The San Francisco 49ers have been among the more proactive organizations in the NFL early in this offseason, making Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid player in the NFL – for at least a little while – extending receiver Marquise Goodwin and adding potential Hall of Fame corner Richard Sherman over the weekend.
And they are far from done.
The 49ers still have plenty of cap space and are prepared to spend. Expect them to land at least one more big-ticket item this week at the onset of free agency – specifically, receiver Allen Robinson, who is among the most sought-after players in a largely weak free-agent class. And how do you think Dion Lewis, the best available option at running back, would look in that backfield as a replacement for oft-injured free agent Carlos Hyde?
There will be ample competition for Robinson – the Bears and Browns are among those hot after him, I'm told (while teams like the Ravens and Panthers have some interest but have cap constraints they are fighting against). And the Jaguars would love to keep him.
Robinson is one of the few young, potential difference-makers available on offense and, given that he is not that far removed from a 1,400 season, even missing last season to an ACL tear won't hold him back. Yes, it's most likely he ends up signing a one- or two-year deal that will allow him to relaunch into free agency at a time when he's not rehabbing an injury, but don't be surprised if he ends up landing $14M a year on that pact. Sure, he might not get that $16-plus million that would have come with the franchise tag, but he won't miss out by much.
As for Lewis, his ability to operate as a difference-maker out in space as well as being a powerful runner between the tackles makes him quite attractive to various teams. New England is going to attempt to fight to keep him, from what I gather, but his price-point may far outpace what the Pats are used to spending at the running back position. The Jets, Titans and Colts are also in play for Lewis, sources said, while I can't help but wonder if the Bucs, Browns and Raiders will get involved when the market opens this week.
If the 49ers were to land this duo, and then take one of the many intriguing tight ends in this draft, they may have a transformational offense under Kyle Shanahan. Consider me among the many who are super high on Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers should be bolstered by the return of aging but respected receiver Pierre Garcon, and Goodwin was a revelation once Garoppolo took over the huddle. There is still some work to do on defense, especially if Reuben Foster's legal problems keep him off the field, but the 49ers seem to have improved in bounds since the Garoppolo trade, and they are far from done adding.
- Sammy Watkins may end up doing a bridge contract similar to Robinson's. We'll see if he hits that $14M threshold, but the Rams are working actively to retain him, sources said, and Watkins is open to staying there. His injury history gives a lot of teams pause, but the overall paucity of high-end pass catchers available bodes well for him … The Ravens have been linked to several expensive receivers who, frankly, they knew were going to be too rich for their situation (Jarvis Landry among them). But one young receiver they remain focused on is Donte Moncrief. He is young with a good frame and two years removed from looking like a breakout player for the Colts. They have a very real shot at landing him, though other clubs are also involved …
- The left tackle market has been static. The Bills remain open to a Cordy Glenn trade, though they have not been operating as if they have to make that trade, sources said, while the Eagles have made no attempts to move Jason Peters, who they won a Super Bowl without. I figured the Browns would make sense for Glenn if Joe Thomas retired, though the consensus I've gleaned from conversations with people around the league is that Thomas will return in 2018 (though he is super svelte at this time and might have to bulk up to get close to his playing weight). Peters is very likely to remain in Philadelphia, though Eagles GM Howie Roseman will have other tricks up his sleeve. Given the dearth of pass rush on the open market, it's only a matter of time before teams come calling on Eagles end Vinny Curry. There's some real trade potential there ...
- If the Jets fail to land Kirk Cousins – and they won't bow down to the Vikings without a fight and will put some very heavy and creative figures in front of the quarterback – then look for Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater to be their quarterback in 2018 as they develop a rookie at that position. But their intent to land Cousins could not be any higher. In addition to Lewis, the Jets are also keeping a strong eye on the linebacker market (Tennessee's Avery Williamson is viewed by many as the best of the inside backers) and cornerback market (Malcolm Butler is one name to watch), and New York very much wants to retain tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There will be plenty of competition to keep him, however, with the Seahawks and Falcons among those very interested …
- Not sure how robust a market there will be for Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron on the open market. Arizona may end up getting to choose between Sam Bradford and McCarron, and even with the significant injury risk, if it's a one-year bridge situation Bradford has the far higher pedigree. Some GMs I spoke to could see the Bills being an option for McCarron in the short term, though they are all about moving around as much as possible to land the quarterback of their liking in this draft … If Andrew Norwell, the top offensive lineman on the open market, lands anywhere other than the Giants it will be considered a major upset throughout the industry. He is a player Giants GM Dave Gettleman knows well from their time together in Carolina, and the Giants are desperate to finally actually upgrade their offensive line … Some execs I spoke to believe it's quite possible Bears corner Kyle Fuller could receive multiple offer sheets while on the transition tag. There isn't that much blue-chip talent available and with no draft compensation there is a sense there may be a way to design an offer sheet that the Bears would be hesitant to match. Teams like Green Bay, Tennessee, Tampa and Houston are doing a lot of work at the corner position; one of them is likely to land Trumaine Johnson and I have a hunch it may be the Texans, who badly need defensive upgrades after injuries and free-agent defections (A.J. Bouye) weakened that unit in 2017.