After a disappointing 49ers Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs in which the game was there for the taking, we could lament all the ways in which things went wrong, or we could look ahead to what’s next in the 49ers offseason. And the good news for the team is that it is clearly not far—a missed extra point, arguably—from a Super Bowl championship, as long as GM John Lynch continues to aggressively upgrade the roster.
That could mean another splashy surprise signing similar to the one he made last offseason, when the 49ers stepped in and signed Eagles star defensive lineman Javon Hargrave. The defense was good all season in 2023, but it still was not good enough and while the 49ers could upgrade in any spot on that side of the ball (safety, corner, linebacker), you can’t rule out piling onto the team’s vaunted pass rush with more pass-rushing talent.
The 49ers could attempt to keep edge rusher Chase Young, acquired at the trade deadline, or they could go out and get, arguably, the best guy on the free-agent market: Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter. In its look-ahead to how the 49ers could improve next season, Bleacher Report cited Hunter as “high-profile” player the team could add to replace Young.
49ers Offseason Targets: Defense Could Be Upgraded
One of the challenges the 49ers had this past season, which began with star edge rusher Nick Bosa getting a record deal for a defensive player, worth five years and $170 million, was finding a bookend who was good enough to keep defense from focusing on Bosa too heavily.
Indeed, Bosa’s sack numbers dropped from a league-high 18.5 last year to 10.5 this year. After leading the league with 21 tackles for a loss two years ago, he dropped to 16 this year (he had 19 last year).
It is worth noting, though, that while the 49ers were mediocre in terms of netting sacks (14th at 2.7 per game), the quality of a team’s pass rush goes beyond sack numbers. Pro Football Focus has the 49ers rated the No. 3 pass rush in the NFL last year.
Wrote Bleacher Report: “Given San Francisco’s need for a top-tier rusher opposite Bosa, a high-profile target like Danielle Hunter or Za’Darius Smith could land in Lynch’s sights. This past offseason, the 49ers spent big to bring defensive tackle Javon Hargrave into the fold.”
Is Danielle Hunter That Much Better Than Chase Young?
Hunter would be a big-name, big-number addition to the 49ers in every respect of those words. He led the NFL in 2023 with 23 tackles for a loss, and was fifth in the league in sacks, at 16.5. There is no doubt he would be an upgrade over Young.
The question would be whether the price paid for Hunter would warrant paying him over Young, who could stick around on a low-risk, make-good, one-year deal.
Pro Football Focus is projecting Hunter to get paid a three-year, $65 million contract, worth $21.7 million per year. Young’s value, as projected at PFF, is a one-year, $15 million deal. Hunter will be 30 in October and Young turns just 25 in April.
He’d be a bigger name, a higher profile addition, and his impact would be obvious. But the 49ers must weigh whatever they do opposite Bosa against the relative cost and potential that Young has at his age.
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