San Francisco 49ers Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions
As we've seen, this is a ballclub that's been further and further removed from free agency as it has added the final pieces in three drafts under coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke. Handpicking and developing its own young players, and for fairly cheap, has continued to be the ultimate team-building philosophy.
But the 49ers have more holes to fill at key positions. Can they stay afloat with supplementing talent via free agency?
They may dip into the open market to a degree. Low-cost veterans at need positions will have to be the one exception if the team is not re-signing its own. It is also important to assess what the 49ers need and what type of resources they'll have available to them. There can't be any impulse shopping.
This will look at their salary-cap space, current free agents, potential cut candidates, team needs and possible targets.
Contract and cap information courtesy of Spotrac.
Even with a cap rollover of $2,175,038, the 49ers are only ranked 20th in the league in space with $13.74 million in 2014.
While it is a good thing that they’re not over the cap like the Dallas Cowboys or teetering on the threshold, this is still not a lot of room. Sacrifices will have to be made, especially as the front office redirects its focus toward re-signing and extending the team's own players.
And to offer some perspective, this $13.7 million is not enough to fit one year of Colin Kaepernick’s hypothetical/soon-to-be $18-20 million-per-year salary. That being said, if they make any signings out of house, it will be bottom-of-the-barrel bargains.
Donte Whitner, SS—The 49ers would like to keep the 2012 Pro Bowler and league’s fifth-best cover safety, per the player's Twitter account (h/t Pro Football Focus), but the team doesn’t have the financial backing to commit to him at a fair market price.
Tarell Brown, CB—He is one of the homegrown talents who will be remembered as one of the better starters to come up through the farm system. Unfortunately, he will be a coveted player on the open market.
Phil Dawson, K—San Francisco would be wise to prioritize the retention of the All-Pro placekicker. Dawson hit game-winners and sometimes accounted for the only points on the day. For a team that notoriously underperforms in the red zone, they need to have a sure thing.
Mario Manningham, WR—His chance to emerge as an NFL starter never materialized in San Francisco. His play never impacted this team. Now with a bad ACL injury that is lingering and an expired deal, he has likely seen his last snap in the Bay Area.
Jonathan Goodwin, C—Age (35) and an expired contract will prevent Goodwin from returning. His three-year deal signed in 2011 was always his window to win a Super Bowl. It was never going to go beyond that.
Kassim Osgood, WR—He was one of the best free-agent signings the 49ers made this past offseason, and he was one of the last ones in after linebacker Nick Moody went down. Osgood, the 33-year-old special teams ace, deserves to come back as a fifth man but is too easy to replace.
Anthony Dixon, RB—If LaMichael James had been more durable, Dixon’s tenure might not have lasted this long. That said, he deserves a bigger role elsewhere, and he’ll never see the light of day behind Marcus Lattimore, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in 2014. He’ll walk gracefully.
Eric Wright, CB—There was an off chance that he redeemed his career in San Francisco, his hometown, but Wright never made a case to stay. This is a player at a position that will be easily upgraded via the NFL draft in May. It is a long shot that the 49ers consider bringing him back.
Colt McCoy, QB—The 49ers were panicky for a good duration of the season when it came to the backup quarterback situation. McCoy, newly signed from the Browns, was expected to be the No. 2 but had a bad training camp and a putrid showing in the preseason. San Francisco will draft a replacement here.
Carlos Rogers, CB—This player was a cut candidate before the 2013 season and might have been disposable if not for Chris Culliver's ACL injury. Rogers’ $8 million salary is the largest on the books in 2014, and he hasn’t played close to that. The 32-year-old will likely get his walking papers.
Craig Dahl, SS—The 49ers backup was already a good sport, renegotiating his salary down. However, the team can find his replacement in the draft. They can draft a special teams ace and developmental safety in a late round for just a few hundred thousand dollars.
Jon Baldwin, WR—Outside of his salary, the reason the 49ers cut Baldwin is because they know what he is. The verdict is pretty much out there. If he were the dominant height/weight/speed prospect he was made out to be coming out of Pitt, he would have done something by now.
Adam Snyder, OL—His most valuable contribution to this team is the boost he provides from a morale standpoint. Frankly, Snyder was a liability on the line while playing spot duty last year. He played OK at tackle, but in jumbo formations and as an interior lineman, his performance was poor.
WR—The 49ers must score more points; it’s as easy that. Their defense is transcendent and plays lights out 99 percent of the time. Most would be willing to bet that it’s even better than it looks, too. If they could stay off the field and have the luxury of playing aggressive with bigger leads, they could be shredding teams.
Building up their scoring offense will have a tremendous impact. The 49ers need a big-play wide receiver right now and for the future.
SS—It seems highly unlikely that Donte Whitner will reprise his role opposite Eric Reid, which means the 49ers will be on the prowl for a second starting safety in consecutive offseasons. Do they invest in the first round again? No, maybe not. But there are plenty of prospects like Deone Bucannon and Lamarcus Joyner.
A hitter with ball skills would be ideal, and the 49ers could afford the high-risk, high-reward pick with their staunch defense.
CB—This remains one position the 49ers just have not invested in since the induction of the new regime. Not only that, this year the defense is losing its two starters from the last three years in Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, so it will need two-plus corners in camp this year.
The 49ers will look at long-bodied perimeter defenders and perhaps a route-jumping nickelback.
OL—The 49ers are going to need a backup guard to be the primary one now that Daniel Kilgore is expected to start at center. Ideally, this will be a physical specimen who can potentially start at guard in 2015. They also find themselves in the market for a swing tackle, unless Luke Marquardt can go.
DL—Defensive line is a position that keeps popping up. And while it's not a need, this is a deep draft class. The 49ers need to consider a replacement for Ray McDonald, who is nearing the back end of his contract and approaching 30 years old. They can pick a tackle at any time.
K—This could become a need if the 49ers somehow can’t re-sign Phil Dawson, but the hope is that they’ll be able to come to terms with the All-Pro leg. He had a terrific year, and the team needs that kind of stability at kicker. Now that Anquan Boldin is signed, Dawson is the team's most important unrestricted free agent.
QB—There is going to be a need for a backup quarterback. The Niners were shuffling players around in 2013, prepping for Colin Kaepernick's jump from No. 2 to No. 1 and Alex Smith’s departure to Kansas City. The team will have more time this offseason to scout and draft a replacement.
The 49ers are not major players in free agency, so this list is limited. The philosophy is to build through the draft. On top of which, they only have a few slots to fill and a league-high 12 draft picks this year.
Charles Tillman, CB—The Chicago Bears All-Pro cornerback and reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year is an ideal fit for the 49ers. He's 33 years old, and after playing his entire career with the Bears, he's now looking for his last home where he can hopefully compete for a championship.
A player of his age won’t command a big-figure deal over multiple years, so elements like the weather and vying for a Super Bowl may matter. The 49ers could use a physical press corner like him in their defense—one with quality experience while they transition three younger corners around him.
Kenny Britt, WR—It seems unlikely that the 49ers grab a wide receiver in free agency, simply because of their typical value. Not to mention the fact that this is a loaded draft class, and San Francisco has a surplus of picks. However, Kenny Britt is a castoff who fits what they’re looking for this offseason, and he’ll come cheap.
Knowing he is capable of chunk yardage and scoring in the red zone, the 49ers may set a meeting/workout with Britt to see where his head is at this year and what his health is like.
Devin Hester, KR/PR—The "Windy City Flyer" makes sense as a No. 5 wideout/return specialist. Hester is a dynamic weapon that adds a whole new element on special teams, making it a scoring threat. He still has his legs left, and the 49ers would value the way he sets up the offense with favorable field position.
Geoff Schwartz, OL—The 49ers have taken a look at him before. The former Carolina Panther, Minnesota Viking and Kansas City Chief has had trouble finding a home—but an ability to compete at center in 2014 and vie for a starting guard position in 2015 may lure him to the Bay Area on a short-term deal.