed York evokes 'Shawshank Redemption' to describe 49ers journey through muck


Jed York evokes 'Shawshank Redemption' to describe 49ers journey through muck

SANTA CLARA – Jed York was in a good mood on Friday afternoon. He was sarcastic, funny and a bit self-deprecating during a 20-minute surprise interview session with reporters on hand for the final 49ers access period before the team leaves to play Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

It’s easy to find a smile with the 49ers doing so well. They dominated the regular season, rolled through the NFC playoffs and are now set to play Kansas City on Feb. 2 for the NFL title.

Just because the sun is now shining, doesn't mean York has forgotten recent days with rainclouds overhead.

“I try to think every day about banners flying over the stadium asking for me to step down from the team,” York said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “That’s always my favorite experience. No, I’m just focused on what we have to do. ... I am happy for our fans. Being in the Super Bowl seven years ago doesn't feel that long, except for the deep valley we went into in between.”

The 49ers now have a chance to do something great. They can add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to the collection with one more win this season.

They can do so right after emerging from a dark era that included two disappointing seasons to start the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch regime. The 49ers CEO expected that when he his head coach and general manager to six-year contracts. Looking back, York is glad he decided to offer such long-term deals. He wanted stability after several seasons of turmoil.

“I think I’m still paying, like, three coaches,” York said with a smile. “I thought, 'If we’re going to pay them, we might as well pay the same one for six years. Seems like a good idea to me.' It was clear that [Shanahan and I] had the vision and sync. I know that it was a six-year deal but, to me, it was two years of fixing what we needed to fix and then this was Year 1 of a four-year deal. It was important knowing that Kyle is someone that I can work with and John is someone I can work with to get through the tough stuff.”

The tough stuff. 49ers fans know all about that after suffering through some terrible seasons after the Jim Harbaugh era ended. York evoked “Shawshank Redemption” when describing the journey through bad times to reach this good one. The description was both apt and dead accurate.

“I made an Andy Dufresne reference earlier. Everybody wants to get to the beach at the end [of Shawshank Redemption], but no one wants to go through what he went through to get to the beach,” York said. “We had to get through that. Kyle and John were guys I knew could help us get through that. I wanted to send a message to our fans and our team that these guys are here. Not that we knew we weren’t going to win games, but it was unlikely that we were going to win from Day 1 and win the Super Bowl right away.

“I didn’t want people to wonder in Year 3 if they were on the hot seat. No. It’s a six-year deal. We’ve walked into this thing together and we’re going to build this thing the right way. We didn’t make every right trade or draft pick. We didn’t sign the right free agents all the time, but it’s the culmination of everything we do. We want to build the right team. You have to have a long-term vision and, when you can make those long-term decisions the right way without worrying and trying to shortcut it, then you give yourself a chance.”

[RELATED: Jed York hopes 49ers receive White House invite from President Trump]

York kept working through mistakes in both personnel and executive/coaching decisions but didn’t lost sight of his goals trying to dig the 49ers out of a hole. He used more movies to describe how he was mentality able to get through it without shaken confidence.

“My philosophies are pretty simple. ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Major League’ make up my philosophy on life. And maybe ‘Shawshank’ a little bit. But it goes back to Crash Davis talking to Nuke LaLoosh. You’re going to get lit up when you’re in the pros. You have to remain cocky. You have to remain confident. You can’t let them get you down. It’s hard to not let outside noise affect you but you have to block it out. I think our team has done a great job blocking out the noise and I hope I’ve done a small [things] to help them focus on the task at hand.”

Jed York considered Super Bowl goal realistic after 49ers drafted Nick Bosa


Jed York considered Super Bowl goal realistic after 49ers drafted Nick Bosa

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers were 4-12 last season, so expecting to play in Super Bowl LIV was unrealistic even if the team believed it was better than its record suggests.

Team president and CEO Jed York understood that well. He hired head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to revamp the roster and slowly build the franchise back into a period of sustained success. York gave them six-year contracts back in 2017, a sign he knew this process wouldn’t happen overnight.

He weathered 6-10 in 2017 and 4-12 the following year. There was a moment, however, where York believed his 49ers could make a quantum leap. Yeah, all the way to the Super Bowl.

“The moment we were able to draft Nick Bosa, I thought that this was possible,” York said Friday in an Q&A with local media. “Knowing the moves that [Shanahan and Lynch] had made already, even going back to Trent Baalke, we have invested in our defensive line. Something important for Kyle was to have a Super Bowl caliber defensive line. When you bring Dee Ford through a trade/free agency, and then you’re able to get a player like Nick there when you’re drafting second, you knew that you had a chance. That’s when it sort of hit for me.”

Bosa has proven York right. The 49ers will play Kansas City for the NFL title on Feb. 2 in Miami thanks in large part to the presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bosa has made a huge impact on the 49ers this season, helping form the NFL’s best defensive line while dominating against the run and pass.

Bosa headlines a productive NFL draft class that also includes receiver Deebo Samuel, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and punter Mitch Witchnowsky. They joined a group that went through hard times in 2018 after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, but still managed to play some close games and provide optimism for the future.

“Watching what we were able to do last year after Jimmy got hurt, it took some time for us to find our way,” York said. “The offense was still able to do fairly well and be exciting. Knowing that our young guys had an opportunity to learn and grow was important. Not that we were going to make a push into January last year, but our guys were able to become pros. Some guys who maybe wouldn’t have been able to play if we were in a playoff hunt got a chance to grow last year. That gave us a chance to have a seasoned team, even if it doesn’t show it from their age.”

[RELATED: York hopeful 49ers get White House invite]

York wasn’t just looking for signs of progress with Garoppolo back and Bosa in the fray. He came into the year expecting big things, with full confidence in Lynch and Shanahan that they could reach the highest level and play in this Super Bowl.

“This is always what we’ve worked for,” York said. “Anybody that says we aim to go from 4-12 to 8-8, that’s never what we’re looking for. I always believe that, if you have the right mix of culture and talent, you give yourself a chance to win. I give so much credit to Kyle and John for what they’ve been able to do, and I’ll do whatever I can to support them.”