A Realistic Free-Agent Wish List for the San Francisco 49ers, Based on Cap Space
The San Francisco 49ers, as usual, will maneuver through free agency, upgrading their already loaded roster. The Niners will continue their methodical yet unglamorous approach to the free-agent market.
Trent Baalke and company will allow teams like Kansas City, Buffalo and Jacksonville to overpay—organizations with more holes and deficiencies. The 49ers are bargain shoppers: they will apply a value to players of interest, negotiate and if an agreement can be met, it will be.
San Francisco will not force anything if it’s not meant to be.
With this coming offseason, the Niners have a number of significant personnel decisions to make. The team is in a position to regain some cap space, although they have a great deal of money tied up.
Per Matt Maiocco, “The NFLPA is planning for the 2013 cap to be $121 million per team, reports Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports. That would be an increase of $400,000 over this year's limit. Currently, the 49ers have 45 players under contract for next season at a cap cost of $120.98 million.”
This includes 19 players who will exceed $2 million against the cap, including Alex Smith ($9.75 million), Parys Haralson ($2.87 million), Jonathan Goodwin ($5.02 million) and David Akers ($3.62 million), all of whom may be expendable this coming offseason.
If the 49ers can trade Alex Smith before the April 1 deadline, they will create almost $10 million in cap space. If they release him outright, they will only owe him $1 million, and Smith would then be allowed to shop himself around.
San Francisco’s free agents this year will feature Dashon Goldson, Randy Moss, Larry Grant, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois, Ted Ginn Jr. and Delanie Walker. There could be some significant changeover this offseason.
We'll breakdown some free agents the 49ers should look at in the 2013 offseason.
Dashon Goldson, FS
First and foremost, the 49ers need to view Dashon Goldson as a priority free agent. The Niners safety was tagged by the organization this past year, and his contract will be officially up at the end of the 2012-13 season.
He has been the hard-hitting, hawking presence in the defensive backfield that is so rare to find nowadays. There are only a handful of safeties at Goldson’s caliber, and if he does test the market, he will command big defensive dollars.
With the exit of Alex Smith and others, there may be money available to extend Goldson. However, NaVorro Bowman was just extended, and it’d be odd to see two top-tier defenders be extended in a short period of time.
Also, the 49ers can apply the franchise tag on him again. With his performance recently—playing at a high level in consecutive seasons—and his partnership with Donte Whitner, San Francisco needs to prioritize his retention.
Greg Jennings, WR
There is the belief out there that the departure of Greg Jennings from Green Bay is only a matter of time. They have to re-sign a number of players, and the team showed how successful they could be without Jennings.
Ted Ginn Jr. and Randy Moss have expiring contracts at the end of the season. As always, the Niners will look to upgrade at the position, and could see value in Jennings. The 49ers could benefit from a polished veteran to play opposite Michael Crabtree, who has emerged as a quality possession receiver.
With Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace on the market, Jennings’ value will be not nearly as high as if he were the No. 1 receiver available. His injuries will also leave a red flag on his free-agent résumé, providing slight leverage for negotiating teams.
So, if the Packers cannot afford to keep him, and Jennings isn’t commanding the dollars he sees fit, he could look to compromise by going to another contender. After playing with competitive Packers teams his entire career, he could not sensibly go to a second- or third-rate team and be content.
Jennings, 29, may be willing to take a three-year deal with San Francisco.
Jared Cook, TE
Delanie Walker is scheduled to be a free agent, and with his inconsistency at the position, San Francisco could look to upgrade.
Enter the 6'5", 248-pound Jared Cook.
The tight end from Tennessee has loads of upside, but has never been able to reach it with the Titans. His team’s offense has been struggling, and with it still being relatively early in his pro career, he could look for a fresh start elsewhere.
In fact, he requested to be traded earlier this season.
Cook is a big target, and his signing would be intended to upgrade San Francisco’s passing attack. There are a number of competitive teams, including the Patriots, Ravens and Seahawks, who use a two-tight-end system.
Cook runs a sub 4.5 40-yard dash, and like Vernon Davis could provide mismatch problems for opposing defenses.
Also, with Moss possibly departing, the team could use another red-zone threat. And if Cook reaches his potential, it could add a whole new dimension to this offense. The Niners feature a lot of packages that have two-plus tight ends, so depth at the position is important.
This could be a huge under-the-radar signing if the Titans don't franchise him.
Ramses Barden, WR
As mentioned earlier, the Niners are not typically interested in big-name players. More often than not, they are overvalued and don’t live up to their offseason hype. Take a look at someone like Mario Williams or Nnamdi Asomugha, who have all but disappeared with their new teams.
At 6'6", Ramses Barden is a big physical specimen at receiver. But with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle, the Giants may let Barden slip through the cracks this offseason.
Barden remains very raw and can still grow with an offense. Moreover, the Giants have done considerably well bringing in wide receivers. His size advantage over cornerbacks is something the 49ers do not have.
With the departure of Moss, San Francisco could use a big-bodied pass-catcher. Not to mention, the Giants are only paying Barden $565,000 in 2012. He would be a great bargain shop and worth the risk of bringing in to find out what he is made of.
Devery Henderson, WR
This offseason, wideout should still wind up being a team need. New Orleans receiver Devery Henderson is set to be a free agent, and should not be commanding top dollars. The Saints had a very disappointing season this year as the franchise has turned on itself.
Henderson may want a change of scenery and knows very well what the 49ers are capable of. In two matches against Jim Harbaugh’s Niners, the Saints came away empty-handed. The offensive fireworks show was unable to outscore the hard-nosed 49ers—on the road or at home.
Henderson would leave the Saints, viewed as a skilled receiver that could fill a role in an already halfway competent offense. He is an all-around pass-catcher who can work defenses underneath and be physical while also bringing the ability to stretch the field.
In his time with the Saints, Henderson has displayed incredible focus as a pass-catcher. He would be able to step in and work within San Francisco’s West Coast system.
Anthony Fasano, TE
The Dolphins are still being made over by Joe Philbin, and there is the possibility Anthony Fasano leaves Miami.
Once again, the team may want to upgrade opposite Vernon Davis. With the Dolphins, Fasano was used to being the focus in the offense and still managed to perform. As a No. 2 tight end, Fasano could have an opportunity to chew up defenses like never before.
Fasano, 28, would also have the first opportunity of his pro career to play for a winning team. He is not just a receiver; he could also be an adequate blocker at the TE2 spot. At 6'4", 255 pounds, he has the frame to knock defenders off the ball.
He may be viewed as a luxury as a No. 2, but the 49ers need depth at the position and I wouldn’t put it past the front office to get something done at a premium.
Shayne Graham, K
Unfortunately, after one remarkable season, David Akers followed it up with an off year. It would not be terribly surprising if the team elected to replace him this coming offseason. If this is difficult to believe, reminisce on how the 49ers dealt with the now infamous Smith-Kaepernick midseason drama.
Shayne Graham is a free agent and has outperformed the Niners kicker in 2012. Graham is 82 percent on the season for the Houston Texans. Entering Week 17, he is 100 percent from 30 to 39 yards, which is where a majority of San Francisco’s attempts have come from this year.
Graham is a top-10 kicker in the NFL, so reaching out to him would not be the worst offseason move. The 49ers can bring Graham in during the offseason to push Akers, or as a legitimate replacement.