San Francisco 49ers: 4 Free Agent Priorities for 2011
A professional football team doesn’t miss the playoffs eight seasons in a row (with only one .500 season in that stretch) without having a few flaws.
Whether it’s ineffective quarterback play, underwhelming pass defense or a lack of consistency from the wide receiving corps, there are plenty of shortcomings the San Francisco 49ers have to cover if they want to get back on the road to long-term success.
While the lockout has prevented free agent moves, here are some areas where the 49ers will look to fill out their roster for the 2011 season.
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While the success of the running game shows promise for the line, the team’s high sack totals for the past few seasons have left some questions. While the team has been proactive in drafting high for line talent, there are still too many questions about this line to be confident about its success.
The need for line talent is most apparent following the recent injury to center Eric Heitmann, who will most likely miss the 2011 season due to a serious neck injury sustained in practice last season. The loss means the team has no go-to starter at the position.
While the last major free agent offensive line signing, Jonas Jennings, frequently suffered injuries in his time with the 49ers, that shouldn’t prevent the team from going out and spending big money to solidify the center position.
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There’s not a lot to like with the current secondary in place, and unfortunately a finger has to be pointed at lead cornerback Nate Clements.
Signed to what was at the time the highest contract ever for a defensive player, Clements has not lived up to the star billing or even his numbers as a member of the Buffalo Bills. This lack of production is magnified by the number of times he has been burned going against quicker receivers.
His play has not been terrible—just disappointing given the money spent to bring him to the team.
Unless Clements agrees to a substantial pay cut to the $7.25 million he’s owed this upcoming season, he could find his way out of San Francisco sooner than later.
With that said, the blame can’t be put all on Clements. Fellow corner Shawntae Spencer saw his play dip slightly in 2010, and the safety position lacked depth.
While the 49ers used picks in the draft to grab defensive backs Chris Culliver and Colin Jones, the team could still benefit from looking at the available free agent talent to solidify the group.
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While 49ers fans can argue over the decision on who to start at the quarterback position in 2011, they’ll most likely want to bring veteran Alex Smith back to the team for the upcoming season.
While he may not be long-term starter material after his mixed production over his career, his leadership and knowledge of the offense combined with the support of new head coach Jim Harbaugh mean he should at least be brought back in with the squad.
They’ll also most likely need to sign a better third quarterback to fill the position than David Carr (who is currently the only passer on the roster).
If last season is a sign of things to come, the 49ers may need all the quality quarterbacking depth they can get.
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The 49ers have struggled through the air, and much of that can be put on the lackluster play of the team’s wide receivers.
The numbers are grim.
None of the team's wide receivers have been among the top 35 in yardage since the 2003 season, when Terrell Owens racked up 1,102 yards to rank 13th in the league (receiver Isaac Bruce was 37th in receiving yardage in the 2008 season with 837 yards).
While Vernon Davis has shown value as a strong option in the last two seasons from the tight end position, the 49ers have to get more value from their receivers.
Let's be clear: Things are not as bad as 2007, when Arnaz Battle led the team in receiving with a whopping 600 yards receiving, good for 67th place in yardage in the league.
However, No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree has been hampered by injuries to his foot, which he appears to have injured again in recent practices, and Josh Morgan is boxing above his weight class as the second receiver.
The Niners may be forced to try their hand on the free agent market to find another leading option.