The NFL combine starts next week, but two even more important dates are March 1 and March 2. The 1st is the deadline for clubs to exercise 2007 options, submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents and submit minimum salary offers to Exclusive Rights Free agents (players with less than three years of free agency credit). The 2nd is when free agency starts and trading is allowed again.
Today we'll look at the 49ers unrestricted and restricted free agents with a brief note and then my own prediction on whether they will resign or they will leave/be let go. Feel free to include your own predictions (And just a note, end of season grades will continue, just at a rather haphazard rate).
Bryant Young - As mentioned previously, Young appears to be in the midst of negotiating a new contract to come back for a 14th season. As discussed previously, BY will bring leadership to the defensive side of the ball with serious credibility. STAY
Eric Johnson - I have to admit that I've been a fan of Johnson ever since I drafted him in the last round of my fantasy football draft in 2004 and he proceeded to make 82 catches. Unfortunately I don't think that Mike Nolan has the same appreciation. I am convinced that running a lot of 2-tight end sets would help in Alex Smith's development and hope that we can bring by Johnson for at least one more year. However, I think someone else will offer him a better shot at the #1 spot. GO
Chad Williams - His best bet to return is as a backup and in the occasional extra DB package. While I think he could be replaced with a pick or an undrafted free agent (UDFA), I think he at least makes it to the preseason. STAY
Bryan Gilmore - A receiver WILL be taken at some point in the draft and possibly in free agency as well. When this happens, Gilmore will probably be a victim of the numbers game. If he had been a rookie last year, I could see keeping him because of upside. However, he's a six year vet and 8 catches for 150 yards simply won't do the trick. GO
Anthony Adams - Most reports seem to indicate that while Adams has an option, Nolan is not interested in bringing him back. While I think he could make a solid backup nose tackle in the 3-4, I bet Isaac Sopoago will be provided the first opportunity as a backup (hopefully to Amobi Okoye or Alan Branch). GO
Chris Hetherington - With Moran Norris and Zak Keasey resigned, the 34-year old Hetherington is clearly out the door. GO
TJ Slaughter - Another potential victim of the numbers game, if the team is really going to improve their defense, they'll probably have to replace guys like Slaughter. His best bet is on special teams and I actually think he'll be on the roster come preseason. STAY
Jeremy Newberry - As discussed earlier, Newberry will not be brought back. In addition to what was discussed earlier, apparently Newberry is quoting as saying he can play next year, but he really can't practice much of the week. Best of luck to him. GO
Mike Adams - Rumor has it the team might offer the lowest tender offer ($850,000 with right of first refusal, but no draft pick compensation). Like Chad Williams he could do well on special teams and as a backup. Thanks in part to a solid 2005, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone offer him more than the 49ers are willing to pay for a backup. GO
Maurice Hicks - He proved he can not do the trick as the sole backup to Frank Gore, but he was a special teams beast this past season. STAY
Andy Lee - Lee finished 6th in the league in punting, continuing his improvement. I'd like to think the team will lock up Lee to a multi-year deal. STAY
Tony Wragge - Wragge filled in admirably when Eric Heitmann broke his leg late in the season. If Heitmann bounces back, Wragge would prove to be quite a valuable backup. Injuries have hit the offensive line rather hard the last couple of years and a quality backup would be quite beneficial. STAY
I plan on putting together a more in-depth overview of free agency just before March 2 (with some details on the nuts and bolts of the rules), as this may be one of the most important March's in team history. You hate to lose some of your own players, but this is one of those times when addition by subtraction is not simply cliched BS.