In 54 days, the 2009 free agency period begins. There are some potentially big names on the market and I know people are clamoring for some of them already. I'll certainly be taking a look at the free agent market in the coming weeks, but for now, I thought I'd take a look back at the 49ers free agent pick-ups last off season. Unlike draft choices, it's a lot easier to assess free agent pickups after a single season. At the end, I've included a poll asking who you think ended up being the best free agent pickup. You'll notice Dontarrious Thomas is not included (or maybe you didn't notice it at all). Given his brief time with the team, I think it's safe to say nobody was going to be voting for him.
Justin Smith (6 years/$45 million): Smith was the big money haul this time around as the 49ers put on the full court press culminating in the Nolan helicopter ride around the Bay Area. No matter what you think of the dollar figure, Justin Smith earned his contract this season. If you were to just look at his statistics you wouldn't think he'd done a whole lot of much. However, he was involved in most every big play that happened on defense, even if he wasn't filling up the stat sheet. I think Parys Haralson can thank Smith for a fair number of those sacks he got this season. I could not be happier about the Justin Smith signing.
Isaac Bruce (2 years/$6 million): Bruce had an up and down season but he finished very strong. When the 49ers signed Bruce I said I did not think we were getting Bruce in the Jerry Rice as a Seahawk phase of his career and that proved mostly true. He was rather quiet for much of the first half of the season, before becoming Shaun Hill's go-to guy in the second half of the season. Bruce still has some game left in those old legs and I expect him to have a solid second season in San Francisco (although not having Martz around will be interesting in how it affects him). In year 2 I'd like to see his numbers come down a little due to the younger guys numbers moving up.
Takeo Spikes (1 year/$1.68 million): After an interminable wait, the 49ers inked Spikes during training camp to play inside next to Patrick Willis. And did he ever perform. Spikes had finished his previous season in Philly with an injury that some thought would slow him down. Fortunately it did not as he had a very good season with the 49ers. He finished tied for second in total tackles and had a three-game interception streak early on. Some people out there are mildly indifferent to his return, but consider me in the camp of people that really want him back. He proved he can still make plays and has to be a good influence on Bamm Bamm. The pressure is not on Spikes to be the man and so he can just settle into a role that seems to suit him quite well. And it certainly helps that he really wants to come back.
Allen Rossum (1 year/$870,000): Considering Rossum signed for the veteran's minimum, he certainly turned out well. I expected next to nothing from him heading into the season and he finished it third in the NFC in kick return average and first in punt return average for those with double digit punt returns. Not too shabby indeed. The downside were the injuries. Of course that only exemplified his value in the battle for field position. It'd be nice to get a younger guy back there that can stay healthy, but given the impact Rossum had, he might be worth bringing back to mentor a young returner.
Bryant Johnson (1 year/$2 million): It's hard to argue he was the most valuable free agent pickup last season. Injuries robbed him of most of training camp and it took him a while to get back in the swing of things. He settled into a groove late in the season and made some big catches. One reason to see some value is that his training camp injury gave us a chance to see the potential of Josh Morgan. Morgan got all of Johnson's first team snaps and was on pace to start the season opener before also being cut down by injury.
DeShaun Foster (1 year deal): Foster started off rather quietly, which wasn't surprising given that he was backing up a work horse back like Frank Gore. I think the optimal situation would have been to get more than the 2 or 3 carries he was getting for much of the season. Once Gore went down with the ankle injury, Foster showed some bright spots. He's a talented back, but he is a guy who needs to get a decent number of carries or else he gets rusty. Given his history I'm not sure if there's much better out there, but maybe it's worth grabbing someone in the draft to compete with Thomas Clayton for the backup role come July and August.
J.T. O'Sullivan (1 year/$645,000): Now, before you throw up on your computer screen and never return to Niners Nation again, follow me on this. J.T. O'Sullivan showed some signs of promise early on before crashing and burning midway through the season and giving way to Shaun Hill. The reason i'd consider him a valuable signing is because it indirectly (or maybe directly) led to the canning of Mike Nolan and the hiring of Mike Singletary. For the Shaun Hill faithful, if Hill had somehow gotten the job in training camp and struggled out of the gate, maybe we never see that second half surge. So, I think there's some value in considering that.
So there you have it. Who was the best free agent pick up last offseason? You can make compelling arguments for a few of these folks so let's have at it.