Grading 49ers 2022 free agent class: Niners got a lot of bang for their buck without breaking the bank

As we approach free agency, we discuss potential free agents the 49ers should pursue on the open market and which of their unrestricted free agents they should retain.

Before we get there, let’s take a step back and look at how the free agents from last year performed.

Mooney Ward – A+

The 49ers gave Ward their biggest financial commitment of any cornerback since Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over in 2017. San Francisco was fresh off a season in which Jason Verrett suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 and Ambry Thomas was out for the game. the spotlight. That left a huge void opposite Emmanuel Moseley.

Mooney did not disappoint.

The 49ers signed Ward for what he could be, not what he had accomplished. Ward was a relatively unknown player who had four interceptions in four seasons. There’s no doubt that the former Kansas City manager had a career year, despite his interception total staying low.

Ward was among the league leaders in completion percentage allowed and incompletions allowed, all while allowing just two touchdowns in coverage and being a threat against the run.

It was only one season, but the 49ers hit the jackpot with Mooney — a player still on the rise and expected to improve in Year 2.

Ray-Ray McCloud – A

The 49ers finished 19th in kickoff return DVOA at -2.1 this past year. For context, the team’s kick return DVOA in 2021 was -9.8, dead last in the NFL. San Francisco was league average in punt return DVOA at -0.5 in ’21. That number jumped to 5.5 last season, good for fifth in the NFL.

It’s all Ray-Ray McCloud, who was one of the most productive returners in the NFL. He consistently turned the field around for the 49ers and it felt like he was this came close to returning a kick for a touchdown on several occasions.

The 49ers gave McCloud a deal worth up to $10.4 million, which tells you how much they valued McCloud’s return ability.

Ray-Ray had a 71-yard rushing touchdown when Deebo Samuel was out in Week 16. Ten of his 14 receptions went for first downs. Much like when he was a returner, when McCloud touched the ball, it went for a first down.

George Odum – B+

Odum led the NFL in special teams tackles and helped prop up the 49ers coverage units that were ridiculously bad the year before.

The 49ers defense had the best starting field in the NFL. That’s partly due to touch-backs, but a strong special teams core led by Odum deserves most of the credit.

Some thought Odum’s deal worth up to $10.95 million meant he would replace Jaquiski Tartt, but it was always Talanoa Hufanga’s job to lose. Since Odum did not contribute defensively, he did not receive an A grade. But he was a difference maker on special teams, which is exactly why the 49ers signed the former Colts safety.

Hassan Ridgeway ended up playing seven games, but was worth a one-year, $2.5 million deal to replace DJ Jones. Oren Burks was the only other signing outside the building until the season started.

Tashaun Gipson – A+

Gipson started all seven games, had five interceptions – I’d argue he could have had ten – and didn’t allow a touchdown all season. Gipson patrolled the middle of the field and was opportunistic.

The 49ers signed Gipson to a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.1 million, and Gipson had one tackle for loss (5) and tackle for loss (4).

If Mooney Ward was the prized possession of the 49ers’ 2022 free agent class, Gipson was the diamond in the rough. His game should not be taken for granted. Gipson is an unrestricted free agent, which means we could be looking at another safety in the backfield next year.

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