Sign or Pass on San Francisco 49ers Free Agents
GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh are looking to build their best possible roster for another run at the Super Bowl crown. The 49ers have 10 unrestricted free-agents and their first decision will be whether to sign or pass on these players.
Let's take a look at each and determine the best approach for the 49ers.
Leonard Davis, Offensive Guard
Leonard Davis did a solid job as a reserve offensive lineman this past season. However, Davis earned $950,000 in 2012 and will be 35 years of age in the early part of the 2013 season.
Davis has value because he is an offensive lineman who can play either guard or tackle. This past season, the 49ers were extremely fortunate on the line, as all five starters were able to start every game. The odds that this will happen again are very remote, so the 49ers will need quality reserves.
The issue with Davis is that his salary will again be somewhere near $1 million and at 35, the 49ers would be better off going with a younger player who is less expensive and can develop into a potential starter.
The 49ers also have two young reserve linemen in Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012.
This is a very close call, but based on Davis' age, it's time to let him go.
Leonard Davis: Pass
Ted Ginn Jr., Wide Receiver, Punt Returner
Ted Ginn Jr. joined the 49ers in 2010 and in his first two seasons he had three returns for touchdowns. He also had 31 receptions over that period. His production declined in 2012, as his return yardage was down and he only had two catches, for one measly yard, on the season.
Ginn began his career with the Miami Dolphins and was the ninth-overall draft pick, in 2007. He has never measured up to that lofty draft status.
In 2012, Ginn was very shaky and fumbled the ball four times. This is an alarming number given the amount of touches he had.
Ginn's greatest value is as a returner, as he is not an NFL-caliber receiver. Ginn made $1.38 million in 2012, and there is no reason for the 49ers to keep him for the upcoming season.
Ted Ginn, Jr.: Pass
Dashon Goldson, Free Safety
The 49ers used the franchise tag on Dashon Goldson last year, but elected not to make that offer in 2013. They will try to come to an agreement with Goldson on a long-term contract, but are running the risk that the free agent could sign with another team.
Goldson has been with the 49ers since 2007 and became the full-time starter at free safety in 2009. Goldson made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons and was a First-Team All Pro in 2012.
Goldson made $6.2 million in 2012 and is looking for a multi-year contract in the range of $8 million per year. If any team is willing to offer Goldson that kind of money in a four- or five-year deal, he could be gone.
There are some good safeties coming out of college, so the 49ers may focus on selecting one of them early in the upcoming draft. Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid and Matt Elam are three players to watch if the 49ers lose Goldson.
It would not be wise for the 49ers to try to replace both of their safeties, and the player who is the most vulnerable is Donte Whitner. He is strong against the run and a team leader, but has major problems in pass coverage.
Whitner made $4.38 million this past season. The 49ers should consider releasing him and using some of that money to sign Goldson. Failing to keep Goldson would almost assuredly mean the 49ers keep Whitner. Given that option, Goldson would be the better solution.
Dashon Goldson: Sign
Tavares Gooden, Linebacker
Tavares Gooden has spent the bulk of his time with the 49ers watching from the sidelines. At a cost of $540,000 in 2012, Gooden was one of the lower-priced players on the roster.
Gooden is a solid special teams player and at his salary level, should be retained.
Tavares Gooden: Sign
Larry Grant, Linebacker
Larry Grant is the top reserve inside linebacker on the 49ers. He filled in admirably in 2011 when Patrick Willis was injured. Grant started three games, providing 24 tackles and two sacks.
Grant is a quality backup and also contributes on special teams. Grant made $1.26 million last year and gives the 49ers some valuable insurance in the event Willis or fellow inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman are injured.
With the 49ers having needs in other areas, it makes sense to retain Grant.
Larry Grant: Sign
Clark Haggans, Linebacker
Clark Haggans was signed by the 49ers after outside linebacker Parys Haralson was lost for the season. Haggans was brought in to provide depth for the linebacking corps.
In 2011, Haggans played for the Arizona Cardinals and started all 16 games. After joining the 49ers, playing behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, Haggans rarely saw any action except on special teams.
Haggans was suspended for three games after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He only appeared in eight contests for the 49ers and made little impact.
Haggans is 36 years old and made $1 million this past season. It's time for the 49ers to go younger and less expensive at this reserve spot.
Clark Haggans: Pass
Ricky Jean-Francois, Defensive Line
Ricky Jean-Francois is one of the most interesting decisions for GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh. Jean-Francois is the most experienced of the 49ers' backup defensive linemen and can play either defensive end or nose tackle in the Niners' 3-4 alignment.
Jean-Francois was credited with 12 solo tackles and assisted on 10 others this past year. Included in those tackles were two sacks.
Jean-Francois started the final three games of the regular season for the 49ers at right defensive end after Justin Smith was injured. Jean-Francois also subbed in for Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle on a regular basis. He did an adequate job, but is not a starter on a good NFL defensive line.
Jean-Francois made $625,750 last year and if the 49ers can keep his salary at or below $1 million, it would be worth it to keep him.
At a height of 6'3" and 295 pounds, Jean-Francois is best suited for about 20-25 plays per game. His size and stamina are questionable and he is susceptible to being blown off the line, especially when he tires.
With Isaac Sopoaga also a free agent, the 49ers need to keep Jean-Francois around as a spot-starter and reserve.
Ricky Jean-Francois: Sign
Randy Moss, Wide Receiver
Randy Moss was signed by the 49ers last year after sitting out the entire 2011 season. The 49ers hoped he could provide a deep threat and open up the field for their other receivers and the running attack.
Moss was adequate at best and his performance was that of a fourth wide receiver. The problem was that after the injuries to Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams, Moss was thrust into a starting role. He caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.
There was a lot of concern about Moss' moodiness and ability to be a team player, but he generally did well in his role as a mentor to the 49ers' younger receivers. It was his on-field production that was lacking.
Moss' proclamation leading up to the Super Bowl that he was the greatest wide receiver of all time did not sit well with the 49ers or their fans. That title is reserved for Jerry Rice and deservedly so.
When Moss failed to make any effort on a high pass from Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl, which resulted in an interception, he punched his ticket out of San Francisco.
Moss made $2.5 million in 2012 and that money can be put to better use in the upcoming season.
Randy Moss: Pass
Isaac Sopoaga, Nose Tackle
Isaac Sopoaga is one of the most well-liked and respected players on the team. He has played his entire eight-year career in San Francisco and has done a solid job as the 49ers' nose tackle.
Sopoaga's role is to occupy blockers and stuff the run. He has always done a good job in thay capacity, but is a very weak pass-rusher. In his eight seasons with the 49ers, Sopoaga has only 7.5 sacks.
At 6'2" and 330 pounds, Sopoaga is a lot bigger and strong than his backup Ricky Jean-Francois. However, Sopoaga seemed to wear down as the 2012 season played out and he will be 32 years of age early in the 2013 season.
With a 2012 salary of $4.95 million, which was in the top ten on the team, it's time to let this great warrior move on. This qualifies as one of those decisions that's always framed with the precursor of "it's a business."
There are some very promising young nose tackle candidates in the upcoming draft. With the 49ers selecting at Nos. 31 and 34, they should be able to grab one of them. John Jenkins or Jesse Williams would be a good fit for the 49ers.
Isaac Sopoaga: Pass
Delanie Walker, Tight End
The case of Delanie Walker is one of the toughest decisions the 49ers must make this offseason. Walker is a decent blocker and has the speed to make big plays in the passing game.
Walker is a fine complement to Vernon Davis, as head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman love to run a two or sometimes even three tight end set. In 2012, even though he dropped a few passes he should have caught, Walker did have 21 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Walker is one of the best athletes on the 49ers and is also valuable on special teams. Walker made $1.9 million this past season and is looking for a decent raise above the $2 million mark.
Although it would be great to keep Walker, there are other tight ends that should be available in the Rounds 3 to 5 of the upcoming draft that could replace him. The cap savings would be valuable as Walker is viewed as more of a luxury, rather than a necessity.
Delanie Walker: Pass
The Alex Smith Trade Will Free Up Some Cap Space
Managing the salary cap and giving your team a chance to compete is the goal of every GM in pro football. Success in the NFL can be a very tenuous thing and it's very difficult to sustain long-term success because of cap constraints.
San Francisco is a team that has had very good success over the past two years, reaching the NFC title game in 2011 and the Super Bowl this past season. Losing in those two games only makes it more imperative for the 49ers to go all the way in the upcoming year. Anything less than a Super Bowl victory will be a disappointment.
A franchise usually has a short window of opportunity to win a championship. Although the 49ers' window is currently wide open, they don't want to miss it this upcoming season.
With the taste of defeat still fresh in the minds of 49ers players and management, it is now up to GM Trent Baalke to restock the roster to give the team the best chance of winning it all this time around.
The trade of Alex Smith to the Chiefs will give the 49ers a very good draft pick this year, (No. 34 overall). In addition, they will get a conditional pick in 2014. The other main benefit of the trade is that the 49ers will take $8.5 million off the books.
The savings will give the 49ers more room to maneuver as far as signing their own free agents. They will also be able to look outside their system for an impact free agent or two.
The 49ers are well positioned to capitalize on a deep draft, as they have five selections in the top 93-overall picks. In addition, with 15 total picks, the 49ers can be very creative and aggressive in making deals to get the players they truly covet.