Upon Further Review: A 49er Free Agency Primer

Mar 17, 2013 at 2:45 PM



Welcome to free agency, 49er fans...and all that comes with it. Rumors, half truths and erroneous tweets...does it get any better than this?

While 49er fans across the country sleep with visions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson dancing in their heads, Diego and I have been doing our best to keep ours. What follows is our take on who's in, who's out and who'll be missed as the 49ers make their way through the NFL's free agency frenzy.

What Does Anquan Boldin Bring To The Table?

AJ: This offseason, the 49ers have bid fond farewells to wide receivers Randy Moss and Ted Ginn, and the future of Mario Manningham is cloudy due to his season ending knee injury (he'll almost certainly miss at least some of training camp...though he claims that he'll be ready for opening day). It would be a mild understatement to say that the 49ers are in need of a quality complement for rising star Michael Crabtree. That, my friends, is where Anquan Boldin comes in.

No one will mistake Boldin for a burner...but for the past 3 seasons, he's led the Ravens in receiving yardage...and all of us remember what he did in the Super Bowl. While Boldin may not have elite speed, he does possess "vacuum cleaner" hands, solid blocking ability and the ability to get open with crisp route running and physical play. Add to that the fact that he is big enough and strong enough to win "contested" reception opportunities and you have something that the 49ers lacked for much of last season: a wideout that is physical enough to bang with physical DBs and skilled enough to take advantage of less skilled defenders with sharp routes.

So, what does Anquan Boldin bring to the table? He gives the 49ers two dangerous starting wideouts for the first time in over a decade. He brings a presence that immediately makes the 49er offense better...and will be sure to keep opposing DBs on their toes.

Diego: Well there is always the possibility of the 49ers bringing back Ted Ginn if the market for him isn't active and San Francisco is unable to fill the void at punt returner, but the point remains that Anquan Boldin brings stability to a WR core that was a question mark for the second consecutive offseason.

That's right, I said was. I no longer see the WR as a position that needs to be addressed this offseason, whether that is through the remaining of free agency or through the draft. Boldin gives this team a legitimate, savvy, reliable, and productive #2 option opposite of Michael Crabtree and really allows for the rest of the depth chart to fill in nicely with the remaining of the WR's already on the roster. Boldin's presence allows the 49ers to not rush Mario Manningham's recovery and avoid a setback, and once he is back on the field having a receiver of his caliber as a #3 WR is a luxury that San Francisco hasn't had since, I don't know, the last millennium? In the meantime, I may share your fear/concerns about A.J. Jenkins, but I truly believe this franchise will give him the opportunity to prove them right, and locking down that #3 spot going into the season would be a nice sign. This team may always add another body to the receiving corps if the right situation comes along (cheap/reliable vet, or if a promising prospects falls to them in the draft), but as far as WR being a need this offseason? Not anymore.

Anquan Boldin solves that problem, and his addition to this team is a better option than any free agent WR ($$$), or rookie draft pick (unproven).

Which Now Former 49ers Will We Miss Most?

Diego: Am I allowed to say Alex Smith? Just kidding!

As I type this, 3 of the 12 San Francisco free agents have now signed elsewhere: Dashon Goldson in Tampa Bay, Delanie Walker in Tennessee, and Isaac Sopoaga in Philadelphia. Out of those three, I will no doubt miss Goldson the most. Sure he wasn't the perfect Free Safety, and he definitely got over paid (over $8 million per year? Good riddance), but sometimes we get too caught up on what a player does not bring to the table and we unconsciously dismiss everything said player does give the team.

The safety tandem of Goldson and Donte Whitner was a menacing duo in the secondary that installed fear in opposing skill players due to their thunderous hits. The superb coverage skills Goldson lacks were made up by his punishing tackles, his chemistry in the backfield with the rest of the secondary, and his knack for creating turnovers (10 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries the last two seasons including the playoffs). He isn't a horrible player in coverage either, he just isn't at the level of say Eric Weddle or Earl Thomas.

Nevertheless, as far as complete FS in today's game, Goldson certainly ranks near the top (not quite worth $8 million though), and his presence in the 49ers secondary will be very hard to replace.

AJ: I'd love to go another way here, but given who's left, it's awfully hard to disagree with Diego on this one.

To be sure, the 49ers will miss Alex Smith (insert chorus of boos from the haters here...but as a back up, he gave the 49ers the best QB situation in the NFL)...but Goldson will be incredibly difficult to replace. His ability to hit directly affected more than a few high profile receivers last season (most notably
Aaron Hernandez in week 15).

For the first time in years, the 49er secondary ranked among the best in the NFL against the pass and as "QB of the defense" Goldson was a huge part that. There are safeties that are better at playing the ball, there are safeties that are bigger hitters and there are safeties with better range...but Goldson has the best blend of those qualities among safeties available in free agency. In short, the Bucs landed themselves a difference maker.

The 49ers are unlikely to find a guy that can do everything Goldson could in free agency, and that just is what it is. Fortunately, the draft is deep on defense...but we'll get to that in our next post.

What Free Agents Still Left On The Market Can Make A Difference For The 49ers?

AJ: The 49ers have what may be the most talented roster in the NFL...but that doesn't mean that they don't have needs. If there is one thing that this roster is lacking, it's quality depth. While some of that will no doubt be taken care of in the draft, there are a few players in free agency that can make a difference in San Francisco.

But those difference makers aren't going to be the big names that turn heads in the offseason. Asomugha, Woodson, Seymour, Abraham...these guys don't fit into the 49er model for success. That isn't to say that they aren't good players...they are just far too expensive to provide veteran depth...which is precisely what the 49ers are looking for at this point.

With that in mind, look for the 49ers to add economical options, especially on defense. Now that Glenn Dorsey (NT/DT/DE) Craig Dahl (FS/ST) and Dan Skuta (ILB/ST) have been signed, the team could look for a value signing at CB or OLB.

Among those still on the market that can still make a difference on the field as quality depth without breaking the bank: Captain Munnerlyn (CB), Kelvin Hayden (CB), DeAngelo Hall (CB), Chris Carr (CB), Shaun Phillips (OLB), Calvin Pace (OLB), Antwan Barnes (OLB), and Frank Zombo (OLB).

Each of the aforementioned comes with his share of baggage: some are too old, some will demand a starting role, some are coming off injuries, and others are coming off of subpar seasons. But each could add quality veteran depth to a team that sorely needs it.

When things quiet down over the next week or two, don't be surprised to see the 49ers kick the tires on one or more of these guys, provided that they remain unsigned. That doesn't mean that they'll sign one of them, but I don't think the Niners are done looking just yet.

Diego: Before I get into this AJ, the 49ers won't miss Alex, nobody wants to have the second most uncomfortable QB situation in the NFL (see Jets, New York).

Now, we're talking about difference makers still out on the market, and although I agree with you to a certain extent that we will not be bringing in a ton of big names, I'm not so sure Trent Baalke and the front office are done looking for a starter in free agency. The two biggest names currently being tied up to the 49ers are Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson, and San Francisco could really benefit from signing one of them.

Asomugha is an intriguing option because not too long ago he was the best CB in the game and the 49ers do need help at the position. However, Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff are not known for handing someone a starting position, which means Asomugha would be signing up to possibly play as the 4th CB and compete for a better spot against Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Chris Culliver. On what I'm sure won't be a lucrative contract, I don't know whether the former Raiders standout would sign up for that. There is always the possibility of cutting Rogers, whose salary is the third highest on San Francisco's roster at $7,344,531 this year (according to NinerCapHell.com) and will continue to go up in 2014 ($8,094,531) and 2015 (9,094,531), and who is getting paid twice as much as the next highest paid CB on the roster (Brown at just under $4 million). I wouldn't necessarily mind that as I don't consider Rogers twice as good as Brown or Culliver, and although Asomugha is no longer among the best CB's in the game I think he is better than what he looked like in Philadelphia these past two seasons.

Now who I really think San Francisco should close a deal with is Woodson, who reportedly spent all of Wednesday meeting with the 49ers. This team needs to fill the void left by the departure of Goldson, and Woodson would be the ideal player to bridge the gap for a couple of seasons for a younger safety (who the 49ers will undoubtedly draft in April). Basically, I'm hesitant to have a rookie step in right away at FS unless San Francisco trades up for Kenny Vaccaro, drafts Jonathan Cyprien with either of their first two picks, or lands David Amerson at the end of the second round. Woodson's prior experience as an All-Pro CB brings a lot of value to the FS position, and his experience and leadership would be excellent and timely additions to a team looking to close the deal on winning a Lombardi trophy.

Two-Minute Drill

Diego:
  • The New England Patriots shockingly lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos and promptly signed Danny Amendola to a 5-year deal. I'm sure I'm not the only one glad to see Amendola out of the NFC West.
  • While newly signed Glenn Dorsey's best attribute may be his run-stopping skills, I can't see the 6'1", 297-pounder playing Nose Tackle for this team. In my eyes he's more of a rotational guy here an there, but this team still lacks a true NT.
  • I'm not sure I understand why Offensive Tackles are not getting much love in free agency nowadays. Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith, and Bryan McKinnie are just some of the players still out there without a new team. I have to believe that the Rams will end up with one of them eventually.
  • The Chiefs are determined to bounce back with Andy Reid, and have been one of the winners in the offseason so far. Putting aside what was probably overpayment for Alex Smith, they have retained OL Brandon Albert and WR Dwayne Bowe while reeling in CB's Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, OL Geoff Schwartz, TE Anthony Fasano, DL Mike DeVito, WR Donnie Avery, and QB Chase Daniel. It's going to be fun to watch their progress next season and I think they could make the playoffs.

AJ:
  • Charles Woodson may be the best free agent option at free safety...but he's old enough that the water on his knee has 91 Octane. As good as he might be for a season, the fact is that his skills are on the decline. He'd add value as a coach on the field, but the odds of him stepping in and starting 16 games (let alone 19 games) are slim at best.
  • Glenn Dorsey was a STEAL for the 49ers given what he signed for (2 years, $3.5MM per year) and what he has the potential to do on the field. Isaac Sopoaga got $4MM per year, and Ricky Jean Francois got $5MM per year. He's a better player than Sopoaga, and is bigger/stronger than Jean Francois. Dorsey is not a superstar, but given what the 49ers are looking for in the middle, he is an ideal fit for their defense. His ability as an effective 2-gap player means that he's got a good shot to platoon with Ian Williams at NT next season (and that the 49ers can focus elsewhere during the draft).
  • While adding players in free agency can be a positive...overpaying for them is not. Big ticket free agents rarely make an impact proportionate to their salaries. Don't be surprised to see acquisitions like Cliff Avril, Dashon Goldson, Danny Amendola, Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger fail to live up to expectations in their new homes.
  • Is anyone else excited to see whether Richard Sherman will be lined up against Anquan Boldin when the 49ers and Seahawks face off next? Or how much trash he'll talk before kick off?

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11 Comments

  • Lucky Phil
    AJ, I have seen C. Harper and yes I think he's a good WR, and not bad as a QB. He's a big WR, good speed and good hands. Haven't seen him as a blocker so If you project him as a TE, Yes I think he would be a great receiver and special teams player but as a blocking TE not sure. I think he would be great value in the 5th rd. and would love him on the team if he was available. Interesting project at TE, could be a very versatile player for us.
    Mar 24, 2013 at 2:22 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Since AJ and Diego wrote this article on free agency, I just wanted to put a shout out for Q. Jammer from SD. This guy would be a very good FS. Eventhough he's not twenty yrs. old, he's not ancient by woodson or reed standards. I bet Jammer could play safety for another three years. Why isn't anyone talking about this guy? I hope Baalke gets Jammer on the cheap for three yr. contract and Lets get Elam in the draft!
    Mar 24, 2013 at 1:18 PM
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    Response: (AJ) Good call Phil. Jammer's speed has fallen off, but he has great ball skills and is a VERY smart player. Just don't know if he'd be willing to become a heavy contact player. Given the choice between Jammer and Woodson, I think Woodson could be a hair more effective...but more fragile. Great call on Elam, too. He has the best combo of coverage skills and hitting ability in the draft, even if he is undersized.
  • Lucky Phil
    The guy you want to replace Walker is Kyle Juszczyk from Harvard. He is a better blocker, better receiver than Walker and he offers the versatility of playing FB and TE equally well. He's the perfect player for the niners because opposing defenses will not be able to guess the formations based on personnel, whether 2 TE or 2 back formation when he is in the game. I would also draft a big TE to give a Kap a target in the red zone. Stoneburner will be an option in the the 7th rd.
    Mar 24, 2013 at 12:12 PM
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    Response: (AJ) Phil, have you taken a look at Chris Harper from K-State? He's got size, solid speed and hands. He projects as a tweener at the next level...and he'll likely last until the 3rd or 4th round.
  • Frank
    WRT the WR situation, the guy I'd love to see Baalke draft is Marcus Davis from VA Tech. He's a beast...and at 6-4, 230 lbs, still ran a 4.45 X 40. In essence, he could replace Walker. He put up impressive numbers in college and that was without any consistently good QB play. Just think what he could do w/Kap.
    Mar 19, 2013 at 8:49 AM
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    Response: (AJ) I agree that we might draft a WR late, and big bodied wideouts help...especially against a secondary like Seattle's. My big receiver of choice would be Chris Harper out of Kansas State. He's 6'1", 229, and he ran a 4.55 at the combine. His college numbers aren't astronomical...but he's a lot like Delanie Walker was coming out of college...and can likely be had in rounds 4-6. He's the very definition of draft day sleeper.
  • Frank
    WRT Goldson...I think his success is directly related to the play of the front 7. He has some skills, but when our front-end guys weren't lighting it up as they did earlier, Goldson and our entire secondary were exposed. Dashon's a gambler, and smart QB's like Ryan and Flacco made him pay dearly. Only time will tell if Dahl can be our FS...if not, then he can slide over to SS when Whitner's contract runs out. Niners could break their mold of not taking a S in 1st rd since '92 (Dana Hall), although I'd still like to see them take a DL like Sly Williams at #31.
    Mar 18, 2013 at 7:11 AM
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    Response: (Diego) I really don't see Dahl becoming the starting FS. That's a nice tidbit about the 49ers history with drafting safeties in the 1st round, good stuff! (AJ) I'm pretty sure that the 49ers will be drafting a safety(I am a fan of both Elam and Reid)...but don't be surprised to see CJ Spillman get a crack at FS.
  • Mike kenney
    Really like your summary. I think Asomugha wants to come to the 49ers for some of Rogers cap figure, because Carlos would be gone. He will give his old coach Ryan, the opportunity to show that NO can get to the SB, listen to some numbers, and then sign with SF. Brooks and Gore are just fine, although this RB Lattimore might be worth a flyer at the right value. The stud we need to groom is Justin's replacement. Fangio needs to get this started as the highest priority
    Mar 18, 2013 at 1:37 AM
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    Response: (Diego) I agree on Lattimore, could be a steal depending on how far he falls.
  • NastyNate
    I'm most intrigued by the non-movement at the QB position. Seems like Harbaugh/Baalke trust Tolzien enough at 2 despite the risk to injury when running the option.
    Mar 18, 2013 at 12:41 AM
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    Response: (Diego) I think it says more about the coaches' confidence in their ability to adapt to different QB's and because of that, yes, says they trust Tolzien's skills as an NFL QB. (AJ) Given their history with making the right call at the QB position, I think it's safe to say that they have faith in Tolzien, or that they have something up their collective sleeve that will completely blindside all of us. Either way, history dictates we should give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Mike
    I still think we should strongly go after a deep threat WR. That would make our Offense complete & over the top. It would really free up space for our receivers esp Boldin who had 1 in Balt. I still have solid hopes for Jenkins who was Ilinois' MAIN pass catcher. Probably needs more strength & practice getting off press coverage. I read somewhere that Boldin had low stats when Balt played Seattle. Do you guys know what's up with that? Before I read that I was psyched to foresee AB line up vs those 2 CB's. Still love the trade & am stoked! Sedrick Ellis sounds like another Dorsey who could be had economically. Had solid production & health. I wonder why he isn't getting any play? H Bey hits me as a potential deep threat we could kick the tires on. I hear he's developing but was a cap casualty. Love the Skuta signing he can legitimately add depth as ILB which Costanza could not. The Safety signing sounds solid as a ST's core player & Safety depth, not a starter. If Woodson has a good amount left in the tank I totally agree we need Vet leadership back there while grooming our future young up & comer. I love SPEED & am not feeling it with the top FS prospects.
    Mar 17, 2013 at 11:34 PM
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    Response: (Diego) like you I don't think we have seen what Jenkins can do for this team. Research shows Boldin had 2 catches (on 9 targets) for 22 yards against the Seahawks back on 11/13/11, I don't think there is previous history of him vs Seattle's current CB's and by the same token I don't think this small sample is enough to draw any conclusions. I'm not too high on Sedrick Ellis, especially making the change to a 3-4.
  • Jose
    I think Balkee/Harbaugh are being patient in FA, especially knowing they have 14 draft pics to play around with in the upcoming draft. A safety will be the ideal choice to address in the draft and possibly a DE to take over after Justin Smith leaves. I'd like to see Ed Reed with the 49ers to start at safety and to mentor the young safety they will pick in the draft.
    Mar 17, 2013 at 7:10 PM
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    Response: (AJ) I'd like to see a safety picked, too...but I'm not sure that the BPA will be a safety at #31. One of these guys (Vacarro, Elam or Cyprien) is gonna fall on draft day. Whichever makes it to #34 will probably be our guy. As for the DE, don't be surprised to see the 49ers try to move up the board for their guy if one of the big names (Richardson, Jones) slides. As for Reed...I'm torn. He'll be pricey, and may not be able to stay healthy for an entire season. We shall see.
  • JB
    Hmm, "bridge the cap"......I like it!
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:46 PM
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    Response: (Diego) even I need an editor on a lazy Sunday, thanks.
  • Ladale
    If the 9ers can't find someone to turn the corner opposite Aldon Smith there will continue to be too much pressure on linebackers and secondary to cover down field. Ahmad Brooks is great against the run but doesn't turn the corner. Still need to address the pass rush on passing downs with Seattle and a tough schedule ahead. The draft has to be used to address the future of the franchise/skill positions. Frank Gore and Boldin are not in their primes. The running back position has been undervalued at draft time and the 9ers need to take advantage. Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders record for touchdowns in a season. Justin Hunter has the skills to be productive on the pro level.
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:22 PM
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    Response: (Diego) Ahmad Brooks is a complete 3-4 OLB who, as you point out, is a great against the run, but he is also very adequate at rushing the passer. The 49ers will address their depth as AJ mentioned, but I doubt they will be looking for an upgrade over Brooks who is a fine starting OLB. While Boldin is no longer in his prime, his presence in this roster allows the 49ers to be more patient in their pursuit of another young WR ... and I've been reading about Gore no longer being in his prime for the past 2-3 offseasons it seems, he's still putting up 1,200 yard seasons with 8 TD's. Fine by me.

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