49ers Could Pursue a Bargain Cornerback

With tight salary-cap situation, SF may not be able to sign top corners in free agency

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The 49ers go into this free-agent season with limited funds to spend.

San Francisco has just about $12.7 million available under the projected salary cap, according to the website

It’s the fifth-lowest amount in the NFL, so the team goes into the free-agent market with its hands tied, especially considering there are several players it would like to retain before offering deals to players from other teams.

So, the Niners surely will be looking for the most bang for their bucks.

Because of that, the analytic website Pro Football Focus suggests the 49ers won’t be able to pursue the best free-agent cornerbacks on the market – such as Chris Harris (Broncos) or Byron Jones (Cowboys) – but may focus on a lesser-regarded corner with upside.

Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus suggests that might be Ronald Darby of the Philadelphia Eagles. Darby, 26, played the past two seasons in Philadelphia after three years in Buffalo. The Bills took him in the second round of the 2015 draft out of Florida State.

Linsey notes Darby is coming off a season in which he played just 11 games and graded poorly.

“(Darby) was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league last season, earning a coverage grade of 41.0 with the Eagles, but his history suggests that to be an outlier rather than the norm,” wrote Linsey. “In his four seasons, Darby had never graded below 68.3. The 49ers could take a shot on him as their outside cornerback opposite Richard Sherman and hope that prior form returns.”

Linsey isn’t the only one who sees value in Darby.

In a list of top free-agent corners available in free agency, Walter Camp Football puts Darby at No. 9.

“Darby used to be a terrific cornerback, but he was atrocious this past season,” it wrote. “Darby has dealt with a number of injuries, which clearly affected his play in 2019. He’ll be a nice buy-low option for his new team, presumably on a 1-year ‘prove it’ deal.”

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