49ers: Which internal free agent is most likely to be re-signed?

49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers have a few key internal free agents set to hit the open market, but which of them is most likely to re-sign with the team?

The San Francisco 49ers find themselves in a difficult position this offseason. Despite a noticeably stacked roster, the team has some needs they would like to address and some players who they’d love to keep around.

However, with next to no cap space and one draft pick in the first four rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, accomplishing what they want should prove challenging.

Before the 49ers could even begin to focus on their needs, they must first determine which internal free agents they will bring back. At the moment, the 49ers are projected to have around $17 million in cap space, per Spotrac.

That figure could rise if the team makes some cuts or restructures a few contracts — here’s looking at players like Tevin Coleman, Mike Person, and Jerick McKinnon — but the end result isn’t going to be much different.

The 49ers likely won’t have much leftover to sign external free agents. As such, the focus remains squarely on those with expiring contracts.

The big-three, so to speak, of internal free agents the 49ers will have to make a decision on consists of Arik Armstead, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jimmie Ward. Of those three, Armstead remains their top priority.

But does that mean that he’s most likely to re-sign? And on that note, which of the 49ers’ many internal free agents is most likely to re-sign?

In this case, we’re strictly talking about unrestricted free agents as the 49ers will likely do what they can to keep their restricted free agents — notably Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne.

Of the so-called “big three,” Sanders is probably the least likely to return. While the 49ers loved the value he brought to the offense last season and they gave up premium draft capital for him, his contract demands might end up being more than they could feasibly afford.

In a relatively weak free-agent crop of receivers, Sanders could make up to $10-11 million per year. That’s simply too much for a 33-year-old receiver with No. 2 wideout production — especially given the 49ers’ cap situation.

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They’d love to bring him back, but it doesn’t seem likely.

As for Ward, it’s unclear just how busy his market will be. Much like Sanders, Ward is a player that the 49ers are very open to bringing back. The 28-year-old broke out in 2019 putting together the best season of his career, helped in part by a clean bill of health.

However, the Niners could very well have Ward’s replacement already on the roster in 23-year-old Tarvarius Moore. Moore has impressed when given the chance to shine and Ward even publicly supported the converted cornerback assuming the starting role.

If Ward’s market heats up, expect the 49ers to balk. But if the weeks begin to go by and he remains unsigned, expect them to pounce.

Of the three big names, Armstead is probably the most likely to return. The Niners have made it clear that they don’t want to let him go and he offers the most upside of any of the team’s pending free agents.

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The 2015 first-rounder finally broke out in 2019 finishing with a career-high 10 sacks flourishing in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s new Wide-9 scheme. Of course, injuries and inconsistencies have plagued Armstead throughout his career.

But the 49ers are willing to bet that this season wasn’t a fluke.

Whether the two sides agree to a long-term contract extension or the 49ers place the franchise tag on him, expect to see Armstead playing in San Francisco next season.

Aside from those three, other notable unrestricted free agents the 49ers would like to re-sign include players like Ronald Blair, Damontre Moore, and perhaps even Levine Toilolo. Of the three, Blair seems most likely to return.

But when looking at the entire list of pending free agents the 49ers have to make a decision on, no player seems like more of a lock to return than Arik Armstead.

Next. 49ers: Ranking San Francisco’s top 3 offseason needs. dark

Expect to see Armstead donning red and gold in 2020.