49ers Free Agent Is ‘Best Potential Bargain’ for AFC Club: Analyst

49ers defense

Getty 49er defenders celebrate a stop during Week 2 of their road win over the Eagles.

While this upcoming NFL free agent cycle has its share of prominent names like Davante Adams, J.C. Jackson or in the case of Jimmy Garoppolo, trade value, there are those “best potential bargain” free agents who could look appealing to others.

Does anyone on the San Francisco 49ers fit that “bargain” moniker?

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Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report comprised his listings of 2022 free agents on Monday, February 28 on who may not be considered household names in the NFL landscape, but sees the fit and price tag they could bring should they walk from their current team.

And Knox has made this projection: A former 49ers coordinator in the AFC East taking in a “Key” defender from the 49ers’ pass rush.


Free Agent Would Land in 49ers-Type System

Arden Key was tabbed as Knox’s “best potential bargain” representative on the 49ers’ side. And where does he envision Key fitting the best? With the New York Jets and former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Here’s an excerpt from Knox:

“Key landed in San Francisco and became a valuable rotational edge-rusher, particularly late in the season.

Despite playing only 35 percent of the defensive snaps, Key finished with 6.5 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures. All of his sack production came in his final 10 games. Though Key proved this past season that he can indeed be a valuable rotational piece, Pro Football Focus projects a modest two-year, $12.5 million deal for him in free agency.

Key would be a fine addition for the New York Jets, who are trying to build a defense similar to the playoff-caliber unit that head coach Robert Saleh oversaw as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator. Under DeMeco Ryans, Key played in a similar scheme to the one Saleh ran for the 49ers.”

It is true that the Jets have gravitated toward a defensive identity as they enter year No. 2 of the Saleh regime. But the Jets will need to bolster a pass rush that already has to deal with Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, Mac Jones who right away witnessed the playoffs with the New England Patriots and soon, a Miami Dolphins team that will implement some 49ers’ zone read action with Ex-49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel coming on board.

“The Jets, meanwhile, could use an influx of pass-rushing talent,” Knox said. “New York is expected to have Carl Lawson back from his ruptured Achilles, but it didn’t get more than six sacks out of any one defender in 2021.”

In fact, the Jets’ two best pass rushers were defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and edge rusher John Franklin-Meyers — both finishing with the exact number mentioned by Knox. The second-best sack artist? Sheldon Rankins with three.


How Key Would Fit Money Wise

As PFF mentioned, Key is projected to be no more than a $12.5 million pass rusher next year.

The 49ers could make their own attempts to keep Key especially given the breakout 2021 season he delivered. Film guru and former NFL lineman Brian Baldinger noticed the impact and presence Key brought to the ‘Niners in certain games.


Baldy’s Breakdown of the masterful performances from 49ers Nick Bosa, Arden Key & the entire defense2021-12-20T21:44:07Z

Money wise, Knox writes “The Jets aren’t hurting for cap space — they’re projected to have $44.7 million available — but that doesn’t mean they have to overspend to upgrade their pass rush.”

This could mean the Jets could flash him with a richer contract, especially if certain 49er contracts aren’t restructured and the 49ers may not find a suitable trade partner for Garoppolo right away or at all.

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