49ers should focus on pass-catchers, offensive line in free agency

With Sammy Watkins off the market, the 49ers need to look elsewhere for pass-catchers. Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

Here are the moves the San Francisco 49ers should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday:

Find weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo: Coach Kyle Shanahan has made it clear he doesn't intend to sign a bigger receiver just to sign one. That's especially true if said receiver commands big money and doesn't have a complete skill set. Allen Robinson would have made sense to become Jimmy Garoppolo's top target, but he appears headed to the Chicago Bears, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The same is true of Sammy Watkins, who looks to be headed to the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, with Pierre Garcon turning 32 in August and Marquise Goodwin's concussion history, adding some weapons for Garoppolo should be a priority. Someone like Donte Moncrief, who hasn't produced to expectations but offers a solid size and speed combination and shouldn't break the bank, could be interesting. Given his ties to Shanahan after their time in Atlanta, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Niners go after Taylor Gabriel to add competition and depth alongside Trent Taylor in the slot. Their options aren't limited to receivers, either. Tight end Trey Burton would be an intriguing fit, and Tyler Eifert could be of interest on a "prove it" type of deal.

Seek a guard who can start: Assuming the Niners don't spend big on a pass-catcher, that money could be diverted to the offensive line. Carolina guard Andrew Norwell was considered someone of interest, but Schefter reported he is headed to Jacksonville. If that's the case, the Niners should look to add a guard who might fly under the radar but can come in and push for a starting job. Because the Niners clearly aren't against adding veterans, Josh Sitton would be a strong candidate for the right price. As it stands, San Francisco has Joshua Garnett, Laken Tomlinson, Zane Beadles and Erik Magnuson capable of competing, but if they can't get Sitton, adding someone younger who won't be too costly and still has upside -- think New Orleans' Senio Kelemete or Indianapolis' Jack Mewhort -- would be wise and would allow the Niners to keep their options open in the NFL draft. Bringing back Brandon Fusco is another possibility.

Explore the running back market: With Carlos Hyde set to become a free agent, the Niners have an opening at running back. How they fill it will be one of the more fascinating storylines of the offseason. The Niners have said they'd like to bring Hyde back, and he has said he'd like to be back, but at this point it's clear he's going to at least test the market. If he can't get the price he wants, it's possible he returns. In the meantime, the Niners will explore other options. Names such as Dion Lewis, Jerick McKinnon and Isaiah Crowell all would be logical matches for the 49ers. Regardless, Shanahan will want his next running back to be more consistent as a pass-catcher and blocker. One more thing the Niners must weigh: whether it's worth spending money on a free-agent running back before having a crack at one of the most loaded running back classes the NFL draft has provided in a long time.

Add depth at cornerback and linebacker: Even after signing Richard Sherman, the 49ers are in need of depth at cornerback, especially with Sherman returning from a right Achilles injury. They probably won't be in the market for one of the more expensive corners, as they seem intent on going with Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon on the outside. But there are some cornerbacks who could get midlevel deals that would make sense. Indianapolis' Rashaan Melvin could fit the scheme and offer depth and competition. Jacksonville's Aaron Colvin, who is capable of playing in the slot and outside and knows the scheme, is also worth a look. If those prices get too high (and even if they don't), it's a good bet the Niners will use a relatively high pick on another cornerback, though probably not in the first round.

At linebacker, it shouldn't be too expensive or complicated. With Reuben Foster's status uncertain as his legal issues get sorted out and with Malcolm Smith returning from a pectoral injury, the Niners need to find another linebacker or two whom they can trust to play and start if needed. Re-signing Brock Coyle is the obvious move, and it seems likely to happen, though his shoulder injury might complicate the timing of that. The 49ers also could look to add another body for depth and special teams. Either way, another veteran who can play either of the inside linebacker spots is a need that should be filled this offseason.