Justin Houston

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. 


49ers look to add veteran edge rusher in free agency before NFL draft

49ers look to add veteran edge rusher in free agency before NFL draft

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. This is Part Four of a series that examines the 49ers’ biggest offseason needs and their options in free agency.

The 49ers used the first hours of the open negotiating period to fill a need at inside linebacker.

They remain in pursuit of a veteran edge rusher.

DeForest Buckner supplied the 49ers last season with their first legitimate pass-rush threat since the days of Aldon Smith.

Buckner has things handled on the inside. Now, the 49ers need to add upgrades on the outside via free agency and the draft. The 49ers’ top edge rushers last season were Ronald Blair and Cassius Marsh, who recorded 5.5 sacks apiece.

An upgrade at edge rusher would have an impact throughout the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers managed an NFL-record-worst two interceptions last season. Opposing quarterbacks were rarely rushed into bad decisions and poor throws.

On the roster

Cassius Marsh, Ronald Blair, Pita Taumoepenu, Dekoda Watson

On the market

Considering the 49ers are so thin at edge rusher, there should be plenty of options available in free agency who can provide the team with upgrades.

The 49ers figure to have interest in Ziggy Ansah, whom 49ers executive Martin Mayhew selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft as general manager of the Detroit Lions. Moreover, new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek worked with Ansah. A six-year veteran, Ansah has been plagued by injuries. But in 2015 and ’17, when he was mostly healthy, Ansah recorded 14.5 and 12 sacks.

Justin Houston, 30, recorded 9.5 and nine sacks the past two seasons. In 2014, he had 22 sacks. The Kansas City Chiefs announced Houston's release Sunday after failing to find a trade partner.

Of course, there is such a premium for pass-rushers that many of the top performers are already off the market. Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas), Jadeveon Clowney (Houston), Dee Ford (Kansas City) and Frank Clark (Seattle) were tagged as franchise players. Brandon Graham (Philadelphia) and Dante Fowler (L.A. Rams) were signed to extensions before the start of the open negotiating period. During the opening negotiating period, Trey Flowers and Terrell Suggs reportedly reached contract agreements with Detroit and Arizona, respectively. The Packers added Preston Smith (Washington) and Za'Darius Smith (Baltimore).

[RELATED: Latest NFL free agency rumors, live updates and news]

Offseason approach

The 49ers do not have a need to add just one edge rusher. The 49ers need multiple edge rushers. One of those edge rushers is likely to come in free agency. Then, the 49ers will have the opportunity to select either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen with the No. 2 overall draft pick.

49ers' plans at edge rusher impacted by how teams use franchise tag

49ers' plans at edge rusher impacted by how teams use franchise tag

The 49ers have a glaring need at the edge rusher position, which makes it a good thing for the organization that this year’s class of draft prospects is particularly deep.

As the window to use the franchise tag nears, there has been a flurry of teams locking up their top pass-rushers, as Lynch predicted at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“As I’ve learned,” Lynch said, “typically those guys get what Robbie Gould got, and they never reach the market. They get franchised, the good ones.” 

Lynch also explained that while the best prospects can be game-changers once they reach the field, you know what you’re getting with free agents. 

“Obviously the one thing about free agency is that you’ve seen them at our level," Lynch said. "So, if you feel confident and you have room, and you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for or you have other needs in the draft, that’s the thing you weigh back and forth. 

“That’s a constant conversation that’s ongoing. Every team has them and we’ve certainly been having those as well.”

As the combine came to an end, notable players were announced as being tagged. Seattle’s Frank Clark, Kansas City’s Dee Ford, Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney have all been tagged. Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham signed an extension. 

There are still a few intriguing free-agent pass rushers available. Chiefs veteran pass rusher Justin Houston, 30, is reportedly on the trade market or could be released. The four-time Pro Bowl player recorded a league-high 22 sacks in 2014. After two injury-plagued seasons, Houston recorded at least nine in each of the last two seasons. 

Houston's expected availability gives the 49ers -- and other teams in need of a pass rush -- another option on the veteran market.

Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah is another free agent who the 49ers could have interest in. He has connections to new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek from his time with the Lions and he was drafted by vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew. His injury-riddled past three seasons, however, could be a deterrent.

Ansah earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after recording 14.5 sacks in 2015. Ansah had 12 sacks in 2017, but injuries limited to two and four sacks in 2016 and '18, respectively.

Los Angeles Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler is also slated for free agency. He has connections to the 49ers having played with Jacksonville under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The third overall pick of the 2015 draft has yet to reach his potential, but is still an interesting option. 

With such a deep draft class, the 49ers do not feel the pressure of getting a deal done with a free agent that could have a high price tag. Lynch detailed the options they are weighing. 

[RELATED: Ten free agents 49ers could target for front seven]

“I would tell you that it’s a great year to be looking for D-Linemen in general,” Lynch said. “I hear people talking, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years, but they’re talking eight years, this is as strong of a class as the last eight years at the defensive line. 

“I concur. It’s not just exclusively at one position. There’s inside guys, there’s outside guys and you’re right, there’s some on the free agent market.”