Dwight Freeney is one of the biggest defensive free agents on the market this offseason, but could the San Francisco 49ers use him?
You bet. The 49er defensive front showed the effects of its lack of depth at the end of the year. Once the Smiths got injured, the pass collapsed, the cornerbacks were exposed and the safeties–Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner–showed that coverage is not their strong suit.
If defensive coordinator Vic Fangio sticks to his scheme of only rushing four, then the team needs some help beyond the tactic of: Justin bull rushes, Aldon stunts, sack.
Enter Dwight Freeney.
If Freeney is called upon to rush the passer (and only rush the passer) the 49ers can reduce the wear and tear on their starters, notably Aldon Smith, but also Ray McDonald. San Francisco will also continue to develop Ricky Jean Francois and the defensive line rotation will increase from nonexistent to… something. Hopefully this will save the Smiths for a more effective postseason run.
Freeney’s natural position is as a defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. The 49ers run a 3-4, requiring the ends to be stouter than ends in a 4-3. Freeney played OLB this past season as the Colts transitioned away from the 4-3 into a 3-4. By all accounts, it was not Freeney’s best year but he was also hampered by an ankle injury.
As a pass rush specialist with the 49ers, Freeney’s skills as a run-stopper and cover man are would be irrelevant. Packages could be designed to take advantage of specific aspects of his skill set, notably getting to the passer.
Teams will fear third-and-long scenarios with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith lining up on the left with Freeney taking McDonald’s spot on the right.
Freeney may prefer to hold out for a team that is willing to use him as the starting end, in which case a 4-3 defense is going to be more appealing for him. However, the 49ers offer him a great chance to improve an already dominant defense and a chance for him to get back to the Super Bowl. They could certainly use Freeney to address depth and the lack of pass rushing options after the Smith brothers.