Aside from their starting quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers will likely have no shortage of new faces on both sides of the ball in 2021. In a highly competitive division featuring opposing quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson (for now), the Niners defense — more specifically its secondary — needs to be a continued point of emphasis under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Unfortunately for Ryans, seven of San Francisco’s defensive backs, including six cornerbacks, are set to hit the open market as unrestricted free agents when the new league year commences on March 17. Chief among them will be starters Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams and Richard Sherman, the latter of whom revealed last month that “it’s been made pretty clear” he won’t be playing for the 49ers next season.
As the team looks to bolster the position this offseason, one analyst is connecting the dots between San Fran and a top free agent cornerback. According to Around the NFL writer Nick Shook on Wednesday, the 49ers “would be an excellent fit” for Pittsburgh Steelers nickleback Mike Hilton.
ALL the latest 49ers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on 49ers newsletter here!
49ers Cap Situation Makes Big-Name Signings Unlikely
Shook points to the looming losses of Sherman and Verrett as the primary reason for pairing Hilton and the 49ers while exploring one fun free agency fit for each NFC team.
The 49ers are going to say goodbye to Richard Sherman and likely Jason Verrett, and they also need to get younger at the position. A favorite of mine for the last couple of seasons because of his flair for being in the right place at the right time, Hilton would be an excellent fit in the 49ers’ defense. With around $12.5 million in cap space, San Francisco has the funds to make this happen and shore up its secondary in the process.
While the NFL has yet to officially set its team cap number for 2021, recent reports project the final total to land between $180-185 million. Should the $180 million ceiling become the new reality, San Francisco currently has $12.3 million in available cap space to work with, according to Over The Cap. With Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams, former No. 3 pick Solomon Thomas and wideout Kendrick Bourne among the players the Niners will look to retain, those funds could dry up quickly.
That makes a mid-level signing such as Hilton an unlikely proposition for John Lynch’s club.
Follow the Heavy on 49ers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
PFF Predicts Hilton Lands a 3-Year, $12 Million Contract
In a recent ranking of the NFL’s top 200 free agents, Pro Football Focus listed Hilton as the 27th best player (fourth-best cornerback) potentially hitting the market.
Hilton epitomizes the do-it-all slot corner who can cover in both man and zone, play the run and blitz effectively. The Steelers’ scheme allows him to show off all of those skills, and he’s quietly been one of the most valuable corners in the league since 2017. The one concern is his 26 missed tackles over the last two seasons.
Hilton has only played a handful of snaps on the outside since entering the league, so expect him to play in the slot no matter where he lands. However, given the difficult nature of that position, he should be coveted on the open market.
Projecting a lackluster cornerback market again in 2021, PFF foresees the soon-to-be 27-year-old returning to Pittsburgh on a three-year, $12 million deal with $4 million guaranteed at signing. Those totals are very much in line with Steelers Depot, which noted in February that a “contract worth in the neighborhood of $4-5 million per season, over three or four years, would certainly be reasonable.”
Both come in below Spotrac’s estimated market value for Hilton, which it lists at $7.8 million per season, or the equivalent of a three-year, $23.5 million contract. The latter figure is likely a bit bloated, but the Steelers nickel man could easily price himself out of the 49ers range if the right team covets his services, especially with Drew Rosenhaus representing him.
It’s worth noting that PFF has Sherman, one of the three corners ahead of Hilton, landing a two-year, $28 million contract from the Buffalo Bills. In addition, the football analytics giant has Williams, by far the Niners most important and biggest name free agent, returning to the Bay Area on a massive four-year, $80 million deal featuring $62.5 million in total guarantees.
- 49ers Add Ex-Chiefs & Texans Cornerback, Son of Former Pro Bowler
- 49ers Called NFC Foe About Trade for Former First-Round QB: Report
- 49ers’ Nick Bosa Breaks Silence on Recovery From ‘Bigger’ ACL Injury