Which San Francisco 49ers Could Still Be Dealt Before the 2012 Season Opener?
The San Francisco 49ers did a good job supplementing their roster through free agency and the draft. GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh are always looking for ways to strengthen their team.
In an effort to get some value for players who do not figure to be major contributors, some of the current 49ers could still be dealt. In particular, let's look at five players who could help other teams, but may fall victim to the numbers game in San Francisco. Baalke will likely try to get future draft picks for some of these players.
5. Scott Tolzien, Quarterback
The San Francisco 49ers currently have four quarterbacks on their roster and will likely keep only three. With Alex Smith holding down the starting job and the 49ers' 2011 second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick also in the fold, there's not much room left.
The 49ers signed a Harbaugh favorite, Josh Johnson, as a free agent from Tampa Bay. Harbaugh worked with Johnson at the University of San Diego and developed him into an NFL quarterback. I actually believe he will beat out Kaepernick to earn the second-string job.
This leaves Scott Tolzien out in the cold. Tolzien looked very good in 2011 training camp in San Diego and was later picked up by the 49ers after the Chargers let him go. In limited play in the exhibition games with the 49ers, Tolzien also played well.
Tolzein has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback—if given the chance. He most likely will not get that opportunity with the 49ers, but another team may be interested.
It's possible Baalke will be able to get a late-round draft pick for Tolzien. If this happens, expect Baalke to jump on it.
4. Kyle Williams, Wide Receiver
Kyle Williams was a sixth-round draft selection by the 49ers in 2010. He rarely saw the field, catching only one pass in four games.
Williams became a larger part of the 49ers' offense in 2011, when he had 20 receptions for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Williams battled minor injuries throughout his two seasons and his durability remains a question mark.
To make matters worse for Williams, he was the goat of the NFC title game against the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Late in the game, Williams fumbled one punt and allowed another to bounce off his leg when he had no intention of fielding it.
These gaffes gave New York the impetus it needed to defeat the 49ers and go to the Super Bowl. One mistake can happen, but two major errors may be too much for head coach Jim Harbaugh to ever really trust Williams again.
The 49ers are set with their top four wide receivers: Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins. There is a lot of competition for the final one or two wide receiver roster spots.
In order to make the team, Williams would likely need to beat out Ted Ginn, Jr., Brett Swain, Joe Hastings, John Matthews and Chris Owusu. Even if he did, Williams would be the fifth receiver and if another team offered a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick, the 49ers might make that deal.
3. Kendall Hunter, Running Back
Kendall Hunter was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. He displayed flashes of brilliance last year, but his playing time in 2012 seems to be even more limited.
In 2011, Hunter rushed for 473 yards in 112 attempts, a 4.2-yards-per-carry average. He also caught 16 passes for 195 yards. Hunter is a small, quick back and a very shifty runner. At his size, Hunter does not appear to be an every-down back.
The 49ers have added a lot of talent to their running back corps in the past few months. They signed free agents Brandon Jacobs and Rock Cartwright. The 49ers also surprised some people by drafting Oregon's LaMichael James in the second round.
James is extremely explosive and will take away a lot of the playing time that otherwise may have gone to Hunter. I actually expect James to usurp some of Jacobs' playing time, as well.
Hunter is a player that can make big plays. He would have value as a third-down back or specialty back for many teams. If Baalke could get a fourth-round pick in exchange for Hunter, I believe he would make that deal.
2. Ted Ginn, Jr., Wide Receiver
Ted Ginn, Jr. is on the bubble as a San Francisco 49er. The main reason is Ginn is not a strong wide receiver, as he had only 19 receptions for 220 yards and no touchdowns in 2011.
Ginn's main value is as a kickoff and punt return man. He returned one of each for touchdowns in the past season and averaged 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 12.3 yards per punt return. He was also very sure-handed and did not turn the ball over.
It was a glaring weakness of the 49ers when Ginn was out. Kyle Williams was very scary in fielding kicks, even before his problems against the Giants in the NFC title game. Had Ginn been healthy and able to play, I have little doubt San Francisco would have gone on to the Super Bowl.
The fact is, however, that Ginn had trouble staying healthy and the 49ers cannot afford to keep him if he is not a reliable return man. He simply is not good enough a receiver to carry him, unless he can be the 49ers' main returner.
The 49ers will try A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James in these roles. If they excel, it could be the end of the line for Ginn as a 49er.
Ginn will have value for a team looking to bolster their return game, and he could be a prime trade target. The 49ers would be able to get a late-round draft selection for him and that would be another asset to stash away for the future.
1. Parys Haralson, Linebacker
The San Francisco 49ers are blessed with an excellent linebacking corps. Last year's rookie phenom Aldon Smith recorded 14 sacks, just 0.5 away from the all-time rookie record.
Smith is slated to step in as the starter for Parys Haralson, which could make Haralson expendable. His contract has two years remaining and Haralson makes more than $2 million per year. That's a big salary cap saving if San Francisco elects to move Haralson.
The 49ers also drafted linebacker Darius Fleming and defensive end Cam Johnson, who could be moved to an outside linebacker spot. If these two rookies can contribute on special teams and look like they can fill in at outside linebacker, we could see 49ers GM Trent Baalke shop Haralson.
Haralson should be worth a third- or fourth-round draft pick, which would be a valuable add for the 49ers. The key is whether the 49ers are comfortable going very young with their outside linebacker reserves.
This is a scenario that needs watching as the preseason unfolds.
The 49ers Will Have a Much Deeper Team in 2012
San Francisco 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly stated that he wants competition at every position. With many of the offseason free-agent acquisitions and recent draftees, the 49ers have assured themselves that competition for jobs will be fierce.
The 49ers will also have stronger depth because of the overall increase in quality on their roster. The 49ers could be a much-improved team in 2012, but their record could still be worse.
After finishing with a 13-3 record in 2011, the 49ers will be playing a much tougher schedule. Their non-conference opponents include New England, Green Bay, Chicago, New Orleans and the defending Super Bowl champions, New York Giants.
The five players I mentioned are on thin ice and are prime candidates to be traded. They will need to step up their level of play or else risk not being on the team in the future.