The first week of NFL free agency is already in the books.
Numerous teams have already made significant upgrades at positions of need.
Unfortunately, the San Francisco 49ers are not one of them.
Despite having multiple starting positions in need of an upgrade, the 49ers have made only one minor signing so far this season. By signing quarterback David Carr to backup Alex Smith, San Francisco’s lone free agent pickup thus far has come at a position that's quite low on the needs list.
In fact, quarterback wasn’t really a need at all considering the direction the 49ers are heading in, with continuity being of the utmost importance.
Now fans and analysts may argue the order of the top four biggest needs for the 49ers, but there really is no arguing against what they are.
In any given order, the 49ers need to upgrade in the following areas:
1. pass rush
2. offensive line
4. return game
Granted, the 49ers have two first-round draft choices in the upcoming NFL draft, but by addressing some of their needs in free agency, the team would then be able to narrow the list of positional needs in the draft.
For example, there are various NFL “mock drafts” that have the 49ers taking two offensive linemen in the first round, as well as some that have them addressing the return game and pass rush with those picks.
With varying opinions from both fans and experts alike on how the 49ers should utilize their two first-round picks, it is clear that the 49ers need a handful of positional upgrades.
In order for the 49ers to become stronger come draft day, they should look to address some of the areas of need in free agency.
The pass rush, offensive line, and secondary should all be upgraded in one way or another through free agency.
First of all, the pass rush can be significantly upgraded on the cheap. Just recently, the incredibly flamboyant but immensely talented pass rushing outside linebacker, Joey Porter was released by the Miami Dolphins.
Soon to be 33, Porter’s age and brash style will probably prohibit the four-time Pro Bowler from getting a long-term deal.
By adding Porter to the mix, San Francisco would bolster a pass rush that has been incredibly mediocre over the last few seasons, and signing him isn’t likely to break the bank.
Upgrading the secondary can be done by going after veteran free agent safety, Darren Sharper, to fill in at free safety while then moving the up-and-coming Dashon Goldson over to strong safety.
Sharper may be turning 35 next season, but he still tied a career high with nine interceptions last year, helping the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl victory.
Clearly, a Sharper-Goldson combo would be a much better duo than a Goldson, and concussion prone, Michael Lewis tandem. Sharper would be a great veteran presence on an otherwise young 49er defense, and at his age, he won’t require a lengthy contract.
As for the offensive line, names such as Langston Walker, Levi Jones, Mike Gandy, and Damion McIntosh are all free agent tackles that could fill in the gap the 49ers currently have at right tackle.
Of course, the 49ers would need to proceed with caution before signing Jones if they also plan on signing Joey Porter at outside linebacker. These two have some severe issues with one another going back to the days when Porter played for the Steelers, and Jones was on the Bengals.
Either way, whether the 49ers want to go after Jones or another free agent tackle, there are a number of talented stop-gaps available to play opposite Joe Staley that shouldn’t require more than one-year deals.
If the 49ers were able to pickup a safety, pass rusher, and offensive tackle in free agency, that would give them much more flexibility with their first-round draft choices.
Taking Clemson running back C. J. Spiller at No. 13 overall would be a much wiser move if the 49ers were to have added an offensive tackle in free agency.
Spiller would be a great fit in the return game—an area where the 49ers desperately need to improve—and he could also suffice as an ideal change of pace back for Frank Gore.
Four picks later, the 49ers would then have the luxury of being able to go in many different directions.
Essentially, at pick No.17, the 49ers could take the best player available. They could still take the best tackle on the board to add depth to the offensive line, or they could also look to draft an offensive guard (perhaps Mike Iupati, if available). Even inside linebacker Rolando McClain (if he falls) could be an option at this point in the draft.
However, if the 49ers don’t add quality players at their positions of need via free agency, they will limit what they can do with their first-round draft choices.
San Francisco will almost assuredly have to take an offensive tackle with one of their first-round selections, and improving either the secondary or pass rush will end up being more critical than drafting a return specialist. Therefore, the 49ers would probably have to pass up on drafting the explosive C. J. Spiller.
But drafting Spiller would be a huge addition to this squad, and in order to make his selection at No. 13 an ideal move, the 49ers will need to have added some new talent through free agency.
Unfortunately, 49er management has been steadfast in not making a “splash” in free agency.
However, the good news is that with the amount of free agents available, “splashes” don’t necessarily have to be expensive long-term deals.
The 49ers can improve in free agency by signing a couple of proven veteran players to cheap, short-term deals.
If the management realizes this and picks up some of these veteran free agents, then the 49ers will be able to snatch up a play maker like Spiller come draft day.
This article was originally published at nfltouchdown.com and can be seen here.