INDIANAPOLIS — Fans of the San Francisco 49ers have grown accustomed to watching the NFL’s free agency signing period from the sidelines. A year ago, Trent Baalke’s biggest acquisition to the roster was left guard Zane Beadles.
That won’t be the case this year come March 9, in large part due to all the money Baalke saved throughout the years. 49ers GM John Lynch had a message regarding free agency to a re-energized Bay Area fan base.
“Stay awake,” he said. “We need players. We’ve got to get ourselves in a situation with certain pieces that we’ve made priorities, and certain type of guys so that we don’t go into this draft saying, ‘We have to have this.’”
While juggling all of the interviewing of the rookie prospects at Lucas Oil Stadium, Lynch said he’s had discussions with current internal free agents.
On paper, the free agency market is more robust in years past. The heavily rumored name to the 49ers at the NFL combine is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. I wrote on Monday the 49ers have a major decision to make on whether or not Shanahan’s offense can operate effectively without a true No. 1 receiver. Jeffery is really the only player on the market who can fill that void.
Speaking of Beadles, Lynch gave a transparent answer that would seem to indicate one position group the team won’t touch in free agency: offensive line. After reviewing the film internally with Kyle Shanahan, the GM is pretty satisfied with the 300-pounders who will be protecting a new quarterback and paving holes for Carlos Hyde.
“One of the encouraging things, I think offensive lines are tough to build in this league and you turn on the film and there’s a lot of exciting things to see,” Lynch said.
Baalke traded back into the first round a year ago to select Stanford right guard Joshua Garnett, who by most accounts, had a decent rookie season. Center Daniel Kilgore was placed on IR in December after a right knee injury. There was some initial concern mammoth right tackle Trent Brown wouldn’t be a fit for Shanahan’s zone-blocking, which requires more agile offensive linemen. And of course, Joe Staley has the left tackle position locked down and promised reporters in exit interviews he’d be more of a vocal locker room leader in 2017.
Lynch is already counting Earl Mitchell as part of the 2017 free agency overhaul. The Miami Dolphins cut the 30-year-old and the 49ers pounced, offering a four-year, $16 million contract. It’s expected that Mitchell will play nose tackle in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s Seattle scheme.
“He also can play a little three-technique,” Lynch said. “I’m excited about what he’s going to do for (DeForest) Buckner and (Arik) Armstead for those guys. We can tell people run to the football, but when one guy is doing it, you better do it or you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. That’s what he brings.”
Lynch said the team is still deciding what Armstead and Buckner’s base positions will be.