4 Veterans Who Must Not Return for San Francisco 49ers' 2015 Season

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2015

4 Veterans Who Must Not Return for San Francisco 49ers' 2015 Season

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Free agency just started and the 49ers already have parted with four key veterans:

    It was confirmed that, Frank Gore signed a three-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Gore is the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher.

    Mike Iupati signed a five-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Iupati was the most powerful run-blocker in the NFL the past four seasons.

    Patrick Willis retired, per ESPN.com. Willis arguably is the greatest linebacker in 49ers franchise history.

    And Justin Smith probably will retire, too. Smith will announce his decision next week.

    Those four veterans were leaders in the locker room and cornerstones of the franchise. Losing them is just the beginning. The 49ers must part with at least four more veterans this offseason. Here are the top four.

Michael Crabtree

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    This one’s a no-brainer.

    As soon the ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that the 49ers signed Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40-million contract, Crabtree was as good as gone. The Niners are paying Smith $8 million and Boldin $6 million in 2015—that’s $14 million between two starting receivers. If Crabtree were to return to the 49ers, he would be the No. 3 receiver, and the 49ers can’t afford to pay a No. 3 receiver the type of money Crabtree wants to be paid.

    The 49ers will not miss Crabtree. He’s a slow possession receiver who isn’t dangerous after the catch. The 49ers have another receiver kind of like that—Boldin, but he’s much better than Crabtree.

    Now that Crabtree is out and Torrey Smith is in, the 49ers have to retool their passing-game concepts to take advantage of a deep-threat receiver. Last season, most of the 49ers’ deep-passing-game concepts featured routes with double moves because the Niners’ starting receivers were slow.

Perrish Cox

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Bay Area Sports Guy published the following report on March 10: “According to a source close to Cox, the cornerback said he believes the 49ers aren't interested in paying what it takes to retain his services in 2015.”

    Perrish Cox played for the veteran minimum in 2014. He earned $695,000, more than he had ever earned in a year. And he played pretty well.

    Pro Football Focus ranked him the 35th-best cornerback in the league, which is pretty good considering 64 cornerbacks have starting jobs. He intercepted 5 passes and recovered two fumbles. He played like a high-level No. 2.

    If Cox wants to be paid like a high-level No. 2, the 49ers shouldn’t sign him. He’s 28 years old, he’s slow and he’s played just one good season. And that season wasn’t that good. He gave up 14.1 yards per catch—tied for 19th-worst in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

    The 49ers can get a better cornerback in the upcoming draft.

Ahmad Brooks

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Ahmad Brooks might be worth the three years and $21.7 million remaining on his contract if he still were starting for the 49ers.

    But he isn’t starting. Brooks is just an expensive backup. He lost his starting outside linebacker job to Aaron Lynch last season, and Lynch already is a better pass-rusher than Brooks ever was. Lynch has moves and technique. Brooks never had either. Brooks always got by on his freakish athleticism, but his athleticism isn’t so freakish anymore. He’s past his prime.

    Still, Brooks doesn’t want to back up Lynch. Brooks doesn’t want to back up anybody. He pouted when he had to sit on the bench last year and he screamed at coaches if they took him out of the game. He turns 31 on March 14. He doesn’t want to spend the last few years of his career on the bench.

    The 49ers and Brooks are a bad match.

    The Niners should replace him with someone in the draft, someone willing to play special teams and come off the bench next season.

Stevie Johnson

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Who will be the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith?

    Probably not Stevie Johnson.

    The 49ers are expected to release him. He would earn just over $6 million in 2015 if the 49ers didn’t release him, and the 49ers already will be spending $14 million on two receivers next season. The Niners can’t afford Johnson.

    Johnson turns 29 in July and he no longer has the speed to beat cornerbacks down the sideline. Last season, Johnson mostly lined up in the slot. The Niners already have three slot receivers—Boldin, Bruce Elllington and Quinton Patton. Johnson gives the Niners nothing they don’t already have.

    The Niners need speed receivers to play outside when Boldin lines up in the slot. That’s why the Niners signed two speed receivers this offseason—Torrey Smith and Jerome Simpson.

    Simpson will earn $795,000 in 2015. The Niners’ No. 3 receiver probably will be Simpson, or a draft pick, but probably not Johnson.