Published On: Sat, Feb 10th, 2018

Keep on dealin': Why 49ers should make big FA splashes after Garoppolo deal

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NFL free agency is still over a month away, but San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch already sacrificed a significant chunk of cap space to sign Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year contract worth an NFL-record $27.5 million per season and $137.5 million in total.

The deal makes sense for both sides. The 49ers can move forward with their offseason plans safe in the knowledge that their franchise player is locked up, while the young quarterback gets long-term security and more money than he’ll likely know what to do with.

Related – By the numbers: Breaking down Garoppolo’s record deal with 49ers

The 49ers aren’t exactly hurting for cap space, even after smartly front-loading Garoppolo’s contract with a $37-million hit in 2018 to keep his deal manageable down the line. San Francisco was set to have the second-most cap space in the league before the Garoppolo deal – and they somehow still do, with roughly $77 million to play with in free agency (minus draft-class signings and any other in-house players who warrant extensions), according to Over The Cap.

The arrival of Garoppolo and the subsequent five-game win streak to end the regular season means San Francisco will enter 2018 surrounded by much-deserved hype and will be many people’s sleeper pick to make the playoffs. But, while the 49ers’ spectacular end to the year was impressive, the talent on the roster – and especially around Garoppolo – definitely wasn’t.

That needs to change, and fast, if they’re to contend in 2018.

The 49ers shouldn’t sacrifice too much long-term flexibility, but they need to maximize the momentum they’ve stumbled across with Garoppolo and look to add some big-name free agents before some of their other young stars – like DeForest Buckner – demand substantial extensions. And it shouldn’t be too hard of a sell to convince players to come play for an offensive wizard like head coach Kyle Shanahan, maybe the NFL’s next great quarterback in Garoppolo, and an NFL legend in Lynch.

So, which big names should San Francisco target?

Andrew Norwell isn’t a name most casual fans have heard very often, but be prepared to hear about him a lot this offseason as a host of teams will battle for the former Carolina Panthers guard’s signature.

Norwell made the most of his contract year, as he was named a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career. The former undrafted free agent is about to become a very rich man, so the 49ers will have to be prepared to cut another large check to secure his services.

It could be worth the investment, however. The interior of the 49ers’ line was a mess for much of 2017, and it was only Garoppolo’s lightning-quick release that saved him from taking a worrying amount of punishment.

If San Francisco is to make only one splash free-agent signing, Norwell should be it. Not only would he be a massive upgrade of the likes of Laken Tomlinson and Zane Beadles, he and Garoppolo are both 26 years old and could spend their primes together.

As mentioned, the 49ers will face strong competition for Norwell and will need to give him a contract similar to that of Kevin Zeitler, who received a five-year contract worth $12 million a season (the highest average for a guard) in free agency last season. But, when you have a $100-million man under center, keeping him upright should be your No. 1 priority.

A close second, however, should be making sure Garoppolo has weapons to throw the ball to. After all, the 49ers did hand him more money than any player in NFL history despite just seven – albeit highly productive – career starts. He will be given time to grow and develop, but expectations will be high and the likes of Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon shouldn’t be the top options for an offense with sky-high potential thanks to Garoppolo’s talent and Shanahan’s elite play-calling.

Enter, Allen Robinson.

Firstly, the wide receiver deserves to play with a good quarterback after spending his college days catching passes from Christian Hackenberg and his entire NFL career with Blake Bortles.

Secondly, Robinson has proven himself capable of being a prototypical No. 1 wideout, with the strength-size-speed combination to play the Julio Jones role in Shanahan’s offense.

Robinson is coming off a torn ACL, suffered in Week 1, but that could actually play to the 49ers’ advantage. Like Alshon Jeffery last season, Robinson will likely be forced to take a one-year contract – if the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t franchise-tag him – to help rebuild his value before earning a long-term extension. San Francisco could not only offer Robinson a one-year deal worth around $14 million to 15 million but also the chance to excel under Shanahan’s guidance.

The last big splash the 49ers should make is to fill arguably their weakest spot on the roster: pass-rusher. Gone are the days of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks routinely making opposing quarterbacks’ lives hell.

San Francisco tied for 26th in the league with 30 team sacks, and it won’t matter how many points Garoppolo and Co. can put up if the defense can’t get consistent stops on third down.

The free-agent pool for pass-rushers is always shallow, and this year is no exception. The Detroit LionsEzekiel Ansah should be the top defensive end on the market if he, like Robinson, avoids the franchise tag.

Ansah has struggled with injuries the last few years, but not many guys with a 12- and 14.5-sack campaign hit the open market. And while the 49ers’ five-game win streak boosted the franchise, it also pushed them down to either ninth or 10th in the draft (depending on a coin toss), likely out of reach for Bradley Chubb but too high to take any of the next-tier pass-rushers.

Pairing Ansah with Buckner would give San Francisco one of the more athletic defensive-line duos in football. Obviously, pass-rushers are at a premium and Ansah would command a deal with an average salary of around $16 million$18 million, but the 49ers’ other options are scarce and they cannot enter another season with a limited player like Elvis Dumervil in a starting role.

The Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles proved this past season that being aggressive in free agency can pay off if calculated risks are taken and a strong core already exists to build upon.

The 49ers should follow their lead and potentially get immediate returns on their investment in Garoppolo by surrounding him with a handful of blue-chip talents.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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