A good measuring stick for determining off-season positional needs is to look at individuals as it pertains to 1) their age and 2) their production/contribution in prior years. Since positional needs change from year to year, it is also important to consider the years a player has left (contractually) when evaluating needs.
Using this context, the table below lists the 49er players ages 30 or greater (as of today). Also noted is each individuals contract year or final contract year with 49ers. Those with N/A under the contract year column are currently not under contract.
Tabe I. 49er Players by Age
*denotes a birthday prior to the beginning of the 2012 regular season kick-off game (9/5/12)
Unsigned FA over 30 years old
The only player that commanded a new contract was Carlos Rogers, who had a probowl season setting a personal record 6 INTs in a season complimented by 41 solo tackles, 106 INT yards, and 18 pass defenses. Memorable plays included a touchdown-saving shoulder tackle at the goal line in Week 16 against the rival Seahawks. The ideal nickel CB would be someone who is big enough to play press coverage. If the nickle CB is a smaller player, he needs to have quick feet and excellent anticipation.
SF filled this void in FA by resigning Carlos Rogers after Eric Wright (born in SF) decided to go in a different direction. SF also added Perrish Cox to the CB mix in order to compete for a starting role.
An argument could be made to keep Adam Snyder due to his value as a "Utility" player in the OL. After all, Snyder was the only active 49er player who started at every OL position. For those that are unaware, league rules require that no more than 46 players play each Sunday. This, typically works out to 7 active OL, heightening the value of a "Utility" player. In fairness, Snyder held his ground when asked to replace the faltering Chilo Rachal, currently a free agent. However, with 3 young players (Kilgore, Person, and Beeler) currently under contract competing for a position on the team, Snyder's age, skill set, and potential financial demands was highly unattractive for returning to SF. For reference, Kilgore, Person, and Beeler are expected to accrue a total of 1.37 M against the cap in 2012, where as Snyder's 2011 salary worked against the cap at an amount of ~2.1M. His signing with rival Arizona Cardinals was worth ~3.5M per year. Despite, having 3 youngsters compete for a slot on the team, the 49ers still need a highly competant RG in the offseason. Expect Kilgore, Person, and Beeler to compete for a backup position this year and possibly moving into the 46 active roster on gamedays serving as a backup lineman. Expect SF to address this position in FA or the NFL draft.
True Needs: Starting RG
49ers under contract over 30 years old
David Akers, considered by fans to be a key factor in SF's wins this past season, turns 38 in December. The probowl kicker's contract expires 2 years from now, but kickers and punters typically do not charge a lot against the salary cap so finances should not be a major factor. Akers showed a big leg this year that tied for a league high 7 FGs at 50+ yards this season, and unless his leg power and accuracy diminishes, don't expect the 49ers to find a replacement.
Brian Jennings, drafted in the 7th round of the 2000 NFL draft, will have competition this off-season after the 49ers signed Ryan Pontbriand to a 1-year contract in late February. Pontbriand, at 32 years old, is no young gun, but will have an opportunity to compete for a position and perhaps serve as an experienced backup should any medical issues arise at that position.
Andy Lee, coming off a probowl season, is on his contract year. I hardly see the 49ers not resigning Lee, but his performance in the NFC championship game was inconsistent at best. Despite a forgettable performance in that game, Lee is still one of the top 5 punters in the NFL.
Jonathan Goodwin was a proven commodity in free agency last year who was a plug-and-play for the 49ers at the center position. Fully expect him to live out his contract with the 49ers, unless a young star center is found in the off-season, which may be the case in the event that a Wiconsin Badger fall to the 30th draft pick. Keep in mind that SF was fortunate to have a healthy Jonathan Goodwin all season long, playing nearly every snap in the 2011 season with the excepetion of injury issues late in the off-season against the Saints. As mentioned above, I fully expect Kilgore, Person, and Beeler to compete for a position on the 46-man roster, but serving as backups in 2012.
Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga are the two oldest members of 49er's stellar front seven. Sopoaga turns 31 prior to the start of the first regular season game in 2012 and is in his contract year. He plays the nose tackle in Vic Fangio's 3-4 system and the key position in any 3-4 system. Though SF has rotated Ricky Jean-Francois into the NT position, RJF has not made a noticeable impact with his opportunities. I fully expect the 49ers to look for a young 2-gap penetrating NT in the middle rounds of the NFL draft, if anything to serve as a backup and compete for the starting job.
Justin Smith, on the other hand, has backup players Demarcus Dobbs and Will Takuafu behind him that have shown glimps of competence in their opportunities. Though the 49ers resigning period was highlighted by other big name players like Dashon Goldson, Carlos Rogers, and CJ Spillman to name a few, Will Takuafu is probably the best value of all the resignings (2 yr, 1.02 Mil). Will is playing at a NFL-starter level and will allow SF DL to not miss a beat on defense should injury be an issue.
For completeness, Shawntae Spencer was released by the new regime and has resigned with Bay area rival, Oakland Raiders. Spencer looked excellent in training camp in 2011, but his nagging hamstring injury prvented him from contributing in 2012.
True Needs: Young Center with Star Potential, 2-Gap DT
Summary of Age-Related Needs
RG, C, DT