The clock is ticking down on the 2012-13 NFL season. This weekend will mark the beginning of the playoffs, where only 12 of 32 teams remain. The San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) finished the regular season as division champs, and will yet again have a first-round bye.
The 49ers will be competing for a title this year, but there are many teams that have already begun preparing for next season.
When the offseason eventually does begin for the 49ers, they will be an appealing landing spot for potential free agents and incoming rookies. With Jim Harbaugh, the Niners have been extremely competitive, looking like annual contenders.
In this breakdown, we'll take a look at some free agents the 49ers should take a look at when their 2012-13 campaign is in the books.
David Akers, who was one of San Francisco’s greatest strengths in 2011, became arguably its biggest weakness only a year later. In the season finale against the Cardinals, the Niners kicker remained cold, missing his first two attempts before halftime.
Heading into the postseason, the 49ers felt the need to address the situation and did so by signing free-agent kicker Billy Cundiff.
This should become a team need during the offseason.
Phil Dawson’s contact with the Cleveland Browns is expiring at the end of the league year. And unless the team wants to franchise him again, which would cost them a whopping $15 million, Dawson will test the free-agent market.
He has been tagged the past two seasons, so Cleveland will have to outright extend the 37-year-old place kicker.
Dawson is a 14-year veteran, a Pro Bowler and Browns franchise-record holder. After a career of paying dues, he may like to finally sign with a contender. Dawson finished this season 29 of 31 on field goals, posting a career best 93.5 percent. He also went 7-for-7 from 50-plus yards in 2012.
San Francisco might like to pick Dawson up this offseason to replace Akers. This kind of signing would really make sense for both parties involved.
Note: It would be a surprise if the 49ers did not at least apply the franchise tag to Dashon Goldson. After this year, they will most likely retain his services, either by extension or franchise tag.
If the 49ers cannot extend Dashon Goldson, he might want to test his value on the open market. Of course, the team can place the franchise tag on him for a second year in a row. Goldson should be a top priority for the organization, but sometimes things don’t work out.
At the end of the season, Ed Reed’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens will expire. The long-time safety has been one of the franchise’s greatest players and surefire candidate for the Hall of Fame. Since Reed was not a part of the 2000 Ravens championship team, he does not have his ring.
He has not yet decided what his future will be:
I’m not thinking about that right now, man. My focus is to finish this season off right now and prepare for the playoffs and go from there. As far as my future, it’s all about the near future and now. It’s not about offseason or anything right there.
Now, with Ray Lewis set to retire at the end of the season, Reed may make a business decision. The team will clearly not be the same going forward without Lewis, and Reed may want a change of scenery altogether.
Also, the Ravens D has not been as opportunistic as they have been in years past. If they fall in dramatic fashion once again in the postseason, it could leave Reed sour. There are really a number of variables that could lead to Reed shopping his services for one year.
Similar to their agreement with Randy Moss, San Francisco could bring Ed Reed in on a one-year deal. Meanwhile, they could draft at the position and develop their guys, which already consist of Michael Thomas and Trenton Robinson.
Reed is one the smartest and most instinctive players to ever play the safety position. He has an awful lot of knowledge to pass on to the younger guys, while he is physically fit for one more good season.
Depending on how the season ends, Reed, 34, may want one last opportunity to win a Super Bowl.
The Titans have been struggling post Jeff Fisher and Jim Schwartz. The offense has been terribly inconsistent. And despite all of their weapons—including an athletically gifted running back—they cannot seem to be a threat vertically.
A lot of players have grown frustrated, including tight end Jared Cook. The Titans pass-catcher was discouraged in the offense’s lack of progress this season, according to The Tennessean's John Glennon.
For me, the offense struggled all year and we showed no signs of getting better. I just feel like it was another year. I just don’t want it to be a year wasted because that’s another year that everyone is getting older.
At 6’5”, 248 pounds, Cook was a big receiving target for the Tennessee quarterbacks. They just never seemed to get it going, but he could potentially be a big-time threat for a team that understands and utilizes tight ends.
The 25-year-old Cook could find a home in San Francisco.
Delanie Walker’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and San Francisco may look to upgrade. And even though Vernon Davis remains, the 49ers run a system that necessitates multiple tight ends.
Displeased in Tennessee, Cook may want a change of scenery. “I have to consider my options. I don’t know what my options are going to be yet,” Cook said, per Glennon. If one of his options is a resurgent 49ers team, he may be inclined to head to the Bay Area.
This coming offseason, the wide receiver position should still be a team need for the Niners. Outside of Randy Moss, who is expected to be departing after his one year stint, San Francisco does not have a wide receiver over 6’1”.
With his deal being up, the Giants will probably allow Ramses Barden to walk this coming offseason. The 6’6” receiver was pretty buried on the depth chart, beneath Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle and Domenik Hixon.
However, the Giants have done well acquiring receivers and pass rushers, so the 49ers may want to examine what falls through the cracks.
Also, the 49ers are unlikely to pursue Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace or even Greg Jennings – players who will likely demand more financial compensation than the Niners are willing to spend. After the initial dust settles in the free agent frenzy, Trent Baalke could bring in Barden.
The organization will continue to build through the draft but scout underrated talent already floating around the NFL. They might want to see what Barden can do. There is a chance he can give the 49ers another mismatch weapon on offense.
Once again, this would be about bringing size to the 49ers offense. After playing second fiddle to Jason Witten in Dallas, Martellus Bennett got his first chance to start for the Giants in 2012.
He was acquired on a one-year deal, which will be up at the end of the league year. The Giants go through tight ends, and don’t seem to care for continuity at the position. Bennett, 6’6”, could be allowed to test the market this coming offseason, where San Francisco could make an offer.
The Niners could use a big-bodied pass-catcher to fill in at the TE2 spot. If Walker does indeed leave for greener pastures, then the 49ers should use it as an opportunity to upgrade.
A tight end tandem of Bennett and Davis could open up the middle of the field. It would also create opportunities for the backs and wide receivers. All of a sudden, the 49ers would have a solid one-two punch of size and speed at TE.
Devin Hester will not be a free agent, but it does not mean he won't be attainable. After a disappointing end to the 2012 season, Hester expressed himself in front of the media, going as far as to say he's contemplating retirement.
The Bears organization in the midst of a change, having just recently fired head coach Lovie Smith. Hester has been a return specialist for the team who doesn't have much functionality as a receiver. The 49ers could feasibly trade for the disgruntled Hester.
Let me make myself clear the reason why I feel like retiring has nothing to do with Lovie Smith Getting fired.— DevinHester (@D_Hest23) January 1, 2013
It's hard to play this game when you're not happy or having fun At what you love to do in life.— DevinHester (@D_Hest23) January 1, 2013
As unhappy as he may seem, Hester could benefit greatly from a change of scenery. The speedy return man could revitalize his passion for the game with San Francisco. With their offensive staff and play designers, Hester could get involved offensively.
And with a drastic drop in Ted Ginn's production, the 49ers could use a new return specialist. Since they value the field position game so much, they need a top-tier returner. With Ginn's seemingly inevitable departure, the Niners should make a run at Hester.