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A little over a week ago we took a look at the 49ers free agents signings from 2008 and how they performed. Now we move onto who the 49ers own free agents will be this offseason. It's been discussed in a variety of context, but I thought for this I'd take each potential free agent and look at reasons for and against keeping them. I'll conclude with my prediction of whether they'll actually be resigned. It will mix in some draft and other free agency discussion, but for now it's a matter of focusing on the guys we can negotiate with for now.
LB Takeo Spikes
Stay: It's been discussed over and over again, but Spikes was a big spark-plug for the defense. He made plenty of big plays and provided a mentor type of player for the younger guys on the team. Even though he's getting up there in age he can still bring it week in and week out as a full-time player. Furthermore, he really wants to come back and seems to have great motivation heading into 2009.
Go: All I can think of is that he's getting up there in age. There are some decent younger options out there, although they most of them would cost a hefty sum. Unless they shell out for Maualaga (USC ILB), they could select someone a little later in the draft with a bit of cost-control.
Verdict: Stay - He'll get no more than a 2-year deal, but he provides a cushion of time and mentor for them to develop a younger ILB of the future to pair with Bamm Bamm.
WR Bryant Johnson
Stay: Although Johnson struggled early, he closed out the season pretty strong and brings a veteran presence. He's clearly a talented receiver, but he simply had early injury problems that threw off the timing of everything. Given a healthy offseason and training camp, he could turn into a potential #1. Given his poor performance in 2008, the 49ers would be able to sign him to a relatively inexpensive deal.
Go: Josh Morgan seemed to pass him on the depth chart during training camp and would likely have been the starting #2 if not for injury. Johnson may be talented but he's never stepped up to be "the guy" as much as he may want to. The 49ers younger receivers took big strides in their development once Shaun Hill took over, and to resign Johnson would possibly stunt that growth. Furthermore, Johnson would probably only sign a 1-year deal and if he did have a huge year he'd be gone just as quickly.
Verdict: Go - I think it's more worthwhile to see what Morgan, Jason Hill and Dominique Zeigler can do with no Johnson around. If there is any injury issue, there are plenty of receivers on the market who can do what Johnson did this past season.
RB DeShaun Foster
Stay: While there are better running backs on the free agent market, all would cost significantly more than Foster. Foster struggled when he was only getting a couple carries a game, but once he began getting more than a handful of carries, his numbers improved. Given that Frank Gore needs to keep his workload from getting out of hand, a bigger workload would bring out the efficiency of a guy like Foster
Go: The Free Thomas Clayton crowd would be the first argument. However, beyond that, Foster is starting to get up there in age (turned 29 this year) and the 49ers would be better finding another younger guy in the draft. As talented as Foster is, there is an argument that the counter to Frank Gore should be a bigger back. Foster isn't tiny, but maybe more along the lines of a bruising Brandon Jacobs type (obviously not exactly Jacobs).
Verdict: Go - This is a really close one, but I am thinking Foster will be let go. The Panthers let him go and added rookie Jonathan Stewart (obviously a high draft choice), but it shows that a team can have confidence in a young running back duo. I think I'm falling more and more in the camp of grabbing a running back in the middle rounds of the draft and having him compete with Clayton come training camp.
KR/PR Allen Rossum
Stay: When healthy he was an absolute beast in the return game, ranking among the league's elite in creating phenomenal field position for the offense. Even if the 49ers wanted to develop somebody else for the role, a veteran like Rossum would be perfect to have around to mentor them, similarly to what I mentioned about Spikes. Right now, the 49ers don't have that future answer and since Rossum doesn't seem to have lost anything, might as well bring him back. Oh, and like Spikes, he wants to return next season.
Go: He's getting old and it's time to hand the keys over to a younger guy. The injury problem creates inconsistency in having different guys back there on a part-time basis. The team can find somebody in the draft and take their chances from there.
Verdict: Stay - He's indicated he wants back and I see plenty of reason to bring him back in 2009. If he can stay healthy, he could be a key cog in the continued development of the 49ers offense (due to field position).
CB Donald Strickland
Stay: Strickland has never been a big name player, but in his three seasons with the team, Strickland has made numerous big plays as a backup cornerback. He's filled in for injured players and been quite solid as an extra nickel back. I don't have any proof of it, but I'd imagine he's a locker room favorite.
Go: While he's never been spectacular, he's done just enough to maybe create a small bidding war for his services; one which I don't see the 49ers getting involved. More importantly, they need to further develop Tarell Brown and Reggie Smith. Strickland is a solid option, but he's only blocking their way.
Verdict: Stay - This is a tough one because given some of his highlight style plays, it's entirely possible someone overpays for Strickland. If that's the case, I don't see the 49ers getting in a bidding war. Consider this prediction more of a "hope for" type of situation.
DT Ronald Fields
Stay: Well, if he wants to come back, I'd imagine the team could sign him pretty cheap. If Aubrayo Franklin really is taking a step up, as he did over the last half of the season, Fields could fit in as a role player as the backup nose tackle.
Go: He didn't do a whole lot of much, and I personally would rather try and grab another big body in the draft and see what can be developed from that. Fields has been in the league for 4 years and hasn't done much of anything in that time.
Verdict: Go - The only reason I see him staying is a) it's a cheap price tag and b) Nolan was down on him for some reason and Singletary likes him for some reason and wants to give him a chance. Of course, seeing as he didn't get much of a chance once Singletary took over, I don't see that happening.
I've run out of room, so the last few free agents are after the jump (as you can tell, most of these front page ones are the more important free agents, in my opinion).
QB J.T. O'Sullivan
Stay: He showed sparks of talent, even if he was a turnover machine most of the time. He's got a great arm and a gun-slinger mentality, that if harnessed properly could be something that motivates the team. That's about all I've got.
Go: He's a turnover machine and he never really seemed to be respected as a leader in the huddle like we seem to see on occasion with Shaun Hill. He was brought in because of Martz and should just be let go of in the same manner. A newly-drafted QB probably has more upside than O'Sullivan considering the amount of time he's spent in the league.
Verdict: Go - I'd be stunned if he came back for another year. And actually, I think he showed enough that some team will actually roll the dice on him to compete with whomever their QB is in training camp.
OLB Roderick Green
Stay: Green has been released and re-signed over and over again, so it wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers continue to bring him back. He put up 3.5 sacks and at times could create havoc in the backfield. At worst he's training camp fodder that can be re-signed at a relatively low cost.
Go: He's a "pass rush specialist" who doesn't do all that much in the grand scheme of things in the pass rush. The 49ers would be better suited grabbing some OLB/DE help in the draft and developing those youngsters while continuing with Haralson as that pass rush specialist.
Verdict: Go - I think it's 50/50 that he's around come training camp but I think come opening day he's definitely gone, or at the very least inactive.
TE Billy Bajema
Stay: He's a very solid blocker when they go with their big formations. And with 2 catches for 34 yards, he actually had the second highest YAC on the team. Way to go Billy.
Go: He made $927,000 last season. Given Vernon Davis's blocking prowess, is it worth bringing him back at north of $1 million?
Verdict: Go - If he was restricted for one more year I'd see him coming back, but I don't think it's wise to sign him to a multi-year deal that would likely be at more than $1 million a year. Or is a straight blocking specialist worth that kind of money?
OT Damane Duckett
Stay: As Maiocco pointed out at one point, he stuck around the team's facility while on IR this past season so maybe the team wants to see what he can do? He won't cost much and maybe he could become a long term answer on the offensive line.
Go: He was hurt all year and the upside of a converted defensive lineman can't be any more than a younger draft choice.
Verdict: Stay - I think the team signs him to a cheap deal so they can see what he can do.
TE Sean Ryan
Stay: Given that he was signed off the street midway through the season, Ryan was a halfway decent option as a TE/fullback option.
Go: It's probably more worthwhile to grab a younger guy in the draft.
Verdict: Go - He was inactive the last game of the season and at 28 is not getting any younger.
QB Jamie Martin
Verdict: Go - Sorry, no other breakdown for Jamie. The team will likely grab somebody in the draft to battle with Alex Smith and Shaun Hill or a veteran and Shaun Hill.