San Francisco 49ers: Budget Free Agents Still Available

Bryan Knowles@BryknoContributor IIIMarch 16, 2015

Detroit Lions guard Rob Sims (67) during player introductions before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers have been unexpectedly busy in free agency, partially as a side effect of the retirement of Patrick Willis opening up unexpected salary-cap room.  

So far this offseason, the 49ers have signed Darnell Dockett, Jerome Simpson, Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush, Erik Pears and Shareece Wright.  They’ve re-signed Garrett Celek, Blaine Gabbert and Chris Cook as well.  That’s actually a fairly decent haul for a team expected to have roughly zero salary-cap room before the season started.

None of the signings are particularly game-changing, of course.  Only Bush really takes any of San Francisco’s needs off the table—the 49ers are fairly set at running back now with Bush, Carlos Hyde and Kendall Hunter in the backfield. 

Everything else is still wide-open in the draft.  Dockett is not a long-term solution coming off a torn ACL at age 34.  Torrey Smith is a great second receiver and a subpar No. 1, so the 49ers could still invest there for the future, if nothing else.

Duane Burleson/Associated Press

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) reports that the 49ers have $15,426,310 left in salary-cap room.  This is the closest thing we have to an official report, as the NFL itself doesn’t release salary-cap room. 

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That number is a bit out of date now, as it doesn’t include the signings of Wright, Cook, Pears or Bush.  None of those deals are expected to be particularly back-breaking.  Taking into account those four new deals, as well as the roughly $2 million the 49ers will need to set aside for signing their draft class, the 49ers should have somewhere between five and six million dollars left on the cap at the moment.

That’s not enough money to make a game-changing pickup or addition, but it is enough to sign one more budget free agent, if the 49ers so choose. 

You want to save some money under the cap for in-season maneuvering in case of injuries and the like, so the 49ers couldn’t really afford to spend the entire $5 million in one place.  On the other hand, there are still cost-cutting moves the 49ers could make, such as releasing Ahmad Brooks, so they’ve got a little bit of flexibility there, if they see a player they desire.

What sorts of players might be available on the cheap for the team?  Let’s take a look at three signings the 49ers could still make before going dormant in free agency.

Rob Sims, Offensive Guard, Detroit Lions

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

With Mike Iupati leaving, off to the Arizona Cardinals for $8 million a season, the 49ers have a hole at left guard.  Ideally, that hole will be filled by Brandon Thomas, who the 49ers drafted in the third round last season. 

Thomas missed the entire season due to an ACL injury, but that was the plan—he’s an earlier-round talent who slipped due to injuries.  Assuming he’s fully healthy, the 49ers want to slip him right into the starting role.

The 49ers have other options in case Thomas isn’t ready—the loser of the Marcus Martin and Daniel Kilgore battle at center springs to mind, and the 49ers did just sign ex-Buffalo Bills lineman Erik Pears.  Pears is not precisely an option you’d want to rely on, and he's really more comfortable in the swing tackle role Jonathan Martin filled last season.  Adding another veteran for depth purposes would make a lot of sense.

Sims has started 134 games at guard in his career, so he has experience coming out of his ears.  He’s never been a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but he’s been steady and solid—he hasn’t missed a game since 2009.  

At age 31, he’s not a piece a team is going to try to grab to build its offensive line of the future.  He’s a complementary piece—a veteran backup or stopgap starter while a young player develops.  With the 49ers, he’d have a chance to compete for the starting job, with the hopes that he wouldn’t win.

Jermaine Gresham, Tight End, Cincinnati Bengals

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

The 49ers are keeping Vernon Davis around for another season.  This isn’t, in and of itself, that much of a shock.  Davis struggled significantly last season, but there remains the possibility that it was just one off year. 

While I normally suggest getting rid of players a year too soon rather than a year too late—and Davis, at age 31, is rapidly approaching that point—there is a justifiable reason that keeps him on the team for another season.

That’s about it, however.  Davis’ contract expires after this season, and he’s really only had one good season in the past three years—2013.  If that doesn’t change—and quickly—the 49ers would be best off finding their tight end of the future now.  Maybe that’s Vance McDonald or Garrett Celek, already on the roster.

Maybe, however, the 49ers could go with another former first-round pick in Gresham.  Gresham’s never really lived up to the billing he received as the 21st overall pick of the 2010 draft—he’s been surpassed in his own draft class by both Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham—but it’s not like he’s been a poor player. 

A two-time Pro Bowler, Gresham’s a very different player from Davis.  He is much better at the short game, with his yards per reception being just 9.7, compared to Davis’ 12.9.

Davis has been the 49ers’ deep threat for years, but the addition of Torrey Smith, and the likely upcoming retirement of Anquan Boldin in the next few years, changes what the 49ers need out of the tight end position. 

They might decide they’d prefer a sure-handed possession receiver out of their tight end; Gresham caught 79.5 percent of passes thrown his way last season, compared to Davis’ 55.3.  With the Oakland Raiders opting not to sign Gresham, perhaps the 49ers could get to him for a mid- to low-range deal.

Sterling Moore, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

LM Otero/Associated Press

The 49ers have undisputedly gotten worse at the cornerback position this offseason.  Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox are both gone, which is really bad—I thought the 49ers would at least keep Cox and be competitive for Culliver. Instead, two of the 49ers’ top three cornerbacks from 2014 are gone.

In their place, the 49ers have re-signed Chris Cook, which is uninspiring, and given Shareece Wright a $3 million contract, which is frightening.  Wright led the league in pass-interference flags last season and had the fourth-lowest charting grade from Pro Football Focus.  If Wright is starting for the 2015 49ers, that’s a problem—Dontae Johnson or Jimmie Ward would be better options.

With that in mind, the 49ers could use another body in camp to compete for one of the top four corner roles, if for no other reason than keeping Wright out of the lineup.  One player out there who would be interesting to take a flier on is Sterling Moore.

Moore served as mostly a depth and special teams player for his first three years in the league, but was forced to start seven games in 2014 for the Cowboys.  He actually acquitted himself quite well, grading out at plus-6.3 in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus.  He led the Cowboys in tipped passes and has played both in the slot and on the boundaries, as well as as a safety.  He is a very versatile player, in other words.

Last season was uncharacteristically successful for Moore, but that might be in some small part because it was his first major opportunity.  The 49ers could use him in the competition for nickel corner; he’d be better than Wright, at least.

Bryan Knowles is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.