The 2011 free agency period for the 49ers is almost a week old with some important holes filled but with more to be plugged up. The 49ers lost a handful of starters from last season to other teams but in recent days the team has picked up the pace since the beginning of free agency. Most NFL teams were making their moves just after free agency started and what seemed like the 49ers front office being stagnant has now turned into action. A few other signings will likely come down this week like a wide receiver that can be a deep threat. Until then here are my free agency grades for the 49ers so far:
Overall Free Agency Grade: C
Lost Free Agents: Center David Baas, linebacker Takeo Spikes, cornerback Nate Clements, linebacker Manny Lawson, linebacker Travis LaBoy, kicker Joe Nedney, quarterback David Carr and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin
The loss of Franklin who was one of the best nose tackles available in free agency will hurt the 49ers the most. The team will most likely not sign any free agent nose tackles as there are little left that can bring quality to the 49ers. Coach Jim Harbaugh replaced Franklin at nose tackle with Isaac Sopoaga who moved over from defensive end. Sopoaga has proven to be a reliable defensive end however I don’t think he can provide the same run stopping abilities as Franklin. Sopoaga is learning the position in training camp but this will be a tough year at nose tackle for the 49ers.
Losing Spikes was the second biggest blow to the 49ers but linebacker is a position the team has young players to replace him. Second year linebacker Navarro Bowman will have his chance to take over the starting position that Spikes occupied last season. I would have liked Spikes to re-sign but I think Bowman could be a solid starter this season for the 49ers. Signed free agent Antwan Applewhite will give Bowman competition.
Re-signed Free Agents with Grades:
With the 49ers losing so many starters from last season you would think they didn’t re-sign any of their own players. They did and here they are:
DT Ray McDonald (Grade: C+)
McDonald was signed a five-year deal worth around $4 million per year to remain with the 49ers. With Franklin gone and Sopoaga moving over to NT McDonald will assume the role as starting defensive end even though he has only made nine starts in his career. I welcome McDonald back but he has a lot to prove and I am not fully comfortable with him as he last started an NFL game back in 2008.
QB Alex Smith (Grade: D)
Other quarterbacks were available but Harbaugh hearts Smith so he will once again be your starting quarterback.
G/C Tony Wragge (Grade: B-)
Wragge was signed to a one-year deal and while he is not someone who you want to be a starter he is a great backup that can play multiple positions on the offensive line should someone get hurt.
Signed Free Agents with Grades:
49ers 2011 Rookies (Grade: A)
The 49ers signed all of their 2011 draft picks to four-year contracts which was huge because it means no rookies will miss training camp : LB Aldon Smith, QB Colin Kaepernick, CB Chris Culliver, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Ronald Johnson, S Colin Jones, G Mike Person and CB Curtis Holcomb.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Grade: D)
Bethel-Thompson was signed to take pressure off of Kaepernick as he was the only signed quarterback allowed to enter camp with Alex Smith having to wait until the new CBA is ratified. Bethel-Thompson will not make the opening day roster which means the 49ers will sign or trade for another quarterback to be the third backup. Josh Johnson trade, anyone?
FB Jack Corcoran (Grade: C-)
The fullback was signed to a three-year deal and even though he has never played in the NFL he was one of the best fullbacks in college when he was at Rutgers. If Corcoran makes the opening day roster he will be used in short yardage and goal-line situations.
K David Akers (Grade: B)
It was sad to see Nedney cut from the 49ers but it was time to move on. The 49ers signing Akers to three-year deal was the best kicker they could have signed this off-season. Akers spent 12 seasons with the Eagles and is a five-time Pro Bowl kicker. If the 49ers offense can move the football down the field this season Akers will be automatic as he is coming off three straight seasons with a FG% well over 80-percent.
LB Antwan Applewhite (Grade: B-)
Applewhite was a good signing that gives the 49ers a veteran option to replace Spikes at linebacker should Bowman not succeed in training camp. Applewhite played in 16 games (13 starts) last season and set career highs in tackles (48), sacks (3.0) and forced fumbles (two).
LB Larry Grant (Grade: C)
Grant was selected in the seventh round by the 49ers in the 2008 NFL Draft but was signed to their practice squad. Since 2008 he has been with the Rams making eight starts. Grant has a lot to prove to make the team with the depth at linebacker.
CB Carlos Rogers (Grade: B)
After the 49ers lost out on Nnamdi Asomugha Rogers was a good replacement. Even though Rogers missed four of the final seven games for the Redskins last season he still had his best year in coverage. This something the 49ers need to replace Clements as the starter. If Rogers can stay healthy the 49ers upgraded at cornerback.
S Madieu Williams (Grade: C)
Williams had a great rookie year in 2004 with 103 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions however in the seasons since he has not surpassed those numbers. After spending three disappointing years with the Vikings he was cut this off-season to save the team $5 million in salary cap space. There are trade rumors the 49er are shopping second-year safety Taylor Mays. If that’s the case the 49ers envision Williams being the starter which I don’t agree with. If anything the 49ers should keep Mays and see what he can develop into with Williams being the backup plan.
LB Blake Costanzo (Grade: C-)
Costanzo did not do much while with the Browns the last two seasons however he did play on the specials teams unit which was coached by current 49ers special teams coach Brad Seely. Costanzo provides depth at linebacker but more importantly a heavy hitting presence on special teams.
C Jonathan Goodwin (Grade: B+)
The thought of Adam Sndyer moving over to center to play a position he has never started at in the NFL made me cringe. With Goodwin he is the best free agent signing by the 49ers so far this off-season. He is a veteran presence who was the anchor of the Saints’ offensive line, starting all 32 regular-season games in the past two seasons. He was also part of the Saints Super Bowl team in 2009.