Every day leading up to the start of training camp, 49ers.com will assess player groupings on the roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment, we will take a look at the free agents that have signed with the 49ers and how they enhance the San Francisco squad.
Previous Installment: Rookies
What is Free Agency?
The NFL free agency period is an opportunity for players to land lucrative paydays or find better team fits, while also serving as another avenue for teams to upgrade and improve their rosters.
When Does Free Agency Take Place?
It begins when the NFL League Year does (in 2022: 4 p.m. ET on March 16), while team spending is limited by the annual salary cap ($208.2 million in 2022).
What is a Free Agent?
Unrestricted free agent (UFA): Any player with four or more accrued seasons and an expired contract; free to negotiate and sign with any team.
Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers ("tenders") that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation.
Exclusive rights free agent (ERFA): Any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract at the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.
Iconic 49ers Free Agents
- Deion Sanders
Year signed: 1994
Previous team: Atlanta Falcons
Sanders led the league with 303 return yards and three touchdowns on his six interceptions. He was a Pro Bowl selection and first team All-Pro. His one year in San Francisco, Sanders was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year. He also helped lead the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl victory.
- Justin Smith
Year signed: 2008
Previous team: Cincinnati Bengals
In his four years with the 49ers, Smith started and played in every game. Smith was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011.
- Ken Norton Jr.
Year signed: 1994
Previous team: Dallas Cowboys
In Norton's first season with the 49ers, was a part of a defense that led the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl title. Norton played seven years in San Francisco, representing the 49ers in the Pro Bowl in 1995 and 1997, ending his career as a 49er in 2000. He also earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1995.
- Tim McDonald
Year signed: 1993
Previous team: Arizona Cardinals
McDonald was a member of the 49ers 1994 Super Bowl championship team. He was also a three-time Pro Bowl selection while with the 49ers.
- Jeff Garcia
Year signed: 1999
Previous team: Calgary Stampeders
While playing in San Francisco, Garcia made the Pro Bowl three times, from 2000-2002. He rushed 318 times for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns in his five years with the 49ers.
49ers Free Agents Outlook
After the 2021 season ended, general manager John Lynch and the rest of the 49ers front office reflected on the team's areas of improvement. Their most important needs were met during free agency, as they signed on players to enhance their special teams unit who also fit into the 49ers offense and defense.
The team's top goal of adding an elite cornerback was also met with the signing of Charvarius Ward.
"(We looked) at our roster and said, 'Where do we need to be better?' And we believe we've addressed those areas," Lynch said.
"In free agency, I personally thought we really needed to get a corner, that was our number one need, and we got that. That's what I was really happy with," head coach Kyle Shanahan added. "We also needed to improve our special teams, and we got three special teams players who also will contribute on offense and defense too, which is very important to me. I'm very excited about that."
Throughout training camp and offseason practices, the newly-signed free agents will learn the 49ers playbook while getting acclimated with the team before showing off their talent to the Faithful in the 2022 season.
Free Agents Breakdown
Originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the third round (88th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, Burks appeared in 59 games (seven starts), registered 59 defensive tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 0.5 sack within four years.
Burks' best performances with the Packers came on special teams. The linebacker notched a total of 33 tackles on special teams in his career, the most on the team from 2018-2021. Last season, Burks finished second on the Packers with the most special teams tackles (10) during the regular season.
"When you look at the guys that we brought in, I think they're even better than I originally thought on tape, which is awesome," special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said. "Burks is such a good athlete and that was really obvious on the tape, but when you get to work with him, it's even better."
Signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Ward was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of the regular season and went on to appear in 13 games and made two starts. Over his career, Ward has posted 222 total tackles, three for loss, 1.0 sack, three quarterback hits, four interceptions, 29 passes defended and one forced fumble.
With a breakout season in 2021, Ward became just the second player to force a higher tight window target rate (46.3%) than the catch rate he allowed (44.8%) since 2018, according to Next Gen Stats.
"I've got experience doing everything," Ward said. "I've been in the NFL for four years. I've covered inside, outside, I've blitzed a little bit. Whatever this coaching staff wants me to do, I'm going to promise you I'll do it to the best of my ability and they won't be disappointed. Nor will the fans."
Ridgeway was originally drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. Throughout his six-year career with the Colts (2016-18) and Philadelphia Eagles (2019-21), he has appeared in 65 games (12 starts) and registered 80 tackles, 9.5 sacks, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. Ridgeway has also appeared in three postseason contests and added four tackles and 0.5 sacks.
"Of course you want to go somewhere where the guys around you are great, so that's obviously a big part of wanting to be a part of a team like this," Ridgeway said. "I'm very passionate about playing football."
Originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round (187th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, McCloud has also spent his four-year career with the Carolina Panthers (2019) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2020-21). Appearing in a total of 48 games (eight starts), the wide receiver registered 64 receptions for 390 yards while adding eight carries for 84 yards on offense. He also has recorded 72 kickoff returns for 1,614 yards (22.4 average) and 81 punt returns for 767 yards (9.5 average). In his two postseason contests, McCloud added nine kickoff returns for 212 yards and four punt returns for 29 yards.
In 2021, McCloud led the NFL in punt return yards (367) while also adding 35 kickoff returns for 776 yards.
"I'm a playmaker, I'm explosive and I don't think there's a more explosive offense that puts the ball in a player's hands and space like the 49ers," McCloud said. "The plan that the organization laid out for me – I thought it was a great opportunity for my skill set."
Entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Odum has appeared in 65 games (10 starts) and registered 105 tackles, two interceptions, four passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries throughout his four-year career with the Colts (2018-21).
Odum earned AP First-Team All-Pro honors on special teams in 2020 after leading the NFL with 20 total tackles on special teams.
"The team brought me in to better the room and compete," Odum said. "I'm going to do my very best, I'm going to give it a go every single day."
Hyder Jr. originally entered the NFL after signing with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Throughout his seven NFL seasons, Hyder Jr. has recorded 141 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss, 54 quarterback hits, 20 sacks and a pass defensed with the Detroit Lions (2015-18), Cowboys (2019), 49ers (2020) and Seattle Seahawks (2021). However, his best season was spent with San Francisco. In 2020, Hyder Jr. led the team in sacks, recording a career-high 8.5 while registering 49 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 18 quarterback hits and a fumble recovery.
"I just try to play fast and try to win with effort," Hyder Jr. said. "A lot of times it's not how big or how fast you are, if you're not playing with the right effort or technique, then it's not going to matter. So I just try to thrive on those kinds of things — working hard and working on my technique."
Dennard was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 24th-overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Throughout his eight-year career with the Bengals (2014-19), Atlanta Falcons (2020), New York Giants (2021) and 49ers (2021), he has appeared in 87 games (30 starts) and registered 288 tackles, 27 passes defensed, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
In 2021, Dennard spent time on the Colts and Giants practice squads and appeared in one game with the Giants prior to being released from the team in December. He then signed to the 49ers practice squad on January 4, 2022 and later appeared in the team's Week 18 must-win contest against the Los Angeles Rams.
In February, Dennard tweeted, "(the 49ers) made me fall In love with football again."
Johnson originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles where the receiver played alongside now-49ers quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Throughout his five-year career with the Eagles (2017), Colts (2018-20) and Tennessee Titans (2021), he has appeared in 41 games (12 starts) and registered 51 receptions for 839 yards and three touchdowns.
As a dynamic wide receiver, Johnson has averaged an astounding 16.5 yards per catch for his entire career.
"He's got speed," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "But the other thing with Marcus, as far as the ability to catch a ball, there's a specific trait — a tracking trait — where you're tracking the deep ball, and Marcus is particularly skilled at that. He tracks the deep ball very well."
Entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Turner has spent his four-year career with the Seahawks (2018-19) and Cowboys (2020-21), appearing in 41 games (three starts) and registering 29 receptions for 414 yards and four touchdowns.
Turay was originally drafted by the Colts in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. Over the last four years with the Colts (2018-21), he has appeared in 38 games (three starts) and registered 33 tackles, 12.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Turay has also appeared in three postseason contests and added three tackles.
Fumagalli was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round (156th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. Throughout his four-year NFL career with the Broncos (2018-20) and New England Patriots (2021), he has appeared in 19 games (five starts) and registered 14 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Fumagalli signed with the Patriots as a free agent on May 27, 2021 and was later placed on the Injured Reserve List on August 19, 2021 where he spent the entire season.
Kroft was originally drafted by the Bengals in the third round (85th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. Throughout his seven-year NFL career with the Bengals (2015-18), Bills (2019-20) and Jets (2021), he has appeared in 81 games (48 starts) and registered 101 receptions for 1,024 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also appeared in two postseason contests (one start).