Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



The San Francisco 49ers have a lot of holes to fill on their roster. A lot. They are a team depleted by coaching changes, poor drafting, free agent signings, and surprise retirements. So how do the 49ers even begin to restock their roster that has been exhausted of the deep talent it had just a few years ago? Having a healthy stock of cash to spend and an estimated 12 draft picks is a start.

Despite his recent failures to build a competitive roster, general manager Trent Baalke was spared another year, with much of the blame for last season's failures falling straight on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Baalke and team management are rolling the dice on former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. While his football knowledge and ability to communicate is much more impressive than his predecessor, last season's flop in Philly cannot be ignored. Since Kelly had taken over the roster management and made numerous questionable decisions in that aspect of the team, there was nowhere other than himself to point the blame.

Kelly will have no such luxury in San Francisco. In fact, he has said that he doesn't want that responsibility anymore and is fine letting someone else have the final call when it comes to the team's roster. That puts Baalke on the hot seat. He has one more year to prove that he can right the sinking ship. Even if Kelly fails, the hiring process for a new head coach was Baalke's responsibility this offseason. Everyone will look at him and break down what he armed Kelly with. Baalke is the last remaining scapegoat, and he probably knows it.

According to overthecap.com, the 49ers will be armed with an impressive $62.41 million in cap space once the new league year kicks off on Wednesday. Of course, a portion of that must be reserved to sign draft selections. NFL teams can begin negotiating with free agents on Monday at 1 PM (PT).

It will be interesting to see what the 49ers' strategy will be once free agency rumors start rolling in. Everyone has been guessing to this point. First and foremost, the 49ers need to address their pitiful offensive line. Last season, Baalke brought in bargain players in Jordan Devey and Erik Pears, who were both poorly rated free agents and were both complete failures. They would end up starting for the team due to a lack of depth and the offensive line, particularly on their right side, struggled all season giving up 53 sacks.

In order to gain a little more job security, Baalke will need to change his strategy for 2016.

Spend on the offensive line

Being the offense's most important but weakest group, Baalke cannot repeat his failures from last offseason. Sure the surprise retirement of Anthony Davis and the departure of Mike Iupati to division rival Arizona hurt the team's plan for 2015, but a lack of sustainable depth contributed to the downfall. It doesn't matter how many skill players you bring in, if the quarterback, whoever he may be, doesn't have the time to get the ball to his receivers or the running back doesn't have the holes to run through, your season is going to be over before it gets started.

There are a number of options for Baalke to shore up the offensive line. He'll just need to be willing to spend in order to do it. Potential anchors like Baltimore's Kelechi Osemele, Cleveland's Alex Mack, or even Houston's Brandon Brooks will be available. Signing just one of those players, whether or not Anthony Davis returns from retirement as he has promised, would help improve the struggling unit.

Address the offense in free agency

Despite the fact that the Denver Broncos proved that you can buy (or rent) a championship by spending on defense, Baalke should focus on offense in free agency. That will give him the luxury to draft primarily for defense, where he has had more success.

The 49ers showed a glimpse of that last offseason with the signing of former Baltimore Ravens WR Torrey Smith, who was used ineffectively in 2015. Baalke has failed repeatedly at drafting starting calibre receivers and it all started with a wasted first round selection of A.J. Jenkins, a huge reach, in 2012. Finally recognizing that weakness, Baalke was willing to pay for a proven receiver.

If the 49ers must use the draft to address a unit like the offensive line, what about someone like Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame? He could be plugged in and start immediate without the need to spend huge bucks at the position. "One thing I like about our new OL coach Pat Flaherty is that he's done a good job of developing young O-lineman," says NFL news guru Patrick Tulini, who is high on Stanley.

Draft for defense

This is Baalke's strength, but only three of the 49ers' ten 2015 draft selections were on the defensive side of the ball, and Arik Armstead was considered to be a project. Of course, those three selections were all at the top of the team's draft order.

Baalke has done pretty well drafting defense in recent years. Armstead rated fairly well when given the opportunity to play. Jaquiski Tartt and Eli Harold look like they could be solid selections. Jimmie Ward, while seen as another draft reach, bounced back fairly well from his poor rookie campaign. Eric Reid was another solid high selection. Stick to what you know and draft defense.

Recent First Round Defensive Draft Selections
Year Round Pick Player School
2015 1 17 Arik Armstead Oregon
2014 1 30 Jimmie Ward Northern Illinois
2013 1 18 Eric Reid LSU
2011 1 7 Aldon Smith Missouri

No more injured draft selections

Taking a gamble on an injured player and having them redshirt for a year works well when your team is stacked with talent. These players don't even waste a roster spot because they can be placed on injured reserve. However, the 49ers have missed on all of these selections so far, with the jury still out on a couple. Hopefully those failures don't extend to 2015 fourth round selection, DeAndre Smelter, who the team hoped could eventually replace Anquan Boldin. Boldin is expected to leave via free agency.

With so many needs, the 49ers can no longer afford a single wasted draft selection on an injured player. They need players that can make immediate contributions.

49ers' Recent Redshirts
Year Round Pick Player School
2015 4 33 DeAndre Smelter Georgia Tech
2014 3 36 Brandon Thomas Clemson
2014 5 30 Keith Reaser Florida Atlantic
2013 2 8 Tank Carradine Florida State
2013 4 34 Marcus Lattimore South Carolina

Just be willing to spend … period

Aside from the already mentioned Torrey Smith signing last year, the 49ers have not been willing to spend in free agency and have instead waited until the smoke clears from the initial onslaught of teams falling over themselves to sign big name players. That strategy has gotten the 49ers to the position they are at now – a team with a lot of needs and a lot of cash to spend.

Even if they do not follow the strategy of spending on the offense and drafting for the defense, Baalke needs to spend because this may be his final at bat. At least swing at a couple of big names and don't be afraid to overspend if those players solidify key positions of need. Offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback? Maybe even quarterback? It doesn't matter. Fill a couple of holes with quality players that can step in and play at a high level. Then you can worry about depth.

There are already rumors floating around that the 49ers may be interested in players like Kansas City Chiefs CB Sean Smith and possibly Seahawks OG J.R. Sweezy. As far as the theory that San Francisco is not an appealing option to free agents, forget it. With over $60 million to spend, they absolutely are an appealing option.