A preview of the 49ers’ tough decisions on unrestricted free agents

By | March 7, 2024

A preview of the 49ers’ tough decisions on unrestricted free agents originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

As the early negotiating period for NFL free agents opens Monday, the 49ers have been able to hold talks with their own players whose contracts are expiring.

Veteran guard Jon Feliciano is the 49ers’ only offensive starter scheduled for free agency, and general manager John Lynch made it clear last week that he wants to re-sign him.

“It turned out he fit the plan really well,” Lynch said of Feliciano at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “But what we knew every day is that this guy is a glue guy. This is a man who brings groups together, brings people together. Tough, crunchy O-lineman.

The 49ers will look to replenish their roster with the re-signings of some of their own free agents, while also looking outside the building for players who can step into a role.

Players are allowed to enter into negotiations with other teams from Monday morning. The free agent signing period officially opens on Wednesday, March 13 at 1 p.m

Here’s a complete look at the 49ers’ projected unrestricted free agents on offense (ranked from top to bottom in playing time or depth chart):

G Jon Feliciano

Feliciano got his first chance to start midway through the season, filling in for the injured Aaron Banks at left guard. Feliciano then moved into the lineup at right guard in place of the struggling Spencer Burford. Feliciano’s pectoral injury in the second half of Super Bowl LVIII was a big moment. Burford botched an assignment on a third-down play in overtime, unblocking Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones.

He said he turned down other free-agent opportunities a year ago to pursue a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers. Even if Feliciano re-signs, the team is still expected to look at adding a starting-caliber offensive lineman in the draft.

In his fourth NFL season, Woerner saw an increase in playing time on offense while still remaining one of the key contributors on the 49ers’ special teams. Woerner was used as a blocking specialist, appearing in every game for the third consecutive season and playing 29 percent of the offensive plays. In 74 games (including playoffs), Woerner has 11 receptions for 120 yards. He could come back to fill that specific role.

WR Ray-Ray McCloud

McCloud was the team’s return specialist the past two seasons, while also catching 26 passes for 378 yards in 29 games.

Currently, the 49ers don’t have anyone else on the roster who looks confident fielding punts. So either the 49ers bring back McCloud or use free agency or the draft to fill that need.

The 49ers want to bring Darnold back, but he may have opportunities elsewhere. Darnold signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the 49ers a year ago at the start of free agency, at a time when it was unknown whether Brock Purdy would be ready for the start of the regular season. Lynch said Darnold could have gotten a better contract from other teams.

Six quarterbacks could be picked in the first round, and perhaps each of these teams will keep an eye on a veteran who can be a bridge quarterback or play a solid backup role for a young player.

Conley, 31, a nine-year NFL veteran, appeared in eight regular-season games and caught three passes for 69 yards. His big contribution came in the divisional round when he got a 17-yard reception on the 49ers’ late, game-winning drive when Deebo Samuel was out of action. He could return with the option to break camp on the practice squad as insurance.

Dwelley’s season ended with a high ankle sprain in Week 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Dwelley spent each of his six NFL seasons with the 49ers on a series of one-year contracts. After selecting tight ends Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis in the 2023 NFL Draft, the 49ers will look for those players to step up.

The 49ers signed Batch from Jacksonville’s practice squad in November. The 25-year-old Batch showed good things for the 49ers in a short time, as he was active as a backup for five regular season games and all three postseason games. It’s likely the 49ers will want to bring him back for a full offseason so he can compete for a roster spot.

OT Matt Pryor

Pryor started 24 games during his previous three seasons with Philadelphia and Indianapolis before signing with the 49ers. Last season he was on the field only 42 times as a backup tackle. He was inactive for all three postseason games.

Allen didn’t snap in any regular-season games. He was the starting third for the first 16 games. He then served as Darnold’s backup for Week 17, when the 49ers rested many of their top players.

It seems likely the 49ers want Allen back. Depending on what happens with Darnold, he could even get the job as Purdy’s backup.

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