The niners haven't had a really solid (as in playoff-caliber) secondary since the mid-90's with Eric Davis shutting down opposing no. 1 receivers and Ronnie Lott patrolling center field and the endzone. That could change easily. My plan to fix the secondary for at least the next 3-4 years or so is to first sign Darren Sharper. Not only is he one of the only unrestricted free agents of value on the market, but there's also a good chance that the Saints release him, especially if they sign/draft another safety to take his place. He would bring an excellent value at around $2-3 million for one year, even at 34, as he tied for first in the NFL with 9 interceptions, and along with Charles Woodson, led everyone with 3 pick-sixes. For a 34 year old reclamation project, that isn't half-bad. He has 63 career interceptions, tied with Lott for 6th most in NFL history.
Of course, even with a 49ers defense superior to the one down in New Orleans, I find it hard to believe that Sharper will repeat his 2009, much less exceed 5 Ints with more than one pick-six. And even that would be astounding. A lot of quarterbacks respect Sharper, and with his vast experience, he could even take Dashon Goldson under his wing and maybe, just maybe, do for Goldson what Rod Woodson did for Nnamdi Asomugha in 2004 and help turn him into a very good starter, potentially an elite safety, within 2-3 years. Sharper is just an all-around good signing that can only help this team, and the combined locker room leadership, experience, and skill that he offers is well worth $3 mil. Now we turn to the deal that would push this team to a top 5 overall defense. The Raiders have made a lot of headlines by shopping Nnamdi Asomugha around the NFL for the past week or so, and I know a lot of people have posted about the niners acquiring the services of Mr. Asomugha. This is not a new topic.
What is new, however, is my idea for the deal the niners could offer Oakland. I propose that in exchange for the best shutdown corner in the NFL since 2006 and wide reciever Louis Murphy, we offer our 13th pick, Nate Clements, Michael Lewis, Parys Haralson, Jason Hill, Adam Snyder and Brandon Jones. First of all, not only do we lock down the opposing team's number 1 receiver game in and game out, but we also get the best receiver on the Raiders (sorry Zach Miller) since Jerry Rice last suited up for Oakland in 2003. He caught 34 passes for 521 yards and 4 TDs, and was the game-day hero along with Bruce Gradkowski against the Steelers. I'll let Greg Papa tell the rest of the story: "Walkins out right singled up with Burnett, Gradkowski, they blitz Burnett, here's Gradkowski now gonna to throw for the endzone it is CAUGHT, TOUCHDOWN RRRRAID-ERS!!!! Louis Murphy in the back corner of the endzone with nine seconds to go!" The game ended that way with the Raiders victorious, 27-24.
At first blush, this deal may seem like it does not include enough talent, but Al Davis has his own special way of evaluating players. First, he probably thinks highly of Clements, who until 2009 has been a legit shutdown corner. He did falter during the second half, but he still is a solid number one corner, maybe a #2. Now on to Michael Lewis. We know what we're getting from Lewis, which is basically what Taylor Mays most likely will end up as: an undersized linebacker who tackles like one, but also can't cover like one. Lewis gets put in the box 95% of the time, as Singletary cannot trust him in coverage unless it is a Hail-Mary situation. He racks up the tackles, though, with 668 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 12 interceptions in his 8 year career. He's not a bad player, certainly, but Al Davis will see another Jack Tatum in this guy, and would love Lewis on his team, especially since he is still only 29 years old.
Haralson is the real deal-tipper here. He is big enough to play middle linebacker on a 4-3 team, at 6'3" and 255 lbs., but also has the pass-rush ability of a 4-3 defensive end, with 10.5 sacks in 2 years, including 8 in 2008. He is still very young and just turned 25, so he still has a lot of room to grow, and I think he will eventually become an excellent linebacker in either scheme. He is also still on his rookie contract, so he provides fair value and excellent potential for any team. Hill and Jones both are good wide receivers, but there is not much space for them, even with Arnaz Battle and Isaac Bruce leaving, since Murphy would become entrenched at the #3 WR position, possibly even lapping Josh Morgan for #2 option by the start of the season. Hill could eventually become a solid #2 receiver as he has skill but really hasn't been given the chance to show it. Jones is a good player as well, and despite the punt fiasco against the Seahawks, has been a good player for the Titans, especially in 08, amassing 41 catches for 449 yards and a TD in only 7 starts, but his total career numbers in 5 years look like one typical Jerry Rice year: 113 catches, 1,398 yards, and 9 touchdowns. He is still just 27 so he could potentially exceed 1,000 yards before his career ends, but he would need to earn a stable starting role, because the situation in SF doesn't look like it will work out. Snyder would be attractive to Davis because of his flexibility on the line (he can play both guard and tackle spots equally bad) and yet still would easily be an upgrade over the crap they penciled in at right tackle, Cornell Green. He has been called for every penalty in the book, and allows more sacks than even Kwame Harris. Those two on one offensive line would ensure that every quarterback in the league spend quality time on the IR; they have no idea how to pass-block. That's why Davis is a bit desperate for o-line help, and Snyder could become another potential deal-tipper as a result.
This trade probably wouldn't fly with any other general manager in the NFL unless I took Murphy out of the picture, but you always try to constantly propose some kind of deal to the Raiders, because Davis is bound to accept one. This deal, if it goes down, would be the greatest move in SF history since the niners traded a 2nd round pick for Steve Young in 1985, and would immediately pole-vault this team to playoff-bound division champions. And I still haven't talked about the draft or any other free agents! The NFC West this year is ripe for the taking. We have a very talented team that is two or three major deals/signings away from legitimate playoff contention, as Arizona will lose key players on both sides of the ball, the Rams suck as always, and the Seahawks need help everywhere. We can win the division. But it is up to Scot McCloughan and the rest of the FO to make it happen. The 2010 offseason is absolutely pivotal.
I'm not quite done discussing the Asomugha deal however. First of all, we would actually save money by dealing for Nnamdi, as we give up $8.3 million in Clements, $4.2 million in Lewis, $3.5 million in Jones, $2.5 million in Snyder, $2.3 million in Haralson, and $738 K in Hill for a grand total of $21.6 million dumped on the Raiders in exchange for Asomugha's insane 3 year, $45.3 million contract, the highest in the league. The first two years, totaling $28.6 million, are fully guaranteed. Another $4.7 million is available through incentives. To keep Asomugha through 2011, the Niners would have to pay him either the franchise number for quarterbacks that year OR $16.875 million, whichever number is greater. If the club fails to exercise the option, Asomugha would not be able to be franchise tagged and will become an unrestricted free agent. They also receive Murphy's far more reasonable 4 year, $2 million deal, with $395,000 in 2010. Ultimately, should the Niners complete this deal, they actually gain around $6.5 million, which could be used to cover the contract of Darren Sharper and also be reserved for more free agent signings or the draft. This deal is win-win for the Niners, and win-win in Al Davis' mind. However, even with the money saved on this deal, we still would need to restructure Asomugha's contract a little, because even Asomugha is not worth QB franchise tag money. Heck, most QBs aren't worth QB franchise tag money either, unless they are close to Joe Montana/Peyton Manning/Johnny Unitas type talent.
My last major free agent signing proposition switches to the offensive side of the ball. I have already traded for a receiver that has the route-running skill paired with excellent deep-threat speed and huge upside we need, plus sure hands as well. That scenario would play out quite well, as both Crabtree and Murphy have a lot of promise, and Vernon Davis is finally an established star. Which is why this last signing concentrates on what is easily the weakness of the niners: the offensive line. I'd like the Niners to ink Bobbie Williams to a one year deal. He could potentially do for Frank Gore what Larry Allen did for Gore in 06, which is open massive holes for Gore to exploit. Not only is he an unrestricted free agent, but at 345 lbs. he has prodigious strength and is a mauling run blocker with good footwork and technique. He is 33 years old, however, gets called for the occasional penalty, and can get beaten in the pass due to below average quickness, but he is a much better option right now than Adam Snyder ever was, and would contribute immediately. His experience and extra 15 pounds on David Baas is a needed plus, and I see no reason why a 1 year, $1.5 million deal would be unreasonable. Now let's (finally) take a look at the niners' depth chart, along with predicted rookies in the draft. Tell me this isn't a division champion team right here:
QB: Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, Nate Davis
WR: Michael Crabtree, Louis Murphy, Josh Morgan, Jacoby Ford (4th rounder), Trindon Holliday (5th round), Dominique Ziegler
TE: Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker
LG: Bobbie Williams, Tony Wragge
RG: Chilo Rachal, Tony Wragge
RT: Bryan Bulaga (1st round)
NT: Aubrayo Franklin
RE: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Kentwan Balmer
ROLB: Jerry Hughes (round 2), Ahmad Brooks
LOLB: Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks
FS: Dashon Goldson, Reshad Jones (3rd round), Curtis Taylor, Reggie Smith
SS: Darren Sharper, Reshad Jones, Reggie Smith, Curtis Taylor
K: Joe Nedney
P: Andy Lee
KR: Jacoby Ford, Trinton Holliday
PR: Jacoby Ford, Trinton Holliday