Unlike years prior, there weren't many flashy signings in the first week of free agency for the San Francisco 49ers – and that's OK. The majority of San Francisco's free agency moves were in-house in order to retain talent from their Super Bowl contending roster while being judicious with their spending this offseason (Per the NFL's internal cap report, the 49ers currently have the ninth-least amount of salary cap space available heading into the draft).
To keep track of all of San Francisco's free agency moves, visit the 49ers Free Agency Hub.
National media sites Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and USA Today agree with the 49ers approach, grading San Francisco's moves in the top half of the league in the first wave of free agency. Factors that went into the 49ers noteworthy marks include how San Francisco addressed its needs, how wisely money was spent and the overall improvement of the roster. Bleacher Report went as far as to refer to the 49ers offseason model as the "goal" for most NFL franchises.
Here's how the 49ers graded out through the first full week of free agency:
Pro Football Focus Grade: Above Average
San Francisco made one of the best moves of the entire week by trading away interior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th overall pick in this year's NFL draft. With Emmanuel Sanders departing, they'll need another receiver to go alongside Deebo Samuel, and they are now in a position to possibly grab either Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III at Pick 13 — which could be very lethal in an offense like Kyle Shanahan's.
Jimmie Ward had a lot to prove in 2019 after missing well over half of his career games due to injury. After finishing the season ranked sixth in PFF grade, it's safe to say that Ward proved that he is one of the best at his position when healthy. He's an athletic, versatile player and was vital to the Niners' defensive success last season.
Re-signing Arik Armstead for as much as they did was a bit risky considering what we've seen from him so far. Armstead has played under 400 snaps in each of his three seasons, and while he flashed some potential in his rookie campaign by earning a 79.0 overall grade, he saw most of that success come from his run defense and not his pass-rushing. From 2015-18, Armstead's career-high pass-rush grade was just 70.6. In 2019, he greatly improved on that by recording a 75.1 pass-rush grade that ranked 27th.
Bleacher Report Grade: B+
The San Francisco 49ers spent the offseason doing what good teams end up having to do: deciding which one of their uber-successful draft picks was worth extending and which one could walk.
They decided to keep Arik Armstead while flipping DeForest Buckner for a first-round pick. While it's never fun when a player as talented as Buckner leaves, the 49ers are well-stocked with defensive line talent and the pick can be used to replace him or help them replace Emmanuel Sanders.
They also decided to hold on to Jimmie Ward. After injury issues, the versatile safety showed he can be one of the best in the league. He was the sixth-best player at his position in 2019, per PFF. Re-signing injury-prone players is always risky, but it's hard to find a player with Ward's skill set.
This is the kind of offseason that should be the goal for most franchises. The Niners didn't "win the offseason" with flashy signings, but they did retain key talent while getting a good return on the talent they had to let leave.
Winners have to make these kinds of decisions, and San Francisco navigated things as well as it could.
It's never easy trying to keep a championship-caliber nucleus together. General Manager John Lynch managed to re-sign breakout defensive lineman Arik Armstead and retain versatile defensive back Jimmie Ward. But San Francisco had to part with Sanders, a key midseason acquisition and – far more painfully – 2019 team MVP Buckner. But the former team captain did return Indianapolis' first-rounder, a key consideration for Lynch given he's not scheduled to pick in Rounds 2, 3 or 4 this year.