San Francisco 49ers: Who Stays and Who Goes in Pivotal Free-Agency Shakedown

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San Francisco 49ers: Who Stays and Who Goes in Pivotal Free-Agency Shakedown
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

So we get to do this again.

Another great season, another crippling end, another round of decisions to make.

Many Bay Area sports fans stopped watching football after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game. I can't even remember everything that happened in the Super Bowl. How much did Denver win by?

But the 2014 NFL season is only eight short months away, and we'll find out soon how different the 49ers will look after some big decisions. 

The good news is that over the last three years, the 49ers have come back an even better team after the offseason. They're guaranteed to return 18 of their 22 starters from last season, and, for the second year in a row, they'll have a truckload of draft picks to play with. 

It's just a matter of finding the right pluses (and minuses) to finally take this team over the top. 

So let's examine who should be re-signed and who should be let go. 

 

QB Colt McCoy

This past season, McCoy won 12 games backing up Colin Kaepernick. Two years ago, he only won five games backing up Brandon Weeden. Obviously, he's the most clutch backup QB the 49ers have had since Elvis Grbac.  

Sadly, that is the best argument that can be made for keeping McCoy. The 49ers need to explore the possibility of adding another quarterback in the later rounds of the draft, preferably a pocket passer who can bring a new dimension to the offense. 

David Fales and Aaron Murray are the logical choices. I'd go with Fales, as he's the first quarterback in 200 hundred years to lead San Jose State to a Top 25 ranking. I knowthe Spartans weren't even around then.  

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

 

S Donte Whitner

What's not to love about this guy? He's 5'9", hits like he's 6'3" and tweets like he's 13. He was flagged for personal fouls five times and wasn't fined for any one of them. If anything, the refs should have had their paychecks docked every time they whistled a penalty and gave the opposing offense 15 free yards. 

It's remarkable how often you hear that the 49ers defense could get by without Whitner. The likely reason is how easily they were able to replace Dashon Goldson last season. 

The difference is that Whitner is younger, has an open desire to remain a 49er and probably won't be able to sucker teams into overpaying him the way Goldson did with Tampa Bay. Plus, Eric Reids don't just fall out of the sky every year.

With the possible departures of Rodgers and Brown, the 49ers will need a veteran presence to anchor what will be a very young secondary. Whitner's the closest thing to Ronnie Lott we're ever going to see. 

Besides Vin Diesel. 

Keep him. 

 

K Phil Dawson

Dawson is the best kicker the 49ers have had since Joe Nedney retired (though David Akers didn't exactly set the bar very high). He kicked three game-winning field goals last season and set a team record with 27 straight conversions. Almost all the field goals he missed were over 50 yards. The one exception was a 24-yard attempt in Arizona, and he followed that up by kicking a 56-yarder that could have been good from 70. 

The only worry is his inability to consistently kick the ball in the end zone during kickoff attempts. This sometimes proved to be cataclysmic given the mediocrity of the 49ers' special teams coverage units.

But let's not lose track of the big picture: He has range, he has accuracy and most of all, he has balls. 

Sign this boy back up.   

 

C Jonathan Goodwin

No one deserves to go out like a champion more than Goodwin, who's been an important part of the offense ever since he joined the team in 2011. But with Daniel Kilgore ready to take the reigns under center, it might be better for everyone to see Goodwin walk into the sunset with his head up.

You know, the way Brett Favre used to do twice a year.

He hasn't missed a game since joining the 49ers and took a pay cut to remain with the team last year. But he's 35 years old and is generally considered to be one of the weaker facets of the offensive line. Harbaugh would love to have a veteran backup like Goodwin on his roster, but Goodwin isn't a backup. He's a starter. 

That's how he should be remembered.

 

WR Mario Manningham

After a moderately successful stint in his first year with the 49ers, Manningham just hasn't been the same since he tore up his leg in Seattle. Although he restructured his contract at the start of the season, he barely ran more than three routes on the field before returning to the injured reserve list. 

He's only 28, and there is a chance he could be productive after getting that leg fixed, but it's hard to see the logic in paying a No. 3 receiver more than a million with Quinton Patton on track to becoming a bigger part of the passing game.    

There's a lot of things to like about Mario. He has great hands. He gives Bill Belichick nightmares. He's appeared in over 30 video games.

With that said, it's time to move on. 

 

CB Tarell Brown

This is a tough call. When he went down in the middle of the season with broken ribs, the secondary hardly missed a beat. But the same can be said of Carlos Rogers through the first two games of the playoffs. 

With the emergence of Tramaine Brock and the pending return of Chris Culliver, it's possible Brown may not even be a starter this year. Still, he's a solid player who can bring veteran leadership and stability to a defense that will likely be without Rogers and possibly NaVorro Bowman for the first few weeks of the season. 

The 49ers will likely give him a new contract and hope his agent can save them another $2 million in the offseason. 

 

RB Anthony Dixon

Dixon's an underrated player who doesn't take things for granted and loves being a part of this franchise. He played well in place of Bruce Miller during the playoffs and remains effective on special teams. 

The market is never really high for a utility running back, so the 49ers could bring him back at a reasonable price if he takes a smart approach. Or they could let him explore his options and have him come back for minimum wage and a year's worth of free hair appointments at Supercuts.  

 

CB Eric Wright

After the surprise performance the 49ers got out of Perrish Cox in the playoffs last year, it doesn't look like there'll be a spot for Wright if they decide to retain any of their veteran corners. Wright grew up about four blocks from Candlestick Park and may have felt it was his destiny to play out his career in San Francisco. 

But his best days seem to be behind him. He's injured all the time and has yet to demonstrate any significant value on the field.

He's worth a little more than Kyle Williams, but that's not saying much. 

Well actually, it says a whole lot. 

 

WR Kassim Osgood

One of the few members of the special teams who can actually tackle someone.

Sign him up now. 

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

 

WR Anquan Boldin

Boldin was the most valuable player on the offense this year. Without him, the 49ers probably wouldn't have made the NFC Championship.

Maybe even worse. 

While younger, "sturdier" players routinely went down in a heap, Boldin was still catching passes every week, still fighting off double teams, still giving 120 percent even when a game was out of reach. 

He brought a newer, fiercer attitude to the offense, one that even seemed to rub off on the milquetoast Colin Kaepernick toward the end of the season and in the playoffs.   

The belief that he was well past his prime was crap. He's 33, not 47.   

Still, many people don't want the 49ers to re-sign him. You know what sucks even more? I agree with them.

With the 49ers needing to dump salary in the event that Kaepernick and Crabtree actually become star players, there just may not be enough money lying around for a veteran receiver who made $6 million last season. 

Plus, about half of the local sports media wants the 49ers to move up in the draft and select Mike Evans. 

Some might call this wishful thinking, but it makes sense on every level. 

Boldin quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco, but the 49ers need to think younger and cheaper for the years ahead. 

 

And there we have it. In this writer's humble opinion, the 49ers still have more talent than any team in the NFL. Unfortunately, that talent didn't come together until the very end of last season, and it cost them an opportunity to vanquish their slightly weaker archrivals at home. 

With a strong chance to win the Super Bowl in their sparkling new playground, they need to assemble the best team they can without losing track of the big picture. 

It's what Eddie DeBartolo and Bill Walsh did for nearly a decade. 

I think we can agree it worked out pretty well. 

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