The 2013 NFL offseason is underway and the 49ers have been busy so far. They've brought in some new faces, resigned one of their own, and have been linked to a number of players (specifically those who could help in the secondary). Even with some signings and a surprise trade already in the fold, there are still a number of pieces of the puzzle fans are looking to have filled. Will the team sign Nnamdi Asomugha? Are Ed Reed or Charles Woodson still in play? What is taking so long!? While we wait for those questions to be answered, lets take a look at what has transpired so far.
The 49ers resigning of Williams for 2 years and 3.2 million was a bit of a surprise to me, but the more I thought about it I probably shouldn't have been taken back at all. The team has kept Williams around the last two seasons, grooming him for a role in their 3-4 system. They must have seen something they liked in his progression because he won't make that kind of money to take up a spot on the practice squad. He didn't break the bank, but his contract screams "back up money." At 6'1 and a little over 300 pounds, Williams looks to be the primary reserve at the nose tackle position and could go inside if they needed him to when the situation calls for four down linemen. We'll see if the time invested in Williams pays off but considering the 49ers have 14 picks in a draft that is said to be deep with quality defensive lineman, this says a lot about what they think of him.
Anquan Boldin (trade):
Getting Boldin for a 6th round pick is a steal no matter how you look at it. But keep in mind this is not a cheap move by any stretch of the imagination. He will make 6 million in 2013 which makes you wonder if a cut or two is one the way to make room cap wise at some point. Mario Manningham did restructure his contract to give the team some space as well. Boldin is a physical receiver and while he's not the 100 catch pro bowler he once was, he is a nice compliment on the other side of Crabtree. One would also think they got Boldin with Seattle in mind. I don't think it was in response to the Percy Harvin trade though. The Seahawk cornerbacks manhandled the 49er receivers at times last year. That won't happen with Boldin. Still, Boldin is mainly a possession receiver and the offense will need someone to stretch the field and be a vertical threat in the passing game. Is AJ Jenkins ready? I go into the Boldin trade a little deeper here: http://www.49erswebzone.com/commentary/1104-what-addition-anquan-boldin-means-49ers/
Dorsey was signed to a 2 year/6 million dollar deal which could be a huge bargain. He was a dominant defensive lineman in college at LSU and came into the NFL with high expectations when the Kansas City Chiefs took him with the 5th pick of the 2008 draft. Dorsey was so dominant at the collegiate level he took home the Nagurski, Lombardi, Outland, and Lott Awards as a senior. He was seen as a player who could have a Warren Sapp like impact in the NFL but never lived up to expectations. Dorsey may be best suited as a 4-3 defensive tackle and could have been miscast as a 3-4 defensive end with the Chiefs. Now a 49er, the initial thought is he would be the starting nose tackle and could move to end if Smith or McDonald are injured or need a breather. At 297 pounds, Dorsey does not have the ideal size for the nose position (Sopoaga was 330 for example) but he is very talented and could play bigger than he is. You could also see him playing inside with Justin Smith when the 49ers use four down linemen. The 49ers defensive line is a well coached unit and one would have to believe Jim Tomsula will get the best out of Dorsey wherever he lines up. But this move may signal a shift in defensive philosophy for the 49ers. The team may go to more of a hybrid defense that can feature three or four defensive lineman. Even if that is not the case, in today's NFL, teams are in their nickel package a lot. In that scenario, you're using four down lineman anyway. Justin Smith and Dorsey at the defensive tackle positions can be a dominant pair for the 49ers.
The 49ers had arguably the best special teams unit in the league in 2011. The "Tony Montana Squad" was led by special teams standouts such as Blake Costanzo, Taveras Gooden, C.J. Spillman, and Colin Jones. The 49ers let Costanzo go and traded Jones before last season and the unit was not nearly as dominant in 2012. While they still did well covering punts, they were the NFL's second-worst team from an opponent kickoff-return average standpoint during the regular season. 49er fans will remember Jacoby Jones running untouched to open the second half of the Super Bowl for a long time (I'm ignoring the obvious and ridiculous hold that occurred on this play for both my own sanity and to continue making my point). It's obvious the 49ers are aware of their special teams lapses and feel the need to get it fixed. Enter Dan Skuta who signed a 2 year deal with the team. Skuta will fill the Balke Costanzo role as a linebacker who, unless disaster strikes, will only see the field on special teams. He was a standout with the Bengals, finishing 3rd in the NFL with 15 special teams tackles in 2012. The 49ers should be hopeful he cannot only fill Costanzo's role on the unit, but also take on some of his leadership duties.
Fans who have been hearing names like Charles Woodson, Ed Reed, and Louis Delmas as possibilities at safety must have starred blankly for a while when they heard the 49ers signed former Ram Craig Dahl to a 3 year contract. I'm still a little dazed myself. Dahl started at safety for the Rams in 2012 and recorded 78 tackles with 1 interception. Apparently, the 49ers told Dahl they had a specific idea of the kind of player who could "fit the mold" to play in their defense and also play a key role on special teams. In the NFL, you can't afford to have All-Pro's at every position because of the cap, but for a team that is ready to make another Super Bowl run this move would appear puzzling on the surface. According to Pro Football Focus, Dahl was the 78th-best safety in the NFL in 2012, missing 16 tackles and allowing 15.8 yards per reception. Maybe the 49ers see him as a backup in the secondary. Maybe they only see him as a special teams player and Reed or Woodson are still in play. But with 14 draft choices, why not pick a player in April who could fill that void? Moreover, if they have their sights on a rookie to come in and play free safety down the road, why not let him learn under Woodson or Reed for a season? Look, we don't know what has gone on in these negotiations and maybe Reed and Woodson want too much money. Baalke has earned the trust of the fans so I'll reserve any judgment on Dahl until I see the full picture of the 49er's offseason plan come into focus.