Head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff may still be considering the addition of free agents in 2013.
It may be hard to believe, but the San Francisco 49ers still have some needs.
As the 49ers move forward through Organized Team Activities (OTAs), the team is developing its depth charts, determining which players are leading position battles, and figuring out who shall start as well as those who will serve as backups.
Prior to OTAs, the 49ers enjoyed a solid 2013 draft, coming away with 11 players to bolster an already-strong NFL franchise.
Some of these prospects may fill immediate needs. Rookies like safety Eric Reid, tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver Quinton Patton may have that immediate impact on the 49ers' 2013 season. Others, like linebacker Nick Moody or injured running back Marcus Lattimore, may have to wait their turn to climb the depth charts.
In spite of the additions, San Francisco still has some legitimate concerns heading into 2013. While most of the starters are all but in place, there are some possibilities of reaching out to free agents still on the market. The 49ers could afford to sign a few players that may help establish depth or perhaps even acquire a starter.
Make no mistake, San Francisco wants to get back to the Super Bowl in 2014 and win it all this time. If that means signing a free agent or two at this point during the offseason, even if to just compete for playing time and roster depth, the 49ers would do it in a heartbeat.
Here are five still-remaining free agents that San Francisco should consider signing to play 2013 in a 49ers uniform.
Larry Grant was previously a backup linebacker for the 49ers.
Player: Larry Grant, Linebacker
2012 Team: San Francisco 49ers
2012 NFL Salary: $1.26 million
It must not be fun backing up one of the best inside linebacker tandems in the NFL: NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
Yet that is exactly what Larry Grant did for the past two seasons. In 2011, Grant took over for Willis after Willis suffered a hamstring injury in Week 13. Starting three games, Grant was able to total 24 tackles and three sacks during the season (pro-football-reference.com).
Despite not playing in 2012, Grant remains a decent backup at the position. A year removed from a one-year, $1.26 million contract, he still would be of service.
After the 2012 season, San Francisco elected not to sign Grant to a new contract, leaving the door open for Grant to test the free-agent market. So far, no offers have led to him signing anywhere. Thus, Grant could return to the 49ers once more in 2014. The lack of interest may also drive Grant's price tag even lower.
If Grant were to return to the 49ers, he would know that his playing time would be extremely limited. How would a player of Grant's capacity compete with the unquestionable talents offered by both Bowman and Willis? Grant would remain a backup and only spot the two Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers for playing time and in case of injury.
Yet injuries can be a cause for concern.
San Francisco has some depth at inside linebacker with Michael Wilhoite and the recently signed Dan Skuta. There is also the 49ers' 2013 sixth-round draft pick Nick Moody, who is versatile.
But if signed, Grant could be at the forefront. He has already shown his talents for backing up the inside linebacker position. At worst, he could compete with the remaining backups for playing time before the regular season begins.
For the 49ers, Grant would be a low-risk, medium-reward possibility. The team would hope to never have to see his complete upside. Either Bowman or Willis would have to be injured for an extended period of time for that to happen. Yet Grant would serve as a nice insurance policy for the 49ers and come at a premium that could be easily afforded.
Brandon Moore could provide depth on the 49ers' offensive line.
Player: Brandon Moore, Guard
2012 Team: New York Jets
2012 NFL Salary: $4.46 million
In 2012, the 49ers' offensive line was lucky.
San Francisco's front five were able to start all 16 regular-season games and each of the 49ers' three playoff games. Injuries were minimal and the offensive line remained intact, resulting in its emergence as one of the top offensive lines in the NFL last season.
Will they be as lucky in 2013?
With a unit that plays physically, which often results in serious injury, the 49ers need to take a close look at reliable depth and backups.
Fortunately, San Francisco's depth situation is not all that bad. For starters, Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney are reliable backups. In addition, the 49ers brought back one of their former offensive linemen, Adam Snyder, after a one-year stint in Arizona. Snyder provides extra value because he can play every position on the offensive line.
49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman likes what he sees thus far and is happy that all five of his starters are returning this season. He stated to Scott Kegley of 49ers.com:
It just makes you that much more resistant over the course of a long, physical, arduous season, to have different options available. We have a sharp group and they've been playing together for a while now. We're really excited to see them take off this year as a unit.
The flexibility and versatility is indeed there. With that in consideration, the 49ers could probably afford the loss of one, or two, of their starting linemen during the season.
Yet what would happen if San Francisco's offensive line suffered from extreme bad luck in 2013? Offensive lines have been known to suffer through horrendous attrition over the years.
That scenario presents a plausible option for the 49ers to bring in veteran guard Brandon Moore. Moore, who has spent his entire 10-year career with the New York Jets, has veteran presence, a Pro Bowl selection and has not missed a start since 2004.
In addition, Moore is a solid run-blocking guard which would fit well into an offensive scheme that places a lot of faith in running back Frank Gore and, at times, the legs of Colin Kaepernick.
Pro Football Focus ranked Moore as the fourth-best guard in the NFL last season. After his four-year, $16 million contract with the Jets expired after 2012, one might think that he would have received an offer somewhere by this point. Yet Moore has not signed, begging the question whether or not Moore is asking for too much money.
NFL.com league writer Chris Wesseling states that Moore is seeking between $3 million and $4 million per year, but teams are hesitant to pay that much for a 33-year-old guard (nfl.com).
Obviously the 49ers would not be interested in paying Moore that much money, especially as a backup to the two incumbent guards already under contract.
Yet San Francisco calling on Moore is not entirely out of the question. Moore would love to get a Super Bowl ring before too long, and the 49ers are in excellent position to help him accomplish that.
If the price is right, San Francisco should take the shot.
Israel Idonije could bring veteran depth to the 49ers' defense.
Player: Israel Idonije, Defensive End
2012 Team: Chicago Bears
2012 NFL Salary: $2.5 million
The 49ers' incumbent defensive ends are great. Both Ray McDonald and Justin Smith help bolster a defense that was second in the NFL last season in points allowed.
When the 49ers drafted former Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine in the second round of the 2013 draft, they were intent on finding Smith's eventual replacement.
Yet Carradine may not quite be NFL-ready, and the 49ers may be entertaining the possibility of bringing someone in who can at least spell either Smith or McDonald from time to time and fill a void if either of the two were injured.
That is where Israel Idonije comes into play.
Idonije has spent his entire nine-year career playing with the vaunted Chicago Bears defense. After a one-year, $2.5 million contract expired following the 2012 season, Idonije was allowed to test the free-agent market. Thus far, nothing has been finalized.
According to Evan Silva of Rotoworld, the Bears would be interested in welcoming Idonije back if he was unable to command more money elsewhere. He writes:
[Idonije is] a movable defender capable of playing end and tackle [who] racked up 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble as an 11-game starter in Chicago last season, playing all 16 games in a rotation with Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, and Corey Wootton. The Bears are intent on increasing Wootton's role, but have a "standing offer" out to Idonije and would welcome him back if he can't find more money elsewhere.
Silva also writes that the 49ers have expressed interest in Idonije.
All elements considered, why would they not have interest? Idonije could play all three positions on San Francisco's defensive line. He has already shown an ability to rush the passer with his 7.5 sacks last season and would give veteran presence to a defense that has already showcased itself as being one of the best in the NFL.
If the scenario fits and the price is right, San Francisco could thwart the Bears' interest in possibly bringing Idonije back to Chicago.
Could John Abraham add depth and sack potential to the 49ers?
Player: John Abraham
2012 Team: Atlanta Falcons
2012 NFL Salary: Three-year, $16.72 million. Atlanta released him after one year into the contract.
Justin Smith is not getting any younger. Neither is former Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham.
At 35 years old, Abraham is in the waning days of his NFL career.
Abraham entered the 2012 campaign still retaining the skill sets that helped him become a predominant defensive end in the NFL. During the season, the four-time Pro Bowler totaled 33 tackles and had 10 sacks (pro-football-reference.com). Despite his age, those numbers suggest that Abraham still has the stuff to be an impact player this late into his career.
The Falcons released Abraham, not because of his performance, but rather due to financial and salary cap constraints.
As one of the top remaining defensive linemen still available on the free-agent market, Abraham may provide a final piece to the puzzle that many teams' defenses would be looking to add.
Could the 49ers be one of those teams?
Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com reports that San Francisco has shown some interest in Abraham.
Regarding why Abraham has not yet signed with any team, Silva writes:
Even at age 35, Abraham remains a highly effective edge rusher with experience playing in both a two- and three-point stance. He can play both left and right end. To this point, the hang-up in negotiations has been Abraham's unwillingness to sign with a team that would use him in a part-time role. He wants to be at least a 60-percent player. Abraham likely also wouldn't accept less than Dwight Freeney money. The Chargers signed Freeney to a two-year, $8.75 million contract, with $4.75 million guaranteed.
It is probably safe to assume that Abraham will not get that kind of money at this stage of his career. The fact that he remains a free agent is an indicator that no NFL team is willing to make such a lofty investment in his services.
Yet those services may be something of worth if a team can get them at the right price and in the right situation. The 49ers could possibly offer both.
San Francisco already has two established defensive ends in Ray McDonald and Justin Smith.
While both Carradine and Lawrence Okoye may result in added depth behind McDonald and Smith, there is still the possibility that either, or both, starters may be hurt or fatigued at some point in 2013. San Francisco would probably like to put some established depth in the mix, and Abraham could fit the void.
The 49ers struggled with the pass rush late last season, and Abraham remains a pass-rushing aficionado.
If San Francisco was to sign Abraham, a few things would have to happen. First, Abraham would have to settle for far less money than he hoped for, as stated by Silva.
Second, Abraham would have to realize that his role diminishes on the 49ers' defense and that his sole job would be to provide veteran backup behind both McDonald and Smith.
Lastly, Abraham would also have to recognize that his tenure in San Francisco would likely be very short. He would be brought in to fill a specific void for a brief period only.
Until rookies like Carradine, Okoye and former Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial develop, Abraham would get some snaps. Once those rookies were ready to go, Abraham would likely be shown the door.
While San Francisco may be interested in developing long-term solutions on the defensive line, Abraham could fill an immediate need.
Brandon Lloyd had a successful 2012 season in New England.
Player: Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver
2012 Team: New England Patriots
2012 NFL Salary: $2 million
Is it possible that the 49ers have a reunion with their former 2003 fourth-round draft pick Brandon Lloyd? Absolutely.
Following the draft, San Francisco seemed set at the position.
Michael Crabtree would sit atop the depth chart along with Boldin. Patton would compete with last year's first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins and further depth would be provided by the hopeful returns of Manningham and Williams. There was also added depth with receivers Chad Hall and Ricardo Lockette.
Then only two days into OTAs, Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon. The injury may force him to miss most, if not all, of the 2013 regular season.
That was bad news enough.
Additionally complicating the situation is the fact that both Manningham and Williams may not return at 100 percent in 2013. Should the 49ers be counting on both of these receivers being healthy and able to contribute?
Jenkins, one year removed from his zero-catch 2012 rookie season, looks to have bulked up for 2013 and certainly wants to contribute more. Entering his rookie season, Patton will still have to make strides learning the 49ers' playbook.
Regardless, both are still virtually untested products at the NFL level. It may be another gamble to put a lot of faith into either Jenkins or Patton this season.
Hall and Lockette also may play little more than insignificant roles this year.
That leaves Boldin as the only legitimate threat without any question marks at the position. Had Crabtree's injury not occurred, the 49ers would have been in a pretty good position moving forward. Yet his injury did happen, and it has forced San Francisco's hand.
Enter the possibility of Lloyd coming back to the 49ers.
Lloyd had a solid 2012 with the New England Patriots, hauling in 74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns (pro-football-reference.com). Lloyd obviously benefited from the quarterbacking prowess of Tom Brady and the play-calling of Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Could he possibly gain similar success with Colin Kaepernick and 49ers' offensive coordinator Greg Roman? As mentioned, anything is possible.
Lloyd initially signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Patriots before 2012, but was released after the season. Considering that no other team has signed him at this point, San Francisco may be able to get its hands on Lloyd at a relatively cheap and short-term cost.
While Lloyd is not the explosive receiver that the 49ers probably wish they had, he at least provides a viable option and should be able to open up the field opposite of Boldin.
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