49ers: A Position-by-Position Primer to Free Agency

Phil GCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2014

49ers: A Position-by-Position Primer to Free Agency

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    After a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers will have to start from scratch once again. It's only obvious that we talk about the offseason now, right?

    Well, I can already see the countless eyes rolling from 49ers fans as they read the above sentence. Yes, I understand the loss still hurts, and the injuries to NaVorro Bowman and Mike Iupati were inopportune, but brighter days are ahead. 

    Still, who doesn't like to hear about free agency? For some teams, it's their Super Bowl every year. With the 49ers, maybe not so much. But one can't deny the rush and excitement of free agency. 

    In recent history, the 49ers haven't been categorized as big spenders in free agency. This is a team that builds through the draft, but you never know what bargains can be found in free agency. 

    The 49ers found a few of those bargains in Carlos Rogers and Glenn Dorsey, so expect a similar approach this offseason. 

    Let's explore!  

     

Quarterbacks

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Free Agent Options: Rex Grossman, Joe Webb, Shaun Hill

    With Colin Kaepernick fully entrenched at quarterback, the 49ers will need to find a suitable backup after this season. How about Colt McCoy?

    McCoy was a rather disappointing offseason pickup for the 49ers. With his mobility and accuracy, I thought he could be an Alex Smith 2.0. 

    Now, Kaepernick hasn't missed a game since taking over as a starter in 2012, but preseason tape will show you the Niners are in need of a reliable backup. In my opinion, that guy won't be Colt McCoy in 2014. 

    Who should replace McCoy? Well, the above options are a start. 

    Personally, I think the 49ers will address this need in the draft. With a bundle of picks in the upcoming draft, the 49ers will have the resources to pick up a quarterback somewhere in the third or fourth round. 

    If the 49ers don't explore the draft avenue, they could look at battle-tested veterans like Rex Grossman or Shaun Hill. Fans are unfamiliar with Grossman, but Hill, who played for the Detroit Lions the last four seasons, was rather popular in his four-year stint with the 49ers (2006-09). 

     

     

Running Back/Fullback

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    Free Agent Options: Toby Gerhart

    The 49ers are stacked at running back, so even a guy like Toby Gerhart, who played under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, is an unlikely addition. 

    Before looking outside the ranks, the 49ers will have some decisions to make in-house. Frank Gore will return as the lead back, and all the scraps will likely go to the underrated Kendall Hunter. 

    Now, we have Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James fighting for a situational role. If anything, expect the 49ers to explore the trade market for James. 

    While James gives the 49ers some explosiveness in the return game, he just doesn't fit Greg Roman's power run offense. Even with the versatile looks that Roman can throw at a defense, rarely is James involved. 

    If Lattimore can impress in training camp, he may even take some playing time from Hunter. Lattimore is that good when healthy. 

    Will the 49ers re-sign Anthony Dixon? At this point, that's up in the air. 

    Dixon brings some positional versatility to the lineup, plus ace special teams work, but do you value him as a running back? If Dixon wants more playing time at running back, he may go elsewhere for that opportunity. 

Tight End

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Free Agent Options: Michael Hoomanawanui

    This 49ers are pretty much set at the tight end position. Considering the 49ers use a ton of 22 personnel, it's understandable that Jim Harbaugh carries four tight ends on the roster. 

    Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald will obviously return. Look out for McDonald next year as a receiving option for Kaepernick. McDonald has turned into a ferocious blocker this season, despite his struggles in that area while at Rice.  

    I like Garrett Celek, but if the 49ers can find a guy like Hoomanawanui on the cheap, they should jump on that opportunity. Hoomanawanui is a versatile piece for the New England Patriots, but he makes his mark as a blocker. 

    Regardless, the 49ers will prioritize re-signing either Celek or Derek Carrier to pair with McDonald and Davis. Don't be surprised if the 49ers decide to incorporate more three receiver sets next season, which would make a fourth tight end excessive. 

    Speaking of receivers...

     

Wide Receivers

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Free Agent Options: Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, Jerome Simpson, James Jones

    As I stated previously, the 49ers may decide to incorporate more 11 personnel (1 TE, 3 WR) on offense next season. This means the 49ers need to find another outside threat. 

    Anquan Boldin, who will be a free agent in 2014, plays more naturally in the slot. This leaves Michael Crabtree as the "X" receiver, but there is still a gaping hole on the opposite side. 

    More importantly, the 49ers need some speed on the outside. If they can find a guy who can consistently stretch the field, opposing defenses will have fits defending this aerial attack. 

    Jacoby Jones could be an option for the 49ers. He would obviously have to take less money, but I didn't expect Jones to break the bank in the first place. 

    Another guy who would bring a dynamic element to this offense is James Jones. As many 49ers fans know, Jones plays for the rival Green Bay Packers

    Jones is a very underrated receiver who has the ability to take the top off a defense. While some team could overpay for his services, his value is right around the contract Wes Welker received—2 years, $12 million. 

    Simpson is another solid option, and he would definitely come at a cheaper rate than both Joneses. However, Simpson has some character concerns and recent off-the-field issues. 

    Realistically, the 49ers will likely look towards the draft to fill this need. With 13 potential picks in the upcoming draft, the 49ers have the resources to grab an impact player. 

Offensive Line

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Free Agent Options: Brian Waters (OG), Willie Colon (OG)

    The 49ers carry about eight or nine offensive linemen on the active roster, usually to utilize those heavy formations. 

    For some reason, the 49ers didn't have a lot of success in third and short situations. With the scheme and size upfront, this is unacceptable for a Jim Harbaugh-led team.

    I think the problem lies in their backup linemen. Daniel Kilgore is a center, and on tape, Joe Looney has played subpar. Looney still has starting potential, but his play has to pick up.

    The 49ers had a ton of success in 2012 with Leonard Davis leading the charge as a backup. With a guy like Brian Waters, the 49ers could have similar success.

    Waters was on his way to a great season with the Cowboys before suffering a torn ACL. If Waters decides to play one more year, the 49ers could be a good landing spot for the 13-year veteran. 

    Another intriguing option would be Willie Colon. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has played well when healthy, but the veteran lineman just can't stay out of the training room.

     

Defensive Line/Outside Linebackers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Free Agent Options: Israel Idonije-DE, Demarcus Dobbs (Restricted Free Agent)-DE

    The 49ers will spend little in this area during free agency. However, don't be surprised if they go after players who have traditionally played under a 4-3 or Tampa 2 scheme. 

    Israel Idonije fits that description. 

    The 49ers were interested in Idonije's services last offseason, but the veteran lineman decided to sign with the Detroit Lions instead. Considering the Lions offered Idonije more money and playing time, it wasn't that hard of a decision.

    With his age (33), Idonije will likely want to play with a contender next season. Idonije isn't much of a pass-rusher, but his ability to stop the run is still first class in this league. 

    As a situational player, Idonije would be a nice fit in the red and gold. 

    Expect the 49ers to first look at re-signing their own free agent in Demarcus Dobbs. When Ray McDonald was hurt, Dobbs did a solid job in relief. 

    Dobbs isn't a key player, but he gives the 49ers some necessary depth. 

Inside Linebackers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Free Agent Options: Michael Wilhoite (Exclusive Rights Free Agent), Tavares Gooden, Blake Costanzo

    Nothing much to see here. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have the inside backer position locked up for the foreseeable future—not to mention Nick Moody likely inhabiting one of the backup spots. 

    However, Bowman's recent injury changes some things around. Moody will likely serve as the backup, but his experience or lack thereof is concerning. 

    This brings me to Michael Wilhoite.

    Wilhoite is a player the 49ers should look to re-sign. When Patrick Willis was out with various injuries this season, Wilhoite looked great in relief.  

    As stated above, Wilhoite will be an exclusive rights free agent after this season. What does this mean? 

    Well, the ERFA tag is designated towards a player when his contract has expired and he has three or fewer tenured years in the league. Wilhoite fits this description. 

    The 49ers have the right to offer him a three-year veteran minimum's contract, and if Wilhoite doesn't accept it, he doesn't play. If the 49ers don't offer Wilhoite a contract, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.  

    Two former 49ers, Blake Costanzo and Tavares Gooden would be great additions in 2014. Costanzo was an outstanding special teams player for the 49ers and proved to be a very popular presence in the locker room. 

Cornerback

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    Free Agent Options: Eric Wright, Perrish Cox, Chris Cook

    The 49ers have some question marks at cornerback. Tarell Brown is a free agent, and Carlos Rogers will likely be a cap casualty after this season. 

    Rogers' play in the NFC Championship game will add fuel to the fire that the veteran defensive back has lost a step. When healthy, Rogers is still a solid player for the 49ers, but at what price? 

    There is some happy news on the horizon. Chris Culliver is expected to make his return next season from a torn ACL. That should count for something, right? 

    Brown is an excellent corner, but his price tag may be too high for the 49ers. At this point, a deal should have been made between Brown and the 49ers. 

    The 49ers will likely be very interested in bringing back Eric Wright. He gives them some positional versatility and athleticism at the corner position. 

    Wright could take over Rogers' role next season. 

    Perrish Cox can be very inconsistent, but his price tag should be low. The 49ers need bodies at cornerback if Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers don't return next season. 

    Chris Cook is a rather interesting option for the 49ers. The 49ers have shown an interest in tall corners in the past and at 6'2'', 212-pound Cook fits the description perfectly. 

    However, Cook's off-the-field concerns might force the 49ers to look in another direction. That other direction might be the draft. 

Safety

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    Free Agent Options: Donte Whitner, Jim Leonhard, Bernard Pollard

    With the departure of Dashon Goldson last offseason, I thought Donte Whitner's play would take a nosedive this year. In fact, the opposite occurred. 

    Paired with stud rookie Eric Reid, Whitner has been a revelation this season. At age 28, this will be Whitner's last chance at securing a long term deal. 

    The 49ers should be cautious with Whitner. Most within the organization would probably like to bring him back, but at what cost?

    If the 49ers pass on Whitner, there are some intriguing options on the open market. Jim Leonhard and Bernard Pollard come to mind. 

    Bernard Pollard is a guy who could make a seamless transition to this 49ers secondary. As one of the premier hard-hitting safeties, the 49ers wouldn't miss a beat with Whitner gone. 

    Whitner is a better coverage safety than Pollard, but the gap isn't as significant as many think. Plus, Pollard would likely come at a significantly cheaper price. 

     

Special Teams

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    Free Agent Options: Devin Hester-KR/PR, Phil Dawson-K, Steven Hauschka-K

    Phil Dawson will be the top special teams priority for the 49ers this offseason. His presence and reliability this season have been huge for the 49ers. 

    If Dawson decides to go elsewhere, the 49ers could try to steal Steven Hauschka from the Seattle Seahawks. Is it too soon? 

    According to Len Pasquarelli of the National Football Post, Devin Hester is unlikely to return to the Chicago Bears in 2014. 

    If true, the 49ers should jump on this chance to add the dynamic return player. As I said before, LaMichael James could be traded because of the 49ers' depth at running back. 

    Hester would serve as an upgrade over James in kick/punt returns. The only issue would be price. Hester would have to take a significant pay cut since his role is only restricted to special teams.