49ers 2011 Free Agents: Aubrayo Franklin vs. Ricky Jean-Francois

Yesterday we took a look at the 49ers center position and how free agency might affect it. In that case David Baas is a free agent with Eric Heitmann signed for one more year. Baas is a little over a year younger than Heitmann so it's not a huge issue in that regard. The one difference of course being the relatively serious injuries Heitmann has suffered at times in his career.

I wanted to move on to the 49ers nose tackle position. Yesterday our defensive coordinator watch post took a turn towards a discussion of whether the 49ers should use the current 3-4 or switch back to a 4-3 in some form or fashion. That decision could potentially affect how the 49ers handle the upcoming free agency of Aubrayo Franklin. Right now, Franklin is 30 and coming off a year in which he played under the franchise tag. He missed almost all of the offseason activities and training camp, and the rust showed at the start of the 2010 season. He picked up steam as the season went along, but one has to wonder how much his rust cost the 49ers.

Behind Franklin the 49ers have a relatively unproven Ricky Jean-Francois. The former seventh round pick got a ton of good work last offseason because of Franklin's decision to wait to sign his franchise tender. RJF made giant strides in the offseason because he was taking the first and second team snaps at nose tackle. Franklin was immediately inserted into the starting lineup upon his return, but it was a valuable experience for Ricky Jean-Francois.

Now the 49ers find themselves in a similar position to last season, with Aubrayo Franklin sitting as an unrestricted free agent. Normally, barring a long term deal, the 49ers would slap the franchise tag on Franklin and go from there. However, we don't know yet whether the franchise tag will even be available under the terms of a potential new collective bargaining agreement. Furthermore, repeatedly franchising a player has sometimes led to problems between the team and the player. It's not always the case, but it's something that has to be considered when deciding to franchise a player.

RJF remains relatively unproven even with all the playing time last season. A new defensive coordinator likely means a new defensive scheme. Even if it's a 3-4 defense, there could be new responsibilities for the nose tackle. While I don't view that as a setback for RJF, it would potentially make his transition into the starting lineup a little more difficult.

I've added a somewhat awkwardly-worded poll, but the general notion is whether the 49ers should consider switching to Ricky Jean-Francois as the starting nose tackle if the 49ers continue with the 3-4. He's still relatively unproven, but he's shown some skills in the past (Often said about numerous players). Is it worth a roll of the dice to go with the youngster and see what he can do? It sounds like Franklin will be back in some form or fashion in 2011, but we might as well consider the alternatives.

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