San Francisco 49ers Free Agency: Who Will Stay, Who Will Go?
Free agency officially begins on March 11 at 4 p.m. ET. To this point, however, the San Francisco 49ers have only come to an agreement with Anquan Boldin. That leaves 10 free agents left scheduled to hit the market on Tuesday afternoon. They include key starters, special teams aces and veteran depth.
With the salary cap set to move up to $133 million in 2014, the 49ers have more cap room than they anticipated. Could they use some of that cap room to lock up their own free agents?
According to Over the Cap, the 49ers are about $10 million under the cap. That unexpected windfall will change the team’s approach to this offseason. While some of it could be used for contract extensions for players like Colin Kaepernick, the extra breathing room means some players, written off as too expensive, could find their way back into the red and gold for 2014.
Let’s take a look at each of San Francisco’s upcoming free agents and evaluate their chances of remaining with the team next season.
Colt McCoy, QB
The 49ers only have two quarterbacks under contract for 2014—Colin Kaepernick and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. They’ll need to bring in someone else to carry the clipboard.
San Francisco never seemed fully satisfied with McCoy as the backup last season. The team brought in players like Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels to compete for the backup slot, only settling on McCoy late in the preseason.
Why settle for McCoy in 2014? They’ve already shown signs they’re looking to move on. Jim Harbaugh was in the Chicago area on Tuesday and privately worked out quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois.
They also could bring in another veteran. Ex-49er Shaun Hill could be an option, as could Chad Henne or Josh Freeman. San Francisco has yet to show any real loyalty to McCoy, bringing in quarterback after quarterback throughout last season.
Add it all together, and I don’t see any reason to bring McCoy back next season. The 49ers would be better off using one of their Day 2 draft picks on a quarterback to develop and letting McCoy sign elsewhere.
Verdict: Let him go
Anthony Dixon, RB
Anthony Dixon has somehow found his way onto the roster, year after year. His versatility has found him a niche on the squad. He received his first NFL start this season at fullback after Bruce Miller went down for the season in December.
The issue with keeping Dixon is the depth the team has at the running back slot. Frank Gore is still likely to be the starter, with Marcus Lattimore coming off of injured reserve as the presumptive backup. Battling for the third slot are LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter, with Jewel Hampton as the practice squad back.
The addition of Lattimore to the active roster likely means the departure of one of the other backs. Dixon’s the most likely candidate, simply due to his contract situation.
However, Dixon’s versatility has its merits. His ability to shift over and serve as a blocking back gives him a different dimension than the rest of the running backs. The 49ers could cut James, saving about $480,000, and then sign Dixon to a one-year veteran’s minimum contract. He’s shown more versatility than James, making him the better option.
Verdict: Re-sign on a one-year, $730,000 contract
Mario Manningham, WR
Manningham missed most of last season as he recovered from ACL injuries. While he was a decent option in his first year with the team, he simply has been unable to stay on the field for the majority of his San Francisco career.
The 49ers do need more depth at wide receiver, but it doesn’t look like Manningham is the answer. They re-signed Anquan Boldin for the starting position. They have the developing Quinton Patton sitting behind him. They also are likely to draft a receiver in one of the first two rounds of the 2014 draft.
The numbers just don’t add up for keeping Manningham around. He’ll be allowed to leave. A fresh start could help him revitalize his own career, while the 49ers simply have better options than a player coming off of multiple knee injuries.
Verdict: Let him go
Kassim Osgood, WR
Osgood’s value comes solely on special teams. He only saw 45 offensive snaps last season, making him entirely expendable in the passing game.
On special teams, however, Osgood made a significant impact as a gunner. Osgood’s had years of experience and is a savvy veteran on punts and kickoffs. Whoever occupies the final receiver slot on the 49ers’ 2014 roster has to be able to contribute on special teams, and few are better than Osgood.
That’s no guarantee he’ll be re-signed. Last season, he was released in final roster cuts and then brought back two weeks later when room opened up. With roster space limitations, special teams players are often the first to go.
Osgood’s going to be on a roster in 2014. It might as well be San Francisco’s; they’re unlikely to find a better special teams player out there this season.
Verdict: Re-sign on a one-year, $955,000 contract
Jonathan Goodwin, C
At age 35, it was unlikely that Goodwin was going to be a contributor for much longer, anyway. He has faded notably in pass protection, allowing four sacks and 14 hurries last season according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
At this point, Goodwin is a veteran backup, but the 49ers have shown that they are looking to go younger at the position. Between Kilgore, Joe Looney and a potential draft choice, they don’t have much call for a 35-year-old veteran presence.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising for Goodwin to earn a job somewhere, but it won’t be in San Francisco.
Verdict: Let him go
Demarcus Dobbs, DE (RFA)
Dobbs finds himself in a position similar to Anthony Dixon's. Both players are likely to find their role from last year replaced by a draft choice coming off of injured reserve.
In Dobbs’ case, the return of Tank Carradine makes him expendable. He was the lesser of the two sub defensive ends last season, being outplayed by Tony Jerod-Eddie. With Carradine’s return, what value Dobbs has is somewhat more questionable.
Bill Williamson reports the team is not expected to tender Dobbs, resulting in him becoming an unrestricted free agent. With the team already fairly young and deep in their reserve defensive linemen, there’s almost no chance Dobbs will be re-signed.
Verdict: Let him go
Tarell Brown, CB
The argument against re-signing Tarell Brown hinges on the continued development of Tramaine Brock. The 49ers signed Brock to a four-year, $16 million extension last season, as he had a breakout year. When Brown went down with an injury, Brock took his place in the starting lineup and performed brilliantly. It seems like he has one of the starting cornerback slots locked down for next year.
The other cornerback slots are trickier. Carlos Rogers, last year’s starter, is a likely salary-cap casualty. Chris Culliver is coming back from a torn ACL and could hold down one of the other starting slots if Brown is not re-signed.
That does leave the team a nickel corner short, so they need to bring in more talent. Brown’s a very good player, but he might end up pricing himself out of town. The larger-than-expected salary cap will help, but the 49ers seem set to let Brown test the free-agent market.
Drafting a first-round cornerback, like Jason Verrett out of TCU, would reduce the need for Brown returning. A Brock/Culliver/top rookie cornerback grouping is tolerable, if not fantastic.
If the 49ers can get Brown back for a decent bargain, they absolutely should jump on the opportunity. They can’t afford to overpay him, however. They have to remain fiscally sane at the position and not get into a bidding war with another corner-needy team.
Verdict: Re-sign to a Tramaine Brock-style contract (four years, $15 million), or let go
Eric Wright, CB
Wright was brought in last season to compete for the third cornerback slot, but lost out to both Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock. After coming off of the NFI list, Wright saw limited action and was even a healthy scratch in the NFC Championship Game.
The team does still need depth at the position, but the return of Culliver and the probable early-round draft choice would push Wright further down the depth chart. He’s very unlikely to make a significant contribution on the field in 2014.
Add in rumblings that the 49ers were unhappy with his preparation at the end of last season, and it doesn’t seem likely that Wright would be re-signed.
Verdict: Let him go
Donte Whitner, S
Donte Whitner is the biggest beneficiary of the expanded salary cap. Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee reports the team is more optimistic now about their odds of re-signing Whitner. The unexpected room would let the 49ers to sign him to an appropriate contract, rather than having to scour the draft for a new starter across from Eric Reid.
It would be a difficult search in the draft. The top two safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, are likely to be long gone by the time the 49ers get on the clock. The next batch down, led by Deone Bucannon of Washington State, has more question marks and might not be ready to take over a starting role right away.
Whitner’s Pro Bowl-level production would be desperately missed if he were to leave. He’s going to trend down over the next few seasons as he ages, and his speed is already declining, but the team doesn’t have a better option readily available.
The best deal would be a medium-length contract of no more than four seasons or so. His cap hit was just under $5 million last season, and that’d be an ideal average salary to have him at for the next few seasons. It would place him among the top 15 safeties in the NFL. Give him a decent signing bonus and a raise over his last deal, and call it a day.
Like with Brown, they can’t allow themselves to get into a bidding war with another team. Hopefully, however, the familiarity with the system, as well as the window of contention, will keep Whitner in town for a few more years.
Verdict: Re-sign on a three-year, $15 million contract
Phil Dawson, K
Dawson still has the leg. Over the past three seasons, he’s 18-of-21 on field goals of 50 yards or longer. That’s the most 50-plus-yarders in the league, even beating out Sebastian Janikowski, who had five more attempts.
Dawson’s certainly brought a consistency to the position that David Akers lacked in 2012. Even at age 39, he’s likely the best option for the 49ers on the market.
Dawson made $2.35 million last season and is in line for a minor pay raise. Sure, the team could gamble on someone like Nick Folk or Dan Carpenter, but there’s no reason to change a winning formula, even at a slightly higher than ideal salary.
Verdict: Re-sign on a one-year, $2.5 million contract