2011 NFL Free Agency: Are the 49ers Going to Be Forced to Sign Aubrayo Franklin?

Kyle Vassalo@VassaloBRFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2011

HERTFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 27:  Franklin Aubrayo of San Francisco 49ers looks on during a training session at The Grove Hotel on October 27, 2010 in Hertford, England. The San Francisco 49ers will meet the Denver Broncos in the NFL International Series regular-season match at Wembley Stadium on October 31.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Aubrayo Franklin took a huge step backwards last season. In 2009, he was a fringe Pro Bowler. In 2010, he was arguably the weakest link in the front seven.

He was obviously upset that after such a resounding season in 2009, the 49ers didn't lock him up with a long term deal. They franchise tagged him, probably hoping he would show more consistency.

The 49ers have no problem throwing money and long term deals at promising players. They did so with Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. The difference is that all three of the aforementioned players are younger and have performed more consistently than Franklin.

It's unclear if Franklin regressed because he was unhappy with his contract or if he is simply on the back end of his career. While he had a breakout season in 2009, he is also 30 years old. Were the 49ers supposed to shower the late bloomer in cash after one good season?

Regardless of the catalyst behind the decline in productivity, the 49ers aren't in a position to re-sign Franklin to a long term deal. The deadline to franchise a player came and went, and the 49ers remained silent.

All indications were that the 49ers were going to let Franklin slip into free agency. It frees up a lot of money and the 49ers would have the opportunity to explore other options.

Draft day rendered no potential starting defensive tackle. Aside from an aging and broken Kris Jenkins, there isn't really a nose who has experience as a 3-4 starter who is in free agency.

The 49ers could choose to stay in house, promoting Ricky Jean-Francois or Isaac Sopoaga to nose tackle. They both have experience playing in the middle, but failing to have a legitimate nose has a resounding effect on the entire defense. Are they willing to take that risk?

Let's pretend for a moment that Franklin was a free agent, but not coming off a season with the 49ers. He's 30, coming off a down year, slightly expensive, wants a long term deal and is the best nose on the market.

It seems as though the 49ers might roll the dice in that situation. Franklin hasn't had a chance to build a rapport with Jim Harbaugh, but he may be the most likely candidate to fill the 49ers' nose tackle void next season.

Signing him to a four year deal is unrealistic. What about an incentive laden contract though? If Franklin is a guy who is affected by his contract, the 49ers will want to minimize risk. They could structure a contract with attainable goals for Franklin.

A two year deal that demands effort from Franklin could be the best route to go from here. Either the 49ers get a cheap underachiever or they pay for the player who was dominant in 2009. It's a win-win.