7 free agents who could reunite with Robert Saleh on the NY Jets
2. NY Jets target: Azeez Al-Shaair, LB
The 49ers had the best linebacker room in the NFL in 2022, and while much of the attention goes to Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair is an often-overlooked member of San Francisco's excellent linebacker corps.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, Al-Shaair started nine games over the first two years of his career but was mostly seen on special teams. That changed in 2021 when Al-Shaair filled in for the injured Greenlaw.
Al-Shaair would start 13 games that season, proving to be a more-than-capable NFL linebacker. His snap share decreased significantly in 2022, but he still played over 40 percent of snaps in games he appeared in, filling a role as the 49ers' third linebacker in their base 4-3.
In fact, Al-Shaair was even better this past season, finishing with a PFF grade of 74.4 that ranked 18th out of all qualified linebackers. His 82.1 run-defense grade was top-10 at the position.
With Warner and Greenlaw locked into big-money extensions, the 49ers probably don't have room to pay for Al-Shaair. The Jets should make an effort to sign him as he would likely be an upgrade over the likes of Kwon Alexander and Quincy Williams.
1. NY Jets target: Jimmie Ward, S
Even ignoring the Saleh/49ers connection for a moment, Jimmie Ward is one of my favorite Jets free-agent targets this offseason. The Jets need to add a rangy free safety to (likely) pair with Jordan Whitehead, and Ward can be that guy.
The versatile Ward is a former nickel cornerback who has thrived mostly as a full-time safety in San Francisco (although he played some nickel again this season). His 80.6 PFF grade in 2022 ranked sixth among all safeties in the NFL, and he hasn't ranked outside of the top-16 since 2018.
When healthy, Ward has been one of the most underrated safeties in football. That said, health has been a bit of a concern for the longtime 49ers defensive back.
Ward has played every game in a season just once in nine years in the NFL. While his injury issues haven't been as prevalent in recent years, he still missed five games in 2022 due to injury.
Ward's experience with Saleh and his high-level play make him one of the best safeties set to hit the open market. The Jets should seriously consider making a run at the former 49ers first-round pick.