Top 10 Free Agents the San Francisco 49ers Should Pursue
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The San Francisco 49ers came within five yards of winning their sixth Super Bowl. They were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, and the task now is to get back to the big game next year, and win it.
The dust has settled on the season and it's time to look toward strengthening the team for another run in 2013. Acquiring players through free agency is one of the primary ways a team can improve in a hurry.
The 49ers and GM Trent Baalke have been more focused on the draft, which is how they built the team into into a consistent contender. However, as the 49ers have had success in the past two seasons, they find themselves picking toward the bottom of the draft.
At this stage of the squad, it's more important for the 49ers to acquire impact players, as opposed to needing bodies for depth. Picking later in the draft rounds hampers the 49ers' ability to get that impact talent.
The 49ers must tap into the free-agent market to pick up some impact players. Every team has a certain window of opportunity that must be capitalized on. Acquiring impact-caliber players now will give the 49ers the best chance to pass that final hurdle and win the Super Bowl.
Let's look at 10 free agents that would be an ideal fit for the 49ers. For the purposes of this article, we will focus only on unrestricted free agents.
Salary cap constraints will probably limit the 49ers to only one or two of these players. Nevertheless, if the 49ers can sign even a couple of these targets, it would be a major benefit.
No. 10: Antonio Johnson, Nose Tackle
Antonio Johnson would fill a big need for the 49ers.
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The San Francisco 49ers play a 3-4 base defense and both of their nose tackles, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois are free agents. Sopoaga, who will be 32 years old in September, has slowed considerably.
Sopoaga is a solid run defender and can occupy multiple blockers in the middle of the line. However, he provides no pass rush and needs periodic rest. He also made $3.8 million in 2012 and would need to take a large decrease in pay to remain in San Francisco.
It's unlikely that Sopoaga and the 49ers will come to an agreement, so look for him to move on.
Ricky Jean-Francois is a capable backup but is too small to be a starting nose tackle. He also does not have the stamina to play effectively for long stretches.
The 49ers need to bolster the nose tackle position and the best available option is Antonio Johnson. He has played five seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and, at 28 years old, can fill the hole created with the expected departure of Sopoaga.
Johnson is 6'3" and 310 pounds, so he has the size the 49ers would be looking for in a nose tackle. He started 12 games in each of the past two seasons.
Johnson made just $2 million last year. Given his age, he would be a much better investment than Sopoaga.
No. 9: William Moore, Safety
William Moore had four interceptions in 2012.
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William Moore would be an ideal strong safety for the 49ers. He is solid against the run and a good pass defender. Moore is also a very good on the blitz, should defensive coordinator Vic Fangio opt to use him in that capacity.
The incumbent strong safety, Donte Whitner, is very good against the run and a team leader. However, his skills in pass coverage are mediocre at best. He was totally exposed against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Whitner is very expensive and due to make $3.75 million in the upcoming season. Moore was a bargain last year, earning only $565,000. The 49ers could give him a sizable raise and still be come in lower than what they would need to pay Whitner.
No. 8: Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver
Greg Jennings played seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
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In his seven-year career, Jennings has averaged 61 receptions and 934 yards per season. Jennings would be expensive, as he made over $7.3 million in 2012.
At this point, the 49ers have only one receiver they can count on in 2013. Outside of Crabtree, the 49ers have Mario Manningham, whose future is uncertain coming off a devastating knee injury.
The oft-injured Kyle Williams is unreliable and may have a tough time making the team.
It's unlikely that veterans Randy Moss or Ted Ginn will return, leaving only A.J. Jenkins and Chad Hall as receivers who played in 2012.
Jenkins, the 49ers' first-round draft selection, made no impact and is a huge question mark. He had no receptions for the season. Hall, an undrafted free agent, actually beat him out for active duty late in the season.
If the 49ers determine Jennings is healthy, they should strongly consider him. Wide receiver is a definite need.
No. 7: Danny Amendola, Wide Receiver
Danny Amendola would be an ideal slot receiver for the 49ers.
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Danny Amendola would be a perfect fit as a slot receiver for the 49ers. In only 11 games last year, Amendola had 63 receptions for 666 yards and three touchdowns.
The 49ers were without a slot receiver for much of the 2012 season after Kyle Williams went down with an injury. Williams had injury problems in college and has not been able to avoid them in the NFL. He is not someone that can be counted on because of his injury history.
The 49ers were forced to use tight end Delanie Walker in the slot role far more than they wanted.
Amendola is a proven receiver and also has experience as a punt returner. As a returner, he would replace Ted Ginn, who is unlikely to be retained. At only 27 years old, Amendola has plenty of good football left.
Amendola made slightly below $2 million in 2012 and, even with a decent raise, would be a relative bargain.
No. 6: Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver
Dwayne Bowe may have worn out his welcome in Kansas City.
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Dwayne Bowe is an elite talent playing for a terrible team. After two consecutive seasons with over 1,100 yards, Bowe slumped to 801 in 2012. He clearly did not seem motivated to play in Kansas City, so a change of scenery would serve him well.
Over his six-year career, Bowe has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on three occasions. He also led the league with 15 touchdown receptions in 2010.
Bowe would be very expensive, as he made over $9.5 million in 2012. He is a superior talent and the 49ers should consider adding him to their depleted receiver corps.
No. 5: Michael Johnson, Defensive End
Michael Johnson had 11.5 sacks last season for the Bengals
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The San Francisco 49ers' defense struggled when they were unable to generate a consistent pass rush. When Justin Smith went out with an injury, it affected Aldon Smith's performance. We saw how the lack of pressure enabled Baltimore to pick apart the 49ers' secondary.
Michael Johnson would give the 49ers a strong pass-rushing presence, far superior than Ray McDonald. Johnson played the right defensive end position, so either he or Justin Smith would need to move to the left, replacing McDonald.
In 2012, McDonald registered only 2.5 sacks, while Johnson had 11.5. McDonald is a solid player, but not an impact presence.
Johnson made slightly over $1.6 million in 2012, so even if the 49ers were to double that number, it would be approximately what McDonald is due to make in 2013.
If the 49ers were able to sign Johnson, they could release McDonald. They would have a salary cap hit because of about $4.2 million in the bonus they gave him in 2011 after signing him to a five-year contract. Nevertheless, if Johnson outshines McDonald, this will be money well spent.
No. 4: Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver
Mike Wallace is an elite wide receiver.
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Mike Wallace is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. In 2012, he caught 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. He has had two 1,000-yard seasons in his four NFL campaigns.
Wallace, along with Crabtree, would give the 49ers two outstanding receivers. Wallace will be 27 years old when the 2013 season gets underway and is in the prime of his career.
He made only $2.74 million in 2012. If he goes on the open market will be very expensive. This is the type of move the 49ers need to make, as it can give them the boost to get them over the hump in their quest for their sixth Super Bowl title.
No. 3: Chris Houston, Cornerback
Chris Houston fights for this interception against the Cowboys.
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Chris Houston is not a big-name free agent, but he could be one of the most important acquisitions the 49ers can make.
Houston will be entering his seventh NFL season and is 27 years old. He has good instincts and is very good in pass coverage.
Houston would have a chance to beat out Carlos Rogers for a starting job and would be major upgrade over nickelback Chris Culliver.
Culliver has a history of getting unnecessary penalties because of his trash talking, over aggressive play on receivers and late hits. He was burned several times in the Super Bowl by Joe Flacco and the Ravens' receivers.
To make matters worse, Culliver made several anti-gay comments in an interview days before the Super Bowl. He has showed his immaturity both on and off the field.
Houston would be a welcome addition, moving Culliver to the dime back or out of San Francisco completely.
Houston made $4.63 million last year, but will get a sizable raise in free agency. In the pass-happy world that is the NFL, a team needs at least three good cover corners. Houston would be a great fit in San Francisco.
No. 2: Aqib Talib, Cornerback
Aqib Talib is the top cornerback available.
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The San Francisco 49ers have one very good coverage man in Tarell Brown.
Carlos Rogers can be excellent at times, but has had trouble against the quicker receivers, especially in the slot. Visions of Victor Cruz torching Rogers in the NFC Championship two seasons ago are hard to erase.
If the 49ers were to sign Talib, Rogers could move to the nickel spot, replacing Chris Culliver.
Talib is 27 years old and in the prime of his career. In five seasons, Talib has 19 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns.
Talib will get a hefty raise from his $2.15 million this past year. The 49ers' secondary was exposed in the late part of 2012 and in the playoffs. they need a player like Talib to shore up this weakness.
No. 1: Cliff Avril, Defensive End
Cliff Avril is a dominant pass-rusher.
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The 49ers defense is successful when the pass rush gets to the quarterback. They are not nearly as effective without strong and consistent pressure on the passer.
This makes Cliff Avril the top priority for the 49ers. He is the top pass-rushing defensive end available, having collected 9.5 sacks last season and 11 in 2011.
Avril is also attractive because he plays the left defensive end position, which would allow Justin Smith to remain in his more familiar spot on the right side.
The 49ers should be able to manipulate their salary cap to sign Avril, who made over $10.6 million in 2012. Avril is entering the prime of his career and will be 27 in April. If the 49ers can make it work, Avril is the type of player needed to get them over the hump.
If GM Trent Baalke signs Avril, he would probably be the only free agent of substance the 49ers could afford. Again, the focus on quality over quantity makes Avril a very attractive addition.