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As free agency kicks off, 49ers set to go on the offensive with $60 million to spend

Mar 7, 2016 at 11:31 AM20

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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.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • A real
    the funny thing is I read in a article. that this is a team the build and develop players. How is this true when we don't keep and let out talent go and Baalke's past draft history of picking players have need bad... look at what Scott has done in SEATTLE with a lot of draft picks. Baallke's has a lot of draft picks in previous drafts and we still don't have some of the players anymore that made a difference. The 49er's had a champion roster but bad coaches. We finally got a coach and the roster superbowl and couple of NFC title games. Now we got nothing but a dysfunctional team and below .500. But its not all KAP fault. no one could pass behind with the right side of the offense. But Baalke gave Jordan devey a contract extension and micheal wilhite. Micheal was getting ran over and caught out of position and Jordan was push back and beating almost every play. That's why their was offense rotation. I'm sorry to say but look at the Raiders and what there doing. but what I know right. I not a GM... but than again, I couldn't do any worst!
    Mar 23, 2016 at 9:56 AM
  • Lucky Phil
    Baalke's rationale for granting permission to seek a trade: "Because I think sometimes it helps players work through anything they may have. It gives them a chance to see what their options really are. It also gives us a chance to say we didn't hold you back from doing that." Very Sad. This shows Baalke's communication skills with players are pathetic. Anthony Davis is a perfect example, Most GM would be calling their player on a weekly basis, touching basis, trying to smooth out any difficulties a player would have about coming back to the team. With Kap the team has shown the same disregard and lack of inclusion and honesty to speak with the player one on one. Baalke and the team are totally disconnected from the players. Harbaugh created a family, Ballke and York have created a nightmare.
    Mar 22, 2016 at 5:32 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    In response to your comment David. I think the Niners are still making a bad mistake letting Kap talk with any teams. I just read a statement from Baalke explaining why he today is allowing Kap's camp to speak with other teams. In summary, trying to get Kap to believe teams interest in Kap is marginal and they want to restructure his contract for less. What the Niners are failing to take into consideration what teams tell Baalke and what teams say to Kap will be complete different. Denver for example will play down their interest in Kap and tell the Niners they would like to talk to Kap to see if he would like to re-work his contract. With Kap that conversation would revolve around how secure are we that you would sign a free agent offer with us and how much would it be. Their is a good reason the Bears let no one speak to Cutler or Redskins let RG3 speak to no one. When you let the player speak to other teams you have stepped out the room when the real negotiations began. Further more it sets a bad precedent for every player that wants to find out what their real market value is and what prospective teams are interested. Bad Idea and unfortunately the Niners are making it worse.
    Mar 22, 2016 at 5:13 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    If reports are true that the Niners let Kap or his agent talk to Browns about possibly restructuring his deal, they have lost Kap for nothing. Never should a team allow another team to talk to one of their players. Kaps contract is already team friendly and after the contract Brock O. just signed (18 mil per season) Kaps stock jumped way up. Letting your QB talk to another team is counter-productive. The Browns wanted to find out if Kap wants to play for them and once they do they will work on a new contract for Kap (in principle with the intention of Kap being released by the Niners. The Browns have already walked through the steps they want Kap to take to force the team to cut him. #1 Fail the physical. #2 Is that the playbook? That's ok guys, I won't be using the playbook this year. Never let a player talk to another team. Niners fuck up another golden opportunity to trade this guy for a 2nd rd'er.
    Mar 12, 2016 at 4:03 PM
    Response: Renegotiating contracts prior to a trade is nothing new. That way teams can convert money to whatever best fits their situation. That would make sense for Denver, who doesn't have a lot of cap room. However, for Cleveland, they have all kinds of cap room so you are right there. At the same time, offseason programs haven't started yet so it's not like Kap has a wealth of knowledge that other teams don't already know. That will likely change in April. Plus, the two divisions don't even play each other this year. So whatever. If it helps get a deal done, better to let them talk now than trying to do that later. If it falls through, the 49ers have said they will just keep him. However, I think that is a bluff. As for a second round pick, it sounds like no one wants to give that up. Cleveland is likely offering their third, which is 65 overall.
  • Ed
    OH... don't forget to pay your SBL's. It will make you feel better....LMAO
    Mar 11, 2016 at 2:23 PM
  • Ed
    Don't get your hopes up 9er Faithful's. It's all B.S.! Everything the top brass says are lies. Baalke is a an "idiot" who knows nothing! Jed is the rich guy swing from Baalke's nuts... Baalke know nothing about football. How the hell did he become the GM?
    Mar 11, 2016 at 2:13 PM
  • Geebay42
    Mar 10, 2016 at 7:44 AM
  • Carlos
    Day 1 in the books and nothing offensive about it. Trent kicking the tires on b level free agents. Hope this gets turned around. Or another sub 500 season looms
    Mar 10, 2016 at 6:15 AM
  • Lucky Phil
    Here's my advice for Baalke. Because you really need a friend this season. I was expecting the team to sign Jaye Howard and let Williams walk. We made the same move 6 yrs ago letting Soap walk and signing McDonald to a long term deal. This move helped the pass rush. I guess that deal was made because guys like Fangio and JH were calling the shots that first season. Sign Zach Brown (cheap solution at ILB) your type of guy, he has speed and size. I was hoping we would get Travis Benjamin, under-rated player and worth than the 6 mil a yr. he received in today's market. SIGN RGIII, he will drive up the value for both Kap and Gab. You take RGIII off the market with a 5 yr deal fully guaranteed for 10 mil a year, you might get him. Of course if you made the trade with the Redskins before his contract expired, you could have re-negotiated a deal for much less. Trade Joe Staley and 7th pick to Titans for Goff. I love Staley but he will be 32 this year, We won't get to another SB with him, in the next 4 yrs. Start looking at OL in the draft (HARD) free agents left, under 30 are Shit.
    Mar 9, 2016 at 7:03 PM
  • A real
    Wow... Thad Lewis signing and Ted Larson visit.. Wow I feel winning season this year with rejects and dollar store signings. Trent thanks.. No wonder everyone wants to leave and retire!!!!!!
    Mar 9, 2016 at 4:48 PM
  • john
    Balke is a joke, we need to sign impact players on Defense. Why did we win 2 years ago , simple we had impact players on Defense. Balke is ruining the niners.
    Mar 9, 2016 at 3:21 PM
  • Roman Scoggins
    This is the last time that I get excited about the 49ers, during Jed's presser, he said that TRENT has what ever he needs to make the team better and it appears he's only interested in retaining players that no one else wants and letting the decent ones escape. Wtf is going on TRENT, do somethin for crying out loud. I understand being careful but you gotta be kidding me
    Mar 9, 2016 at 12:05 PM
  • A real
    Thanks Trent.. Where going to lose Alex Boone.. We don't have a offense line as it is. Go ahead and keep working on defense. Where the offense needs to be built and fixed!!!!
    Mar 9, 2016 at 9:04 AM
  • Baalke Must Go
    Every year Baalke waits until all of the choice free agents are signed by other teams and then he signs some of the cheaper remaining scraps (Devey & Pears). This strategy is not working. With all the 49er multiple draft picks available the best he could do was Armstead? First round pick that was not even a starter. The future is now - why draft injured players that may play the following year or in the future.These are wasted picks that could be used to draft a player that can help the team now or move up and pick a player who can contribute this year - not down the road. Whatever happened to AJ Jenkins, Carradine, Joe Looney, Lemonier,Marcus Martin, Vance McDonald, Latimore...all relatively high picks that are busts. Reggie Bush & Jerome Simpson? Come on man. Why can't York see the writing on the wall? Why not get another GM - what have you got to lose. It can't get any worst than being labeled the worst NFL team. Baalke is clueless and must go!
    Mar 8, 2016 at 11:15 PM
  • A real
    I don't think Trent knows what he's doing anymore. He let go Mike iupati go and now Alex bone. He brought in Jordan Devey and Eric pears. He wasted draft pick on hurt players who don't even play anymore. Plus a.j Jenkins and kentwan balmer. We had no back up rb and a horible offense line. That why kap was getting kick around. As soon as the ball was hiked. The other teams defense was already in kap kap. 49ers had a champion ship roster. It took Trent 2 or 3 years to distory it!!!
    Mar 8, 2016 at 10:12 PM
  • Tom Cox
    I hope Trent Baalke is looking across the bay, Look what Reggie Mckenzie is doing with the Raiders, A few years back, They would have not been able to get a Free Agent like Kelechi Osemele, (I know they were in Salary Cap Hell at that time), My point is that they have been able to Re-Build through the Draft and Free Agency, Trent's choices the last few years has Really hurt our Talent Pool, This Year we have Cap Space, and 12 Draft Picks, There is no More Excuses, We need to Make the Right choices this time, Because this time Trent, Your the Fall Guy!
    Mar 8, 2016 at 2:32 PM
  • Mike C
    I would agree that Baalke needs to spend in order top make this team competitive again. Sean Smith and J.R Sweezy are a good start. Hopefully Anthony Davis returns. However, I strongly believe that they need to get a good pass rusher out of the draft. Bosa would be great but unlikely. If they can trade up and get the Ohio State linebacker (Lee) , even better. They need a good middle linebacker like Patrick Willis who can drop in cover and provide run support. I would not mind if Brooks left it would clear up another 6 million to spend.
    Mar 8, 2016 at 7:38 AM
  • Nick
    Great article ! Baalke needs to step up to the plate and get some real free agents. No excuses !
    Mar 8, 2016 at 7:37 AM
    Response: The only thing that I hope Baalke avoids with the pressure on him is signing aging free agents. He still needs to be smart about it. Sign guys that are entering or in their prime.
  • AJ
    Was it my imagination, or wasn't Sweezy getting flagged like crazy last year? I would rather on all out for a player who won't wreck drives with their lack of discipline.
    Mar 7, 2016 at 1:07 PM
  • Coastaldave
    Mr. Bonilla, you have been reading my mind! overspend on veterans and draft depth... Also, Baalke would have nothing to lose by offering Cleveland Kap, Brooks, and Reid for the 2nd pick. They just might go for it: 3 starters, including a QB... Then the Niners could pick up Wentz at 2, and Jack, Buckner or Lee at 7. The beginning of the new era!
    Mar 7, 2016 at 1:03 PM

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