12 Dream Free Agents for the San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are fresh off a stellar 2011 season, where they went 13-3 and were within a play or two from going to the Super Bowl. Looking forward, the 49ers are roughly $30 million under the salary cap.
The 49ers have several of their own free agents they want to sign. Included in this list are Alex Smith, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, Ahmad Brooks and Adam Snyder.
A large chunk of the $30 million will be dedicated to these players. There should be some cap space available for the 49ers to go after some additional free agents, but it won't come anywhere near $30 million.
For the purposes of this report on "dream" free agents, I am focusing only on offensive players.
12) DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
DeSean Jackson is one of the top wide receivers on the market. In my experience, he is also the most polarizing, when it comes to whether the 49ers should go after him.
Jackson played his college football at Cal and is well known to the local fans. He's one of the most exciting players in the game but has also had several problems with the Eagles' management and head coach Andy Reed.
Jackson had 58 receptions for 961 yards and four touchdowns this past season. In his prior two years with the Eagles, Jackson eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and had a total of 17 touchdowns.
Before the 49ers make any offers to Jackson, they must be fairly certain that Jackson is ready to buy in to the team concept that Jim Harbaugh espouses. I would recommend a long conversation between Harbaugh and Jackson to get a feeling as to where Jackson's head is at.
Jackson could be a good fit in San Francisco and his ability to return punts is also an advantage. However, he is also one of the riskiest options on the market. He will be expensive, and there is the concern that his large ego and demanding personality could be a distraction.
The Eagles have been posturing that they intend to use the Franchise Tag on Jackson, but are open to trading him. If this is the case and the 49ers need to give up more than just the money it will take to sign him, I would stay away.
11) Ben Grubbs, Offensive Guard
Ben Grubbs is not the sexiest name on the free-agent market, but he could be one of the most attractive to the 49ers.
Grubbs will be entering his sixth NFL season and is in the prime of his career at 27 years of age.
The 49ers have super-utility lineman Adam Snyder currently starting at right guard. He had a solid season and was a huge upgrade over Chilo Rachal.
Snyder can fill in admirably at any position along the offensive line. This versatility makes him extremely valuable, if one of his linemates goes down with an injury.
By signing Grubbs, the 49ers would have the luxury of utilizing Snyder at any line position where there's a need.
10) Mike Tolbert, Running Back
Mike Tolbert would be a good fit for the 49ers. He's a versatile back and would be a fine complement to incumbents Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Gore is the main back for the 49ers and rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2011. Hunter provides speed and outstanding big-play potential.
Tolbert could spell Gore when the 49ers need a short-yardage back. He is a far better short-yardage runner than Anthony Dixon, who does not hit the line with enough strength and decisiveness.
In 2011, with the San Diego Chargers, Tolbert carried the ball 121 times for 490 yards, good for a four yards per carry average. A testament to his ability as a short-yardage runner is his eight touchdowns.
Tolbert is also a good receiver out of the backfield. In 2011, in spot action, he caught 54 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns.
It's important for the 49ers to keep Frank Gore as fresh as possible, and the combination of Hunter and Tolbert can do that.
9) Marques Colston, Wide Receiver
The New Orleans Saints have several impact free agents, and the odds are that they won't be able to sign all of them.
Quarterback Drew Brees heads this impressive list that includes Carl Nicks, Marques Colston Tracy Porter and Devery Henderson.
Colston would give the 49ers the No. 1 receiver they're hoping to land this offseason. In the high-powered Saints offense, Colston caught 80 passes for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns.
Colston is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and fifth over the past six years. At the age of 29, which Colston will be prior to the start of the season, Colston can provide a lift to the 49ers offense.
8) Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver
The benefits of having Reggie Wayne on the 49ers' roster are several. First off, he would not command the huge salary of a Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe.
At the age of 33, Wayne probably still has two or three good years left in him. In 2011, he caught 75 passes for 960 yards, without the benefit of having Peyton Manning throw the football.
Wayne can definitely still play at a very high level. Prior to the 2011 campaign, Wayne had seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. I believe he would be very interested in coming to a team that has a chance to get to the Super Bowl in the next couple of years. The 49ers fit that objective.
Another major benefit of having Reggie Wayne on your team is that he can be a mentor to the 49ers' younger receivers. Wayne has always displayed class and professionalism, along with his ability to get open and make big catches.
If the 49ers signed Wayne and drafted another promising young receiver, that rookie would benefit greatly from being able to learn from Wayne.
Current receivers Michael Crabtree and Joshua Morgan would also learn a lot, which will be invaluable for their improvement and for the success of the entire 49er offense.
7) Steve Johnson, Wide Receiver
The Buffalo Bills do not seem likely to offer wide receiver Stevie Johnson the kind of money he wants as a free agent. He has also had a few off-the-field problems that have tarnished his image. I believe Jim Harbaugh can keep Johnson under control, however.
Johnson is an excellent receiver who has the ability to gain separation from a defensive back. He has excellent speed and a knack for getting open in the end zone.
In 2011, Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. He had similar numbers in 2010, with 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 scores.
Johnson was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and at the age of 25, should be coming into the prime of his career. He might be very interested to come back home to San Francisco and play for an up-and-coming team like the 49ers.
6) Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver
Vincent Jackson may be the top wide receiver on the market capable of making the big home run play. He has tremendous speed and can stretch the field or run away from tacklers, turning short gains into long scores.
In 2011, Jackson had 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. His career average of 17.5 yards per catch is a testament to his big-play ability.
The one question I have about Jackson is whether his skills are a good fit with Alex Smith. Jackson likes to catch the deep ball, and that's not a strength of Smith.
Jackson is not as good as some of the other free-agent receivers available in terms of catching the ball in traffic or over the middle. I believe Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and Mike Wallace are all significantly better at this phase of the game.
Nevertheless, Jackson is one of the most dynamic players in the game and would definitely open up the field for the 49ers offense.
5) Carl Nicks, Offensive Guard
The San Francisco 49ers would love to have Carl Nicks on their offensive line.
Similar to Ben Grubbs, who was mentioned earlier, Nicks would fit nicely in at the guard spot, enabling the 49ers to take advantage of Adam Snyder's versatility.
Nicks is an outstanding lineman and will be 27 years old when the 2012 season begins. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and was selected as a first team All-Pro, in 2011.
Nicks will command a very large salary, and it's unlikely that the 49ers would pay that much for another offensive lineman, when they have already invested three Round 1 picks in Staley, A. Davis and Iupati. They also paid a hefty free-agent price for center Jonathan Goodwin last year.
Nevertheless, the title of the article is about "dream free agents" and to see Nicks in a 49ers' uniform in 2012 would be a very pleasant dream.
4) Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently over the salary cap, and one of their casualties could be Mike Wallace. If he comes available, he would be someone for the 49ers to target.
Unlike many of the other top wide receivers on the market, Wallace does a very good job of catching the ball in traffic. He also has the speed to get deep down the field. He would be the No. 1 receiver the 49ers so desperately want.
In 2011, Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns. He's also very good running after the catch, as his 16.6 yards per catch average suggests.
As a restricted free agent, Pittsburgh can match any offer made to Wallace.
The 49ers would be wise to have other options in the works, in the event Wallace is retained by the Steelers.
3) Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver
Dwayne Bowe would be an ideal fit for the 49ers.
At 6'2" and 221 pounds, Bowe is a big, strong receiver who can catch the ball over the middle and also has the speed to get deep.
In 2011, Bowe caught 81 passes for 1,159 yards and five touchdowns. In 2010, his 15 touchdown receptions led the league. His physical size and strength would also make him an ideal red zone target for Alex Smith.
However, if Bowe becomes available, the 49ers should make him their top priority. He is the type of number one receiver who would make the 49ers' offense dramatically better.
2) Wes Welker, Wide Receiver
The title of this article is "dream free agents," and if the 49ers were able to get Wes Welker, it would be a dream come true. Welker, who will be 31 years old in May, is a player the Patriots desperately want to keep.
The current negotiations between the two sides remain pretty far apart, and if no deal can be reached, it's likely the Patriots would put the Franchise Tag on Welker.
In three of the past five seasons, including 2011, Welker has led the league in pass receptions. This past season, Welker had 122 catches for 1,569 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns.
A deal is never done until it's done, but I seriously doubt that Welker will hit the open market. Nevertheless, we can dream.
1) Drew Brees, Quarterback
Drew Brees is a free agent, and he would look great in the red and gold of the 49ers. However, do not expect the Saints to let him get away.
Brees led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title in 2009 and is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. He will undoubtedly sign with the Saints, or they will put the Franchise Tag on him.
In 2011, Brees completed 468 of his 657 pass attempts, leading the league with a 71.2 completion percentage. His 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns were also tops in the NFL.
Brees is a true superstar, and for him to be a 49er in 2011, it would be the "impossible dream."
The San Francisco 49ers Are Poised to Make Another Run at the Super Bowl
The San Francisco 49ers are well stocked to make another deep run in the playoffs. They do have several impact free agents from their 13-3 team in 2011 that they want to keep.
Their focus will be on keeping their own free agents first. Alex Smith, Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers, Ahmad Brooks and Adam Snyder are their top priority.
Smith should be a foregone conclusion as the mutual respect that he and Harbaugh share is something not seen in San Francisco since the Steve Young and Joe Montana years. Smith blossomed under Harbaugh's guidance and still has room to grow.
So close are Smith and Harbaugh that Smith even caddied for Harbaugh on one of the days of the AT&T golf tournament held on the Monterey Peninsula.
Unlike 2011, Harbaugh will have a full training camp to work with Smith and the rest of the offense. I fully expect a lot more offense from the 49ers in 2012.
Looking at our list of dream free agents, if the 49ers realistically could end up with any of these players on the list, it would be excellent.