4 Free-Agency Moves the San Francisco 49ers Didn't Make That Will Haunt Them
All in all, the San Francisco 49ers executed a well-constructed free-agency plan for a second consecutive season.
The front office faced a daunting task in not only retaining the pieces that brought the franchise back to relevancy—but also plugging the holes that may have prevented the 49ers from ending a brilliant 2011 season on a better note.
Trent Baalke and Co. were mainly successful in re-signing their own, but a couple valuable role players did manage to slip through the cracks. Blake Costanzo and Adam Snyder were fan favorites who are unfortunately headed elsewhere this spring.
And while the low-risk, high-reward additions of Randy Moss, Brandon Jacobs and Perrish Cox are great in terms of potential—none are guarantees to make the 53-man roster—thus leaving the 49ers relatively thin at their respective positions if they can't survive training camp.
This article isn't at all to say the 49ers weren't winners in this year's free-agency period. ESPN gave the front office an "A" rating for a job well done, and I couldn't agree more.
However, there were a few faces the 49er faithful would've loved to see in red and gold this season that will instead be playing elsewhere. Peyton Manning, Mike Wallace and Brandon Carr were a couple big names that San Fran at least inquired about.
But, as they say, you can't always get what you want.
The upcoming slides will highlight four moves the front office failed to pull the trigger on that have the potential to haunt the team moving forward.
Failing to Address the Guard Position
Losing the versatile and hard-nosed Snyder could potentially bring the 49ers some fits this upcoming season.
The 49ers believe second-year lineman Daniel Kilgore can step up and replace Snyder at right guard, but he's wildly inexperienced and there is little to no depth behind Kilgore at this point.
Veterans Deuce Lutui, Leonard Davis and Jason Brown were all brought in for visits, but none have been signed thus far.
But those options would've been short-term at best anyway, and wouldn't it be nice to shore up the right guard position once and for all?
While spending big money on a guard in free agency would've likely prevented the 49ers from addressing a separate need, you're only as strong as your weakest link, and trying to endure the 2012 season without a reliable right guard would stunt the growth of the 49er offense significantly.
While the All-Pro Carl Nicks was never considered a viable option, the cheaper yet still Pro Bowl-caliber Ben Grubbs would've brought the San Francisco's O-line to a formidable status.
The 6'3", 310-pound Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million deal to replace Nicks in New Orleans, and was someone I thought the front office should at least give a look.
Another option, and one who currently remains unsigned, is veteran Jake Scott. Scott has now started 120 straight games in the NFL and helped Peyton manning and the Colts win Super Bowl XLI. After signing in Tennessee, Scott would help stud running back Chris Johnson pile up over 2,000 rushing yards in the 2009 season.
Scott would come at a much cheaper price than Grubbs, but the 49ers no longer have the necessary funds to pursue him.
Still No Big-Bodied Possession Receiver
The 49ers aren't shy about searching for big-bodied receivers in free agency. But the results have been rather disappointing in recent years.
Bryant Johnson, Antonio Bryant and most recently Braylon Edwards, were all 6'2" or taller wideouts signed by the team in free agency since Alex Smith was drafted. None of them remained with San Fran longer than one season, and none lived up to expectations anyway.
The 49ers were big winners in signing ex-Giants WR Mario Manningham. He'll be replacing Josh Morgan at a cheaper price than what Morgan was demanding, and has a higher ceiling as well.
But Manningham is even smaller than fellow 49er receiver Michael Crabtree, and the 6'4" 210-pound Moss is unlikely to provide help over the middle or in red-zone situations.
A reliable possession receiver like the 6'4" 225-pound Marques Colston could've boosted Smith's completion percentage significantly, all the while providing to be a solid red-zone option in addition to star tight end Vernon Davis.
Obviously, prying Drew Brees' favorite wideout away from him would've come at a hefty price, but after the vanishing act pulled by the receiving corps in the NFC Championship game—this type of move almost seemed necessary.
The 49ers did bring in the 6'4", 225-pound Chaz Schilens for a free-agent visit, but he would eventually sign with the New York Jets.
If Moss can't create more space underneath and the 49ers don't find a big-bodied receiver in the draft—the third-down and red-zone woes of 2011 may unfortunately continue to linger into next season.
Not Even Attempting to Retain a Fan Favorite and Special Teams Leader
On paper, the loss of Costanzo may not seem very tough to swallow.
But the special teams standout made quite the name for himself a year ago and won over the hearts of the 49ers faithful as a result.
In 2011, his only year in San Francisco, Costanzo posted 17 special teams tackles and was a force to be reckoned with in both playoff games.
While the team did sign veteran special-teams specialist Rock Cartwright to replace the void and will return other valuable pieces to the unit—the leadership and energy Costanzo brought to the team day in and day out will be sorely missed.
Veteran Depth Would've Been Useful Given the Tough Schedule That Awaits
If any defense can slow down the high-octane offenses these quarterbacks lead, it's San Francisco's.
With that said, some veteran help in the secondary would've been a huge boost for the upcoming season.
While the signing of Cox at cornerback is an intriguing one, the 25-year-old hasn't played a snap in the NFL since his rookie season in 2010, and is by no means guaranteed to make the 53-man roster.
The 49ers have an excellent pair of safeties and an impressive group of cornerbacks as well—but depth is a serious issue if injuries occur.
Perhaps a cheap veteran addition like Brodney Pool would've been a more valuable move than signing Cox.
At 6'2" 205 pounds, Pool is a big-bodied safety with seven years of NFL experience and is versatile enough to fill in at cornerback if injuries occur. Pool spent his first five seasons in Cleveland and started several games at corner when the team was struck by the injury bug.
Pool ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, but would've been easily affordable had the 49ers shown interest.
Cox is nowhere near a trustworthy option as this point, and a rookie added through the draft may not be prepared for some of the aerial attacks the 49ers will face in 2012.
With that said, you can only do so much in free agency—and the 49ers accomplished plenty. But failing to deepen the secondary is something that could prove costly as the team looks to build on a promising 2011 campaign.
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