What's Next for the 49ers After Initial Wave of Free-Agent Signings?

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What's Next for the 49ers After Initial Wave of Free-Agent Signings?
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers, along with the rest of the NFL, are currently settled in that time frame between the end of the free-agency rush and final preparations for May's draft. It can be a quiet time as far as league activity goes, but it brings intrigue because it is a cool-down period that allows for the organization to regroup mid-offseason. 

Exciting things are happening behind closed doors. 

To provide an update, general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh have wrapped up their nationwide tour of the NFL pro days and were last seen at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Their major offseason moves are complete, so there's nothing urgent that would require them to be at headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. 

As long as Baalke and Harbaugh are together, discussing strategy, it doesn't matter where they are.

Working from satellite locations around the country, the 49ers' front office duo can still make witty moves that benefit the organization. More than likely, it won't be anything too significant, but every little bit counts, and you never know what kind of opportunities might fall into their lap between now and the 2014 NFL draft.

Assessing what's next, here is a rundown of what may be on their plate and what they're looking at going forward. 

 

Do They Sign Anyone Else?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Would they? Yes.

Can they? No.

There’s no doubt the 49ers are interested in players, having been connected to many in the media and having scheduled visits with a litany of unrestricted free agents. However, they only have a total of $3.726 million in cap space at the moment, according to the NFL Players Association.

Granted, they’re bound to get a kick up in the cap in June with the money freed up from the release of cornerback Carlos Rogers.

But it doesn’t seem like the club is in any sort of position to make any more signings at this point, largely because the money isn’t there. They don’t have the roster spots to give up to any new big-name players, either. Moreover, management has gotten busy extending its own players this offseason, particularly this star-studded 2011 draft class that features several key contributors.

Center Daniel Kilgore was taken care of, as was fullback Bruce Miller, and CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco reports a deal could be on the way for cornerback Chris Culliver.

Not to mention the megadeal quarterback Colin Kaepernick is expecting.

Making any out-of-house acquisitions would be fiscally irresponsible because it risks the futures of players currently on the roster. Therefore, any signings they do make will have to be steals or bargain-basement deals. It’s not out of the question, but at this juncture they seem like long shots.

 

Situation No. 1: Monitor the DeSean Jackson Predicament

The new and improved Philadelphia Eagles seem to be in a holding pattern with three-time Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson, looking to get his contract off the books via trade, as numerous outlets have reported this offseason.

Following the first reviewable season by innovative head coach Chip Kelly, it appears the organization is fully prepared to move forward without its most prolific scorer of the last half-decade. It’s a complex ordeal, but it seems that Jackson’s perceived value just isn’t the same under the new regime.

The two teams that have been linked to Jackson the most have been the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers (though it was reported that the 49ers have not officially contacted the Eagles about a trade). Most have axed the notion of Jackson joining the red and gold, simply because NFL teams rarely have two high-priced wide receivers, much less three.

The 49ers already have Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin—not to mention all-world tight end Vernon Davis, who has a $7.34 million cap hit in 2014 (via Spotrac).

Now, the 49ers certainly have the draft picks—as well as the team need that gives slight credibility to the rumor of them being a potential trade partner for Jackson—but they absolutely do not have the room to take on another lucrative contract. And if the Niners traded for his current contract, Jackson would arrive as the team’s highest-paid player and by a wide margin.

Eugene Tanner/Associated Press/Associated Press
Is DeSean Jackson the player the 49ers need to bring in to get past the Seahawks?

So, any chatter regarding a trade is merely hearsay.

However, if Jackson is given his outright release, like Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly reported the Eagles may wind up doing, this door opens up for the 49ers.

Consider a similar situation with All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who eventually signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots at 75 percent of his salary from the year before. That says something, especially in a kooky offseason like this. Anything can happen.

Jackson, like Revis, would be a high-caliber player in a bit of a bind, longing for a familiar place that needs his services.

Furthermore, one has to figure that he’d be enticed by a place where he can win. This is a player who has been in the league for six years, has tasted the postseason (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013), but hasn’t played in a Super Bowl. And at 27 years old, a one-year “Prime Time” deal shouldn’t be off the table for Jackson.

He can come home, increase his value, vie for a Lombardi Trophy and then have a full offseason to shop his services for one last mega-contract in 2015.

So, for those reasons, the Los Angeles native and ex-Cal Bear may have some interest in taking a reduced salary to play with San Francisco for a season. They could theoretically ask other vets to restructure in order to fit the playmaker, too. Again, it is a long shot but not out of the realm of reason. 

If the 49ers can get DeSean Jackson in 2014, they can make a run and call it a tryout as his deal and Michael Crabtree’s will be expiring after this year.

 

Situation No. 2: Keep Tabs on Kenny Britt

Rhona Wise/Associated Press

The 49ers have not expressed interest in troubled wide receiver Kenny Britt, a former first-round pick that after five years with the Tennessee Titans never earned a second contract. Injuries and off-the-field issues plagued his career, especially as of late.

It seemed as if his rookie deal couldn’t expire soon enough for Tennessee.

Nevertheless, those who recall Britt coming out of Rutgers University, as well as his first two seasons with the Titans where he totaled 1,476 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, may be intrigued by his natural physical talent. At one point, it looked as if he’d be a top-10 receiver in the league.

As a receiver, he is a low-cost restoration project with high upside.

At 6’3”, 215 pounds, with leaping and box-out ability, Britt brings a skill set that the 49ers are avidly searching for.

This is an offense in need of size at the receiver position, with the hopes that it can aid their red-zone woes. A player who can outleap defenders to the ball in tight spaces could make all the difference in San Francisco’s attempt to become a more productive scoring unit.

And the fact that the window may be closing on Kenny Britt’s NFL career may force him to get his act together and put him in the right mentality where he can really help a team.

 

Draft Needs 

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

CB—Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock are slated to start, but the 49ers need a top-tier slot corner with the versatility to bounce outside and cover on the boundary. Ideally, this player would provide exceptional depth right away while pushing the starters for time down the road.

WR—Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin will hopefully start 16 games beside each other this year, with young, athletic dynamo Quinton Patton as a complementary piece they can move around. Still, with none of them being exceptionally fast or breaking 6’1”, this is a unit that necessitates some diversity, either in the form of size or speed.

G/C—With Jonathan Goodwin unsigned and former backup guard Daniel Kilgore projected to start at center, there has been a shake-up on the interior offensive line. The 49ers did add a tackle in Jonathan Martin, but they could still use another talented bruiser to compete inside.

SS—After signing two-time Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea, strong safety is not nearly the pressing need that it was. However, there are multiple intriguing prospects in this draft class, and the 49ers should look to bring in a player with the highest ceiling, now that they can afford to develop one.

DL—This is about building for the future. Thirty-four-year-old defensive end Justin Smith has two years left, tops. He is the oldest of 22 starters on the team. And Ray McDonald is entering the last two years of his contract, in which he’ll earn the largest sum, with $10 million over 2014-15.

TE—Vernon Davis is not going to be around forever, and Vance McDonald had an underwhelming rookie year from a receiving standpoint. So even though the 49ers may have a dynamic tandem on hand for 2014, this is another positional group that could use depth. It’s a tight end-friendly team that has proven to be extremely vulnerable if one of its top two guys isn’t in.

 

Draft Targets

The “gold-helmet” prospect—coined by the 49ers' new regime—is a high-character, pro-ready prospect who beams with leadership and a layer of physicality. It is how the front office ranks its most sought-after draft prospects. Said player also has to fill a need and be compatible with the club’s offensive or defensive system.

Regionally, the club has focused on college players from the Southeastern part of the United States, which is where their director of college scouting Matt Malaspina’s expertise and network is. Head coach Jim Harbaugh also approves, getting his handpicked safety from LSU last year.

Of course, while there is no way to know whom this team is truly eyeing in 2014, with three years of drafts and knowledge of their department, one could make a few educated guesses.

 

Potential Draft Targets
WR CB DL SS
Kelvin Benjamin Kyle Fuller Ra'Shede Hageman Deone Bucannon
Odell Beckham Jr. Jason Verrett Aaron Donald Calvin Pryor
Brandin Cooks Bradley Roby Trent Murphy Jimmie Ward
Mike Evans Lamarcus Joyner Josh Mauro Ahmad Dixon
Martavis Bryant Jaylen Watkins DaQuan Jones Ed Reynolds
Davante Adams Bashaud Breeland Timmy Jernigan Terrence Brooks

CBS Sports

 

Do They Restructure Their Own?

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Running back Frank Gore stands out as the one and only player who should restructure his contract in 2014. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has a $6.45 million figure, which is incredibly high for his age and position. While he is the centerpiece on offense and an all-timer for the club, this is not an ordinary salary figure.

According to Joel Corry of the National Football Post, Gore’s figure is well above average—making him a cut candidate at one point—and should instead be in the $3 million range, along with Darren Sproles and Steven Jackson, who are tailbacks that are also in their 30s.

Interestingly, general manager Trent Baalke already spoke out about this situation and was fairly nonchalant about it. At the NFL combine, he came out and said that the team doesn’t have to redo his deal, saying, “We’re in good shape from the cap’s standpoint,” via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.

“We can move forward exactly as is,” Baalke commented.

Technically they can pay him, but is it in the best interest for a cap-strapped team looking to add pieces for the future?

As stated above, the Niners have less than $4 million in cap space at the moment and have to pay a rookie class, extend cornerback Chris Culliver and hopefully complete the long-term extension for franchise quarterback Colin Kaepernick, which could be in the $100 million range.

Frank Gore is likely out after this year, and paying him at his full price would be nothing more than a nice gesture by an organization that has been notoriously cold to players from a monetary standpoint. After the draft, this is something the team may want to reconsider, despite Baalke’s statement.

 

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference. Contract information provided by Spotrac. Article information via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area

 

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