The 49ers are expected to have more than $66 million in salary cap for 2019, according to Overthecap.com, which should be plenty of room to bring back their pending free agents if Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch want them back.
Let’s look at the team’s unsigned players for 2019:
K Robbie Gould (unrestricted) — Gould signed a two-year, $4 million contract to replace productive veteran Phil Dawson in 2017 and has been super dependable in two seasons with San Francisco. Gould led the NFL with 39 field goals last season and was tops in the league in 2018, making 97.1 percent of his kicks. There’s a feeling the longtime Chicago Bear might want to return to the midwest for family reasons, but the 49ers might also be inclined to give him the franchise tag if they can’t come to a multi-year agreement. After all, if San Francisco wants to return to playoff contention, the team doesn’t need an uncertain situation at kicker. Gould ended on a high note, as he was named this week the NFC special-teams player of the month for December.
DB Jimmie Ward (unrestricted) — Ward was the 49ers’ most expensive defensive player in 2018, making more than $8.5 million in the fifth year of his rookie contract. While Ward showed flashes of fitting in well at free safety, his season ended in typical fashion: on injured reserve. Ward broke a bone in his forearm for the second time in two seasons in the loss at Tampa Bay, marking the fourth time in five years he’s ended a campaign on IR. Ward, who was the team’s most versatile defensive back, could be brought back to provide much-needed competition for jobs. But it seems likely the team moves on because of his lengthy injury history.
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G Mike Person (unrestricted) — Person was signed last May to compete to be the backup center. But the six-year veteran won the starting job at right guard and earned a ton of respect from his teammates. Person, 30, played through a painful leg injury early in the season to start all 16 games and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 18th-ranked guard. It seems likely the 49ers would be able to bring Person back at a reasonable price to ensure cohesion along the offensive line.
LB Mark Nzeocha (unrestricted) — The Germany-born outside linebacker ascended to the starting lineup for three games while appearing in all 16, mostly for his work on special teams. He had a sack, 23 tackles and a tackle for loss. The 49ers don’t have much depth at outside linebacker, particularly if they part with veteran Malcolm Smith. Nzeocha would make sense to bring back, but it would also make sense to bring in a possible starter at “Sam” linebacker in the draft, such as Kentucky’s Josh Allen, or free agency with a player like the Eagles’ Brandon Graham.
RB Alfred Morris (unrestricted) — Morris appeared in 12 games after signing in August to provide depth at running back due to a slew of injuries. The 30-year-old was made inactive in favor of undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. in the second half of the season and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, though he managed 111 yards in the finale against the Rams. With Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida and Wilson in tow, it seems unlikely San Francisco would bring back Morris, given the team’s ability to identify and develop younger, cheaper running backs.
DB Antone Exum Jr. (unrestricted) — Exum had the 49ers’ only pick-six, one of the team’s two interceptions. Exum proved valuable because he could play both safety spots, replacing Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety early in the season before playing well at free safety late. San Francisco could make a run at a high-priced free safety in free agency (see: Thomas, Earl), which might preclude allowing Exum to bolt. If not, bringing him back to help fill the 90-man roster wouldn’t be a bad move.
LS Kyle Nelson (unrestricted) — Nelson is a fine long snapper, but he was suspended for 10 games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancers in December. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers bringing him back with six games remaining on that suspension. However, Nelson has said he plans to appeal.
Bradley Pinion (unrestricted) — The good news for Pinion is he’s among the best in the NFL on kickoffs, has been a reliable holder and is one of the team’s most active players in the community. The bad news: The 49ers ranked 30th in yards per punt. His return appears to be a coin flip.
RB Raheem Mostert (restricted) — Mostert has been San Francisco’s best special-teams player over the last two years and he came on as a running back midway through the season before suffering an ugly arm fracture against the Raiders. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry during a four-game stretch before the injury. The 49ers can match any contract offer given to the former track star and should bring him back as long as the price is right.
DB Tyvis Powell (restricted) — Powell was shuffled back and forth from the practice squad and appeared in seven games, including one start. He was picked on at strong safety during the Cardinals’ fourth-quarter comeback Oct. 28 but offered value to the 49ers through his versatility. There’s a good chance he’s back on a minimal contract to compete for a role.
LB Elijah Lee (exclusive rights) — The 49ers would have to renounce their negotiating rights for Lee to hit the free-agent market. That seems unlikely. He improved as the season wore on and became the full-time starter after Reuben Foster was released. The 49ers should feel good about bringing Lee back while they look to reinforce the position.
CB Greg Mabin (exclusive rights) — Mabin was the target of Aaron Rodgers during the Packers’ fourth-quarter comeback in the Monday night loss in October while San Francisco was shuffling cornerbacks due to injury. Mabin appeared in 13 games and seems likely to have a spot on the 90-man roster waiting for him while the 49ers have his negotiating rights.