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I have the pleasure of navigating you through what I believe will occur in 49er land once the lockout ends and free agency finally begins. Before one can consider outside free agents the 49ers really need to focus on their own free agents. Namely Alex Smith, David Baas, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson and Dashon Goldson. In May I took an extensive look at all the 49ers pending free agents.
In short, expect Smith, Baas, and Spikes to be back for sure. Goldson would like to return but the market will determine his fate. His agent was looking for Antrel Rolle money last season; if that price doesn’t significantly decrease he will not be back in a 49er uniform this season. Lawson and Franklin are the most likely to bolt SF. Franklin is due for a big payday and the 49ers might not be willing to get into a bidding war. Lawson on the other hand is seen as more of a 4-3 linebacker and hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far as a 49er.
Prediction: Smith, Baas, Spikes and Goldson return. Lawson, Franklin bolts SF.
The 49ers are most likely to address the defensive backfield in free agency since they chose to focus on a pass rusher and a quarterback of the future in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. While depth along the offensive and defensive line, possibly another veteran quarterback and a playmaking wide receiver are possibilities the secondary is priority #1. Nnamdi Asomugha cornerback of the Oakland Raiders is expected to be the biggest free agent in the NFL this season. Rumors have him going all over the place from Philadelphia to Dallas to Detroit even. It’s easy to make the Bay Area connection and put Asomugha in a 49er uniform next season, if it were only that easy. Asomugha is expected to net the biggest contract of all free agents and possibly the largest contract ever given to a defensive player in the NFL. Add that to the fact the 49ers have a load of their own free agents to sign and I don’t see the team making the splash to sign Asomugha. It’s just not the move you make unless you’re close to the Super Bowl and let’s face it the 49ers are not there, yet. The 49ers must wait for players like Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Aldon Smith, Chilo Rachal, and Taylor Mays among others to reach full potential before adding a player like Asomugha.
Fortunately for the 49ers there are some alternatives namely Brent Grimes (ATL), Carlos Rogers (WAS), Johnathan Joseph (CIN), Antonio Cromartie (NYJ), Ike Taylor (PIT) and Richard Marshall (CAR).
Don’t expect Grimes or Taylor to walk from their current teams. Both PIT and ATL have little to no depth behind them and will reward the players in the off-season. Cromartie and Joseph don’t fit the bill either as both disappointed in one way or the other. Cromartie was expected to be a big time playmaker next to Revis in NY but has yet to produce. Joseph badly regressed in 2010 after a strong 2009 campaign. The best fit here is Carlos Rogers of Washington; he’s a very solid cover cornerback who would have way more INTs if he didn’t have stones for hands.
As for lower priority positions like OL/DL depth and a playmaker at WR it all depends on who re-signs with SF and at what price. If the 49ers shell out a ton of money to keep guys like Franklin, Lawson and Goldson they may need to go with what they have at those positions. If those guys walk, like I think they will, then one big free agent isn’t a stretch for the 49ers.
Overall I expect it to be a bit of a “boring” free agency period for the 49ers after the mad scramble ensues when the lockout is over. Don’t expect any Miami Heat like pre-season celebrations with any free agents.
The 49ers will mostly look to stick to the plan, re-sign the players they deem valuable and important to the team’s future. The organization clearly believes that coaching was a big reason for its failure to make the playoffs last season (and I agree). The 49ers have already signed their biggest free agent and his name is Jim Harbaugh. After committing big money contracts to Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Justin Smith and with several 1st round picks on the roster, the 49ers long term financial future must have an eye on extending other young players whose contracts are set to expire over the next couple seasons. After all these players must turn into solid starters if the 49ers are going to have any success in the future.
A slow or boring off-season without any big splashes shouldn’t be viewed as a negative necessarily. While it would be great for the 49ers to land Nnamdi Asomugha, Sidney Rice, or a Vincent Jackson type of player that’s not always the best plan. Just ask the Washington Redskins how the Albert Hansworth deal has worked out. It’s a sign the organization has confidence in its young core of players like Willis, Davis, Gore, J.Smith and has confidence the young players will grow into a contender soon.
The great franchises in the NFL build through the draft and supplement in free agency. The 49ers are closer to contention than they get credit for. The team needs to re-tool and add depth this off-season instead of handing over the biggest check.
Re-Sign: Alex Smith, David Baas, Takeo Spikes, Dashon Goldson
FA signings: Carlos Rodgers CB, Marc Bulger QB (to compete w/Smith for starting job), Shaun Smith KC DL (depth), Le’Ron McClain FB