Last-Minute Predictions for San Francisco 49ers Free Agency
The San Francisco 49ers have built a solid core mostly through the draft, and I expect that strategic plan to continue. However, unlike 2012, when the 49ers retained almost all their key free agents, things are wide open this time around.
The 49ers have created some cap space with the trade of Alex Smith. Other potential departures of players like Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga, Randy Moss, Ted Ginn and Delanie Walker can open up even more room.
This will be GM Trent Baalke's most important offseason to date, as he navigates the 49ers through the draft and free-agent market. The 49ers' 2012 draft appears very weak at this point, although it's too early to make a final judgement. This makes the 2013 draft even more important.
In addition to the draft, the 49ers would be well-served to acquire a few free agents to bolster their roster and make up for the potential attrition of their own former players.
With the 49ers so close to a world championship in the past two years, it's important for them to capitalize on their window of opportunity. Baalke has some tough decisions to make on the 49ers' own free agents, as well as who they can acquire.
Let's take a look at 10 free agents whom the 49ers must decide either to pursue vigorously or let pass them by. Some of these players are from San Francisco's own 2012 roster and others are available from other teams.
Baalke's success in the next few months will go a long way to determining the 49ers' future over the next couple of seasons. He is already off to an excellent start this offseason with the Alex Smith deal and now the acquisition of Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round draft pick.
No. 10: Dashon Goldson
The most important decision GM Trent Baalke has this offseason is what to do with Dashon Goldson. That decision will affect several other critical choices the 49ers will make over the coming months.
If the 49ers sign Goldson to a long-term deal, it would enable them to waive Donte Whitner, if they have tired of his poor coverage skills. They could also keep both Goldson and Whitner and fortify the position through the draft.
If Goldson were to sign with another team, however, the 49ers will need to look at other options to start at the safety position. This could mean a free agent or using one of their top two draft picks on a safety.
There are several good safeties that could be available with the 31st or 34th pick in the draft. These include Eric Reed, Matt Elam and Jonathan Cyprien. Any of the three would be potential impact starters for the 49ers this season.
Goldson is looking for a deal somewhere in the range of five years and $40 million. The 49ers would like to retain Goldson, but will not pay him that much.
Goldson earned Pro Bowl honors in each of the past two years and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2012. There is a strong probability that a team will meet or come close to Goldson's wishes, so we have most likely seen the last of him in a 49er uniform.
No. 9: Danny Amendola
The 49ers' acquisition of Anquan Boldin is a major upgrade to their wide receiver corps. This gives the 49ers some breathing room, as prior to this trade the 49ers had only one proven wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, who was not coming off an injury.
While the 49ers try to develop 2012 first-round draft selection A.J. Jenkins and hope Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams can make successful returns from injury, Boldin gives them a quality starter at their weakest position.
The early prognosis on Manningham is that he will not be available at the start of the season. In addition, Kyle Williams has never been able to stay healthy, whether it be in college or the NFL.
The 49ers can definitely use another quality wide receiver and Danny Amendola would be a good option. He made under $2 million last year and would be a perfect fit as the slot receiver in a three-receiver formation.
In 2012, Amendola caught 63 passes for 666 yards and three touchdowns. He also has experience returning punts and would be able to replace Ted Ginn as the 49ers' punt returner.
With an offer around the $3 million mark, the 49ers should have a good chance to acquire Amendola. That would be money very well spent.
No. 8: Isaac Sopoaga
Isaac Sopoaga is highly respected among his 49er teammates. He has played his entire eight-year NFL career in San Francisco.
Sopoaga has been a solid force as a run defender in the middle of the 49ers' 3-4 base defense. However, he will be 32 years of age at the beginning of the 2013 season and is noticeably slowing down.
Sopoaga excels against the run, but provides virtually no pass rush. In the past five seasons that he has been a starter, Sopoaga has only 4.5 sacks in total.
Sopoaga made $3.8 million in 2012, and although he might be willing to take a slight reduction in salary, it won't be enough for the 49ers to keep him. The 49ers might consider Sopoaga at a salary level around the $2 million mark, but that's probably too big a decrease for him to accept.
John Jenkins and Jesse Williams are two highly regarded nose tackles in the upcoming draft. There's a good possibility that one of them will be available when the 49ers select at No. 31 or No. 34.
In a move which seems to make it even more unlikely that the 49ers will retain Sopoaga or his backup Ricky Jean-Francois, who is also a free agent, the 49ers just signed reserve nose tackle Ian Williams to a two-year, $3.2 million contract extension.
Williams, plus the availability of Jenkins or Jesse Williams in the draft, means that we will most likely be saying goodbye to Sopoaga.
No. 7: Josh Johnson
The trade of Alex Smith was a great move by GM Trent Baalke, but it did leave the 49ers with only Scott Tolzein as a backup to Colin Kaepernick.
Johnson and 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh are well acquainted, as Harbaugh coached Johnson in college at the University of San Diego. Johnson credits Harbaugh for helping to develop him into an NFL-caliber player.
Johnson was with the 49ers in the preseason last year, but with Smith, Kaepernick and Tolzein, there wasn't any room for him on the roster. The 2013 outlook is much different. The 49ers need a backup quarterback with some experience and Johnson is the best option to fill that requirement.
Johnson would not command a big salary and his experience would be a benefit to Kaepernick. The 49ers should make every effort to sign Johnson.
No. 6: Ed Reed
Ed Reed is a future Hall of Fame safety, and with Dashon Goldson likely to move on, the 49ers are in the market for a starting safety.
Reed would bring a tremendous amount of veteran leadership to the 49ers. However, he won't come cheap. Reed made $7.2 million last year, with a cap number over $10 million.
If the 49ers felt certain that Reed was the final piece of the puzzle to get them over the hump, no price would be too much too pay, but Reed may not be that final piece. If this was three years ago, paying Reed a huge amount of money would make more sense.
However, Reed will be 35 years old early in the coming season and has lost a step in pass coverage. He would be a step above Goldson, but likely not enough to justify such a large salary commitment. At his age, Reed would be a short-term solution and not an ideal fit for the 49ers.
GM Trent Baalke has a track record of targeting the mid- to lower-priced free agents and we can expect him to follow that approach again, in this case.
No. 5: Josh Cribbs
The return game for the 49ers in the past two seasons has been filled with trepidation. The injury to Ted Ginn in 2011 necessitated the use of Kyle Williams in the NFC title game, and his two turnovers were a major reason the 49ers lost to the New York Giants.
Ginn was very shaky this past season as a punt returner and is not likely to return to the 49ers. In addition, Ginn adds little value as a wide receiver, so he is expendable.
Running back LaMichael James handled kickoff return duties in 2012 and was decent. However, if the 49ers use James more from the line of scrimmage, they may not want to expose him to the added burden of returning kickoffs.
Cribbs made just under $2.7 million last year, compared with Ginn, who made $1.375 million. The 49ers should move forward with an offer to Cribbs at about $6.5 million over two years. If he accepts, they have one of the top return men in the NFL.
Cribbs has 11 returns for touchdowns in his eight-year NFL career. In 2012, he averaged 12 yards on his punt returns and over 27 yards on kickoff returns.
Cribbs can also contribute as a wide receiver. His best year was in 2011, when he caught 41 passes for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
Unfortunately, due to salary cap constraints, it's unlikely the 49ers will make the type of offer it would take to entice Cribbs to come to San Francisco.
No. 4: Delanie Walker
The San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh love to employ multiple-tight end sets. With Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, the 49ers had one of the most explosive tight end tandems in the league.
In 2012, Walker caught 21 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He has the speed to get deep into the secondary and is also a decent blocker.
Walker has had problems with dropped passes and will need to improve in this area.
Walker made $1.905 million this past season and will expect a large raise towards the $2.5 to $3 million range. He has earned that raise, but it has probably priced the 49ers out of the market. Although it would be nice to retain him, Walker is likely to be moving on.
No. 3: John Abraham
John Abraham visited the 49ers' training camp a few days ago. He would be an ideal fit as a situational pass-rush specialist.
In 2012, as the season progressed, the 49ers' pass rush disappeared and exposed the team's defensive backfield. Justin Smith's injury was a major issue and Aldon Smith also faded.
The 49ers had very minimal pass-rushing success, as Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga were unable to put much pressure on the opposing quarterback. Abraham would give the 49ers a perfect pass-rushing specialist.
Abraham, who will be 35 years of age when the 2013 season begins, collected 10 sacks last year. The 49ers would be well-served to give Abraham what he wants, but my best guess is that he signs elsewhere.
Abraham still believes he can be an every-down player, not just a pass-rush specialist. This most likely prevents him from signing with the 49ers.
No. 2: Glover Quin
Glover Quin would be an ideal replacement for the likely departing Dashon Goldson. The Houston Texans safety is 27 years old and entering his fifth NFL season.
Quin made $565,000 this past season and will get a huge increase regardless of where he signs. Quin has drawn interest from several teams who see him as a less-costly and better long-term solution than Ed Reed or Goldson.
William Moore, another safety who is at the same general point in his career, just agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with the Falcons. We can expect Quin to command something along those same lines.
From the 49ers' perspective, Quin would be able to step right in and replace Goldson immediately. This is one fairly expensive free agent that the 49ers should go after.
No. 1: Darrelle Revis
Revis is coming off an ACL injury, so it remains to be seen how he responds this year. Revis' contract calls for him to make a very modest $6 million in 2013. He wants to negotiate a lucrative long-term deal, something the 49ers will be reluctant to do until after the 2013 season.
Revis will likely be a one year rent-a-player if he were to come to San Francisco. He also has a tendency to be a "me-first" type of player and it's questionable how he would fit into Jim Harbaugh's vision of team chemistry.
Revis will not be happy unless he gets a new deal, so the 49ers are best served to pass on him.