Ramses Barden would bring his red-zone-tastic 6'6'' frame to San Francisco.
With established, productive starters at nearly every position, the San Francisco 49ers will not serve as the big free-agent spenders in 2013.
Having less than $1.1 million in cap space doesn’t help things either (via Ninercaphell.com).
That still doesn’t mean they’ll refrain from signing anyone.
First of all, the 49ers will likely cut current backup quarterback Alex Smith and save $7.5 million in the process. They also might very well release other players as the offseason progresses. That would free up even more money for potential additions.
Also, Jim Harbaugh, like any NFL head coach worth his salt, believes that competition breeds success. Fostering that dynamic requires bringing in players from the outside to battle with incumbent personnel.
Safety, wide receiver and kicker are some of the positions that will attract said battles.
Whether for simple competition’s sake or for making a serious upgrade, San Francisco will look to acquire players on the open market.
Let’s set the odds for the 49ers signing six particular free agents in the 2013 class that would be ideal fits for the team.
For those of you expecting Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace, please don’t. The odds of those marquee free-agent wideouts signing with San Francisco are between zero and 1.3 percent.
Let’s instead highlight another receiver who would actually provide something those other guys could not—height.
Ramses Barden stands at a towering 6’6’’ with 37’’ arms and massive 10.75’’ hands. He would fulfill the 49ers’ long-standing need of a true, viable red-zone threat since one Terrell Owens donned the Red and Gold.
As good as Michael Crabtree is, as Randy Moss was, or as Vernon Davis can be, none afforded Colin Kaepernick with a consistent jump-ball target in the end zone last year. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams can’t offer that either with their smallish statures.
Barden may have only totaled 29 catches for 394 yards in his four-year career. But he also sat behind the likes of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Domenik Hixon and others while playing for the New York Giants.
Here’s how The Sports Xchange evaluated Barden after the 2009 draft (h/t NFLDraftScout.com):
Tall and talented, with giant hands and 37-inch arms, Barden is considered the eventual replacement for the departed Plaxico Burress. He should be used immediately in red zone situations and might turn into one of Eli Manning's favorites when he wants to throw the fade pattern.
With a cheap price tag and an under-the-radar status, the odds of Barden becoming the next fade target for Kaepernick are solid. Moss’ expected departure makes them even higher.
Plus, unlike Moss, he would be available on special teams, and thus would be a better use of a roster spot.
Odds: 65 percent
Shield your eyes, Raider fans.
Phil Dawson converted a phenomenal 93.5 percent of his kicks (29-of-31) for the Cleveland Browns. That ranked No. 2 behind Kai Forbath, who attempted only 19 kicks on the year.
Dawson was without question the most accurate and big-time kicker. He was 13-of-13 from 40-plus yards, not to mention making all seven attempts from 50-plus.
Cleveland paid him $3.81 million via the franchise tag.
The 49ers’ David Akers will finish out his three-year deal at a price of $3,616,667 if he reaches all his bonus incentives. Akers, however, was the second-least accurate kicker (69 percent) one year after setting an NFL record with 44 successful kicks.
He missed an unsightly and NFL-high 13 field goals, including six between 40-49 yards and two potential game-winners.
Only the Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby converted at a lower rate of 63.6 percent.
Coach Harbaugh remained loyal to Akers all year long (Billy Cundiff tryouts notwithstanding). The former All-Pro rewarded him by going 4-of-5 in the postseason, not to mention converting all three tries in the Super Bowl. He also demonstrated proficiency on kickoffs throughout 2012.
Harbaugh, though, would like to eliminate any potential controversy. And Akers might just ride off into the sunset after a stellar 14-year career ended with an accurate showing on the biggest stage.
Many teams will view Dawson as a hot commodity. However, there’s a decent chance Akers’ fellow 14-year vet will sign with the 49ers if he wants to get to the Super Bowl himself.
Odds: 60 percent
Wilson knows how to deliver the pain like any good Harbaugh-taught 49er.
The Buffalo Bills featured top-10 quality safeties in 2012. Both will play elsewhere in 2013.
George Wilson manned strong safety and performed at a very high level. He allowed just one touchdown, broke up four passes and surrendered a mere 54.6 completion percentage when operating in coverage.
Pro Football Focus also notes his laudable play in run defense (membership required). They gave him the 14th-highest grade, as well as the No. 8 ranking overall.
Tim Graham of The Buffalo News agreed, saying that “[Wilson] can still cover and fills hard in run support” (via Rotoworld).
In comparison, Donte Whitner ranked No. 53 of 88 safeties according to PFF. He surrendered the fourth-highest efficiency rating (128.5), second-highest completion percentage (79.1) and most touchdowns (eight) among those at the position.
Whitner cost the 49ers four touchdowns in the postseason as well.
There are a couple problems to this scenario, though.
Whitner’s already signed through 2013 at $3.85 million (up to $4.93 million with bonuses). San Francisco must also focus on signing top defensive back Dashon Goldson, its hard-hitting free safety.
Rotoworld qualifies Goldson as the No. 2 available FS. His three interceptions and 54.3 completion percentage, 44.8 efficiency rating and only one TD given up speak further to his value.
While the 49ers should upgrade at SS, re-signing Goldson is a greater priority. Wilson remains an outside possibility.
Odds: 30 percent
The former quarterback at Kent State once blossomed into one of the most electric returners in football.
Josh Cribbs reached the All-Pro level with three kickoff return touchdowns and another off a punt in 2009. He added 381 yards rushing and two TDs as well (one receiving).
For his career, Cribbs ranks No. 1 in NFL history with eight kickoff-return TDs. He holds the No. 8 slot with three punt-return TDs.
His best season as a receiver came in 2011 when he logged 518 yards, a 12.6-yard average and one score.
In 2012, Cribbs was an afterthought in a lowly Cleveland Browns offense rated 25th out of 32 teams. He fortunately maintained his prolific self on kickoffs with a return average of 27.4 yards, worthy of the league’s fourth-highest mark.
The 49ers could definitely use Cribbs’ services with Ted Ginn leaving as an expected free-lagent casualty. Ginn wasn’t anywhere near his two-return touchdown form of 2011. His only role on offense was an occasional fly sweep; he held zero value as a receiver.
Cribbs, on the other hand, could offer dynamic gridiron abilities in pass and run plays out of the Kaepernick-led read-option. He’s also a fan favorite and quality team-first guy.
It would be a low-risk, high-reward acquisition on the part of San Francisco. An increased use of LaMichael James, Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter in the return game would reduce these odds, however.
X-factor: Cribbs produced his greatest season in 2009 under the tutelage of now-49ers special teams coach Brad Seely. Odds are he'd like to reunite with his former mentor.
Odds: 65 percent
Why would we include two free agents who played for the 49ers this year?
Because these 49ers bring important value to the team, yet are seriously under-appreciated.
Larry Grant played only 21 snaps on defense this season. He made six tackles and blocked a kick against the New York Jets.
Tavares Gooden saw even less action on the defensive side of the ball (eight snaps). He recorded nine tackles while playing primarily special teams.
So, wherein lies their importance to the team, you might ask?
Grant is the top backup to the NFL’s No. 1 inside linebacker duo in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Even though these All-Pro backers rarely left the field, having a quality replacement if the need ever arose was crucial.
Case in point: when filling in for Willis, Grant totaled 12 tackles and sealed the game for San Francisco when he recorded a sack-forced-fumble against the Seattle Seahawks during Week 16 in 2011. He would surely enjoy a starting role on any other team.
Gooden, for his part, is a valuable special teams contributor. He led the unit in tackles and was one of the few bright spots on the “Tony Montana Squad” that grossly underperformed this season.
Both ILBs are affordable and non-marquee free agents. That said, the 49ers will likely only sign Gooden, as Grant is a certifiable No. 1 having to play second fiddle to some of the best around.
San Francisco will sorely miss the security blanket Grant provides if he signs a lucrative deal elsewhere.
Odds: Grant 20 percent, Gooden 80 percent
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