NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 15 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The 49ers enter free agency looking to take that next step after falling in the NFC Championship Game the past two seasons. To do that, they'll have to figure out how to replace pending free agents such as right tackle Mike McGlinchey and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, among others, while putting money aside to sign defensive end Nick Bosa -- the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- to a lucrative, long-term extension. The Niners will also have to keep an eye out for a possible quarterback, as Jimmy Garoppolo departs while holdovers Brock Purdy and Trey Lance are recovering from significant injuries.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the San Francisco 49ers, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Austin Bryant, defensive end
Bryant, who previously played for the Detroit Lions, signed a one-year deal with the 49ers.
What it means: The Niners continue to bargain hunt after making a splash by adding defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Bryant brings a speed and burst element that San Francisco likes having in the rotation opposite Nick Bosa. With Bryant on board, the 49ers are close to having a full defensive line room, but another addition or two is still needed.
What's the risk: Bryant is another project for line coach Kris Kocurek to try to squeeze more from. He has just 4.5 career sacks, all of which came in 2021, and a history of injury issues. Those include a torn pectoral that limited him to 10 games in his first two seasons. Like some of the other low-cost additions the Niners have made, Bryant doesn't bring much risk unless the Niners are counting on him to play a significant role. Given their commitment to building a dominant front, it's unlikely Bryant is the final addition to that room.
Jon Feliciano, guard
The 49ers signed Feliciano, who spent last season with the Giants, to a one-year contract.
What it means: After do-it-all offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill departed for the Titans, the Niners needed a versatile lineman to take his place. Enter Feliciano, who has 54 career starts between guard and center and 97 games played. He should step in right away as the primary backup along the interior of the offensive line. It's also not out of the question he could compete to start at right guard. Spencer Burford returns there but he split time with Brunskill last year, which means Feliciano could potentially push to at least get snaps, if not win the job outright.
What's the risk: Feliciano has had his share of injuries, missing seven games in 2020 with shoulder and pectoral issues and seven more with a calf injury in 2021. But this is another low-cost, low-risk deal for the Niners who are getting a proven commodity to add some needed veteran experience to their offensive line depth. The Niners still need more options at tackle but adding Feliciano shouldn't preclude them from doing that.
Myles Hartsfield, defensive back
The 49ers signed Hartsfield, who previously played for the Carolina Panthers, to a one-year contract.
What it means: After safety Tarvarius Moore departed for the Green Bay Packers, the Niners needed another safety who could also be a key special teams contributor. Given his history playing for new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks in Carolina, Hartsfield should be have a chance to step into that role. Hartsfield had 58 tackles, two passes defended and a forced fumble for the Panthers in 2022. He brings some positional versatility in that he can also play slot corner and safety.
What's the risk: The 49ers have now added Hartsfield and Isaiah Oliver to the secondary. Both can play in the slot and have at least some experience at safety. Those are the kind of additions the Niners needed to fill out the depth chart but even with Hartsfield and Oliver on board, San Francisco must continue to seek depth in the secondary.
Ross Dwelley, tight end
The 49ers re-signed Dwelley to a one-year deal.
What it means: Dwelley joined the Niners as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and has been a mainstay on the roster since. Upon re-signing, Dwelley becomes the third tight end on the current depth chart. He spent last year on and off the game day roster as Tyler Kroft stepped in for certain matchups. Dwelley also contributes on special teams. He figures to have competition to stick on the roster this year, as the Niners are likely to continue to add at the position.
What's the risk: There's little risk in bringing Dwelley back but the Niners once again find themselves in search of needed depth behind tight end George Kittle. Kittle is coming off a strong season in which he ended the year healthy. But if that's going to continue, it would help to have others who can give him occasional rest. This year's draft is considered deep at tight end, so the only risk here would be if the Niners don't add more to the tight end room after bringing Dwelley back.
T.Y. McGill, defensive tackle
The 49ers re-signed McGill to a one-year contract.
What it means: After making a big splash by signing Javon Hargrave, the Niners are turning their attention to filling out the defensive line depth chart. They've traditionally carried 10 defensive linemen on the active roster, so they still need to add more. McGill proved a solid addition to their depth down the stretch last season, particularly in the run game. This gives him an opportunity to get a full offseason with line coach Kris Kocurek and earn a larger role behind Hargrave and Arik Armstead.
What's the risk: This is another low-cost one-year deal that doesn't really come with much in the way of risk. McGill has dealt with some injury issues in his career, including an ankle injury in 2022. Given that and his age (30), the Niners would be wise to continue to invest in their depth throughout the defensive line.
Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, linebacker
The 49ers re-signed Flannigan-Fowles to a 1-year contract.
What it means: The Niners declined to submit a tender offer to Flannigan-Fowles, who was a restricted free agent entering the new league year. But they bring him back at a rate below the commensurate tender offer. In Flannigan-Fowles, the Niners retain one of their core special teamers. But he should also have an opportunity to possibly expand his role in 2023 after the departure of strong side linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair to the Titans. Flannigan-Fowles knows the scheme and has played in spot duty over his three seasons in San Francisco. There will be plenty of competition, but there's at least a vacancy heading into the offseason.
What's the risk: There's really no risk in bringing back a good special teams player at a modest cost. And if the Niners get even more from Flannigan-Fowles, this could be a bargain. The only risk is if the Niners don't look to add another linebacker or two through the draft because they'll need multiple options to replace Al-Shaair, who was a good player and beloved in the locker room.
Isaiah Oliver, cornerback
The 49ers signed the former Falcons cornerback to a two-year deal.
What it means: After losing Emmanuel Moseley and Jimmie Ward, the 49ers needed at least one more experienced, versatile cornerback and found it in Oliver. Oliver has experience playing outside and in the slot but enjoyed perhaps his most success as the nickel corner for the Falcons over the past two years. With Ward gone to Houston and Moseley in Detroit, Oliver should have plenty of opportunity in San Francisco after posting 36 tackles, a sack and an interception in 12 games last year.
What's the risk: While Oliver seemed to settle in playing the nickel over the past two seasons, he's also battled an injury, missing 17 games combined over those years. Oliver tore the ACL in his right knee in 2021, ending that season after just four games and keeping him out until Week 6 of 2022. Ward was one of the best nickel corners in the league last year after moving down from free safety, which means whoever steps in for him will have big shoes to fill. If' Oliver can stay healthy, he should have a chance to compete for that role against second-year corner Samuel Womack.
Clelin Ferrell, defensive end
The 49ers will sign Ferrell, who previously played for the Raiders, to a one-year deal.
What it means: In what has become a spring tradition, the 49ers are in bargain shopping mode for young, talented defensive linemen who simply haven't lived up to their draft billing. In Ferrell, the Niners are getting the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Ferrell has only posted 10 sacks in his first four seasons but with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek in place, the Niners have a track record of getting the most out of defensive linemen who haven't lived up to previous expectations. The Niners hope Ferrell can be the next Arden Key, who played his best football in one year in San Francisco after disappointing with the Raiders and went on to cash in elsewhere in free agency.
What's the risk: This is a low-risk, potentially high-reward deal for both the Niners and Ferrell. If Kocurek can get Ferrell, who has the ability to play inside and out, up to speed, he should be able to help in the line rotation and rehab his value to go into free agency again next year. It's probably asking too much to count on Ferrell to be the solution to replace departing starter Samson Ebukam. Which is why the only real risk comes if the Niners don't continue to add at defensive end and/or second-year end Drake Jackson doesn't develop into the starter the Niners hope he can be.
Jake Brendel, center
The 49ers locked up their starting center for a while, as they agreed to re-sign Brendel to a four-year deal.
What it means: The Niners already lost starting right tackle Mike McGlinchey in free agency and didn't want to lose their starting center, too. Brendel is coming off his only season as a starter and was solid enough to draw plenty of attention on the open market, which meant the Niners had to extend themselves a bit to keep him. In retaining Brendel, the 49ers should finally have some stability at a position coach Kyle Shanahan values. With Brendel in the fold, the Niners are now likely to turn their attention to the secondary, along with adding additional depth still needed on both lines and at kicker.
What's the risk: Before last season, Brendel had started just three NFL games since entering the league in 2016. While he started every game in 2022, this looks like a big commitment for a 30-year old without a long track record of production. Additionally, Brendel was solid but unspectacular last season, finishing 22nd among centers in pass block win rate (91%) and eighth in run block win rate (72.4%). The Niners hope Brendel can continue to improve with more playing time.
Kevin Givens, defensive tackle
The 49ers will re-sign Givens to a one-year contract.
What it means: After making the splashy move to add defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, the Niners turned their attention to bolstering the depth behind him. In Givens, they get someone they know and trust. He's spent all four of his NFL seasons in San Francisco and played a bigger role in each of those years. San Francisco still needs more depth on the defensive line, but keeping Givens is a step in the right direction.
What's the risk: This is a low cost (just over $2 million), short-term deal that comes with little in the way of risk, especially since the Niners won't be counting on Givens to be a starter. He had to play out of position at the nose more than the 49ers would have liked in 2022 but with Hargrave in the fold and Javon Kinlaw returning, he should be able to back up Arik Armstead more at the 3-technique and get more pass-rushing opportunities. Givens did miss four games in 2022 with injuries so it's important the Niners, who often carry 10 defensive linemen, continue to add here.
Sam Darnold, quarterback
The 49ers have agreed to a one-year deal with former Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Niners were always going to have to add at least one more quarterback to the room this offseason because Trey Lance (ankle) and Brock Purdy (elbow) are working their way back from injury. In Darnold, the Niners find a quarterback who offers experience (he's started 55 games) and still figures to have some upside to potentially help a team boasting the weapons he'll have in San Francisco. The Niners' hope is that Darnold won't have to play beyond mop up duty in 2023 but if he does, he's in the best situation of his career to boost his value and return to the market in 2024.
What's the risk: The 49ers, at least for now, are rolling with Purdy, Lance and Darnold, none of whom have proved that they can stay healthy and consistently produce in the NFL. With Lance and Purdy coming off injuries of varying severity, it's not outrageous to think Darnold will have to play in 2023. He's undoubtedly walking into a favorable setting for any quarterback but if he does get on the field, he's going to have to improve on what he's done previously to meet the needs of a team with championship aspirations. If he has to play and struggles, the Niners will end up regretting not making a more sizable investment at the position.
Javon Hargrave, defensive tackle
Hargrave, the No. 2 free agent in ESPN's top 100, has reached agreement on a four-year, $84 million deal that includes $40 million guaranteed at signing with the 49ers, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: Since coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch arrived in 2017, the Niners have made the defensive line their top priority. That group didn't perform up to standard in 2022, particularly on the interior. So it's no surprise the Niners pursued the best defensive tackle on the market in Hargrave. In landing Hargrave, the Niners can pair him with Bosa and lineman Arik Armstead. There's still some work to do in the secondary, but San Francisco's defense was No. 1 in the league last year and has a chance to be even better in 2023 with Hargrave on board. It's an added bonus that Hargrave's departure weakens the Eagles, a team the Niners figure to be battling for the NFC crown for the next few seasons.
What's the risk: Coming in at a reported $21 million per season with $40 million guaranteed, this is a significant investment in a player who is 30 years old. But Hargrave has proved plenty durable in his career, missing just three games in his seven seasons. Hargrave is coming off the best season of his career with 11 sacks, so it's fair to wonder if he can duplicate that, but playing alongside Bosa should help him continue to play close to that level. The biggest risk might come in the opportunity cost that comes with this move. The Niners don't have a ton of resources to add at other spots that need help and might have to make some sacrifices cap wise to make it all work.
Tashaun Gipson Sr., safety
Gipson agreed Sunday to terms on a one-year deal worth up to $2.9 million, a source told ESPN, confirming multiple reports.
What it means: Gipson was one of the better under-the-radar additions of last season for the Niners, signing in late August and quickly becoming a full-time starter in place of an injured Jimmie Ward. He played well enough (his five interceptions were second-most in the NFL) that he held down the job even after Ward returned and the Niners wanted to bring him back. With Gipson returning, the Niners are presumably set with their two starting safeties (along with Talanoa Hufanga) and can divert their most significant resources elsewhere, namely on the offensive and defensive lines.
What's the risk: There's not much risk here given that Gipson's deal is for just one year and worth up to a potential $2.9 million. But Gipson is 32 and there was some doubt about whether he wanted to keep playing following the 2022 season. He did and the Niners wanted him back, but he's still closer to the end of his career than the beginning. With that in mind and with Ward and Tarvarius Moore set to become unrestricted free agents, the Niners will have to keep adding at the position with an eye toward the future.