And they need to get a move on it.
The Niners have several significant free agents this offseason, and keeping all of them is both impossible and unnecessary.
After flirting with the reality of being a Super Bowl contender in 2012, the 49ers are in prime position to make another run next season. But to do so, they need to make the right decisions between now and the beginning of free agency.
The following is a list of the most important unrestricted free agents that the 49ers should re-sign if they want to continue building on their successful start to the Jim Harbaugh era.
Sure, some people may have thought that. With Jim Harbaugh coming to town, Smith finally had an opportunity to succeed. Optimism was gaining steam among some of the 49er faithful.
On the other hand, some people still may not even agree that Smith is a priority. After all, he only threw for 17 TDs this season and had a difficult time, overall, converting on third downs and in the red zone throughout the year.
Still, I believe that the 49ers have to re-sign Smith to continue improving on offense.
Smith’s pedestrian statistics are of little concern. The coaches asked him to manage games this year, and he did a terrific job of doing so. He completed over 60 percent of his passes and threw only five interceptions.
However, No. 11 is a solid quarterback who has proven he can take his team just about as deep as a team can go. He is mobile, has a strong arm, and has earned the respect of his teammates.
Most importantly, Smith finally has a coach who developed an offensive system around him. With a superb offensive line, a feisty defense and a respected special teams unit, the 49ers should continue building momentum by keeping their starting quarterback in place.
If San Francisco can add a few more play-makers to Smith’s arsenal, he will continue to evolve in Coach Harbaugh’s offense and find even more success over the next several seasons.
Carlos Rogers earned himself a Pro-Bowl spot after an impressive season. He finished 2012 with a career high six interceptions, playing an integral role in San Francisco’s stingy defense. It would seem logical for the 49ers to lock up their top cornerback then, right?
The concern is that Rogers is a 30-year-old veteran who hasn’t had an elite career. Signed on a one-year deal this season, the change of scenery seemed to have sparked Rogers, and some will worry that this strong performance will ultimately prove to be an anomaly in Rogers’ career.
The six picks might, but I don’t think his performance will.
Rogers has always been an above-average corner. Put in an optimal situation this year, he played even better.
Certainly, the Niners don’t want to overpay an aging corner with an average track record. But at the same time, maybe the change of scenery is all he needed after all.
Rogers will provide the 49ers’ organization the opportunity to build youth at the position. He’ll serve as a reliable starter for the next few seasons as the team continues to add younger talent to an already strong defensive-back unit.
Speaking of defensive backs, free safety Dashon Goldson is quickly becoming a household name.
Last year, Goldson turned down a five-year offer from San Francisco and consequently played this season on a one-year, $2 million contract, per Rotoworld. After earning himself a Pro Bowl selection, Goldson is sure to be a coveted commodity, both for the 49ers as well as the rest of the league should he choose to test the market.
Re-signing Goldson has to be up near the top of the 49ers’ to-do list. With the emergence of Donte Whitner at strong safety, Goldson’s aggressive style of play and athletic ability would make the tandem one of the league’s most physical.
At 6’2” and 200 pounds, Goldson is a hard-hitting safety with the size to match up with the leagues bigger wide receivers.
Still only 27 years old, Goldson appears to be approaching his prime. Although his tallies in tackles have decreased the past three seasons, his coverage ability has improved, evident by his career-high six interceptions and nine pass deflections this year.
Becoming a better all-around safety will give Goldson the tools to be more versatile in defensive packages, allowing the coaching staff to use him in various roles. As a bigger safety, he can drop down and play as a linebacker, or even line up on slot receivers as a nickel corner.
Whether the 49ers decide to use the franchise tag on Goldson or lock him up long-term, the fact is they need to find a way to keep this young man on their side.
Often over-looked behind the infamous Patrick Willis and emerging Navorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks finished third on the team in total sacks with seven. At 6’3” and 259 pounds, Brooks has prototypical size for an outside linebacker and has impressive instincts.
What this all means is that Brooks is no longer under the radar, which could be problematic for San Francisco.
According to Rotoworld, “Brooks is one of a handful of players to reportedly turn down a long-term contract proposal from the 49ers.” The reason was apparently the offer he received.
Obviously, it’s difficult for any team to retain all of their best players, since those players naturally earn the biggest contracts. However, letting Brooks walk would be a mistake.
It’s taken the 49ers about four years to develop this line-backing corps, beginning with the selection of Patrick Willis in the 2007 draft. Brooks may be tempted to test the waters, but he should keep in mind that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Brooks is a terrific talent, but San Francisco may be his most opportunistic environment. With several play-makers surrounding him—including DT Justin Smith—Brooks is often able to shine and take advantage of fewer double teams.
It will be difficult from the business aspect of the game to ensure Brooks stays a 49er, but the team should make its best attempt to do so.
Perhaps San Francisco's biggest need this offseason is finding play-making wide receivers. The front office needs to continue surrounding Alex Smith with weapons, and I expect to see some new names come pre-season.
However, Josh Morgan should be retained.
Many fans were excited about Morgan’s potential for 2011. Logging nearly 700 receiving yards in 2010, he began this year averaging three catches a game before he broke his leg. While three catches a game is nothing to brag about, consider that the 49ers began the season extremely run-heavy while Smith looked often for Vernon Davis.
The value in keeping Morgan is two-fold. First, I believe he still has room to grow as a receiver. He is young, has great hands, and always makes plays in crucial situations. Still only 26, Morgan seems mature beyond his years—mentally—and plays with a hard-working, team-first attitude, according to Coach Harbaugh.
Second, keeping Morgan equates to continuity. The 49ers have been plagued with discontinuity over the last several years, from top to bottom within the organization. Now that they’ve finally found some stability, Morgan is one of those players a team should keep around.
So while San Francisco will almost certainly target wide receivers this offseason, re-signing Josh Morgan would be a wise move. Younger players would benefit from sitting behind him and watching him go to work.
Finally we come to Ted Ginn, Jr. Ginn has had an interesting career so far. After being drafted ninth overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2007, Ginn was gradually written off as nothing more than a return man.
In fact, that’s still his biggest asset.
The difference now is that Ginn has settled into a more distinct role. In Miami, Ginn was expected to be a dynamic play-maker, both on offense and in the return game. Despite having a couple of decent years catching passes, he never truly caught fire as a wide receiver.
With all due respect, I don’t think the 49ers expect much from Ginn as a wide receiver.
Ginn has carved out his role as a gadget-type player specializing in returning kickoffs and punts. And he’s been electric.
But keeping Ginn would be a luxury, since the 49ers are also trying to revamp the wide receiver position. Since he is listed as a wide receiver, Ginn would take a position spot on the active roster.
Ginn doesn’t have to be a primary weapon as a pass-catcher. However, if the 49ers can find those weapons this offseason, they can use Ginn more selectively on offense and still use his services on special teams.