When it comes to the 49ers free agents, I've had a lot to say regarding Aubrayo Franklin at the nose tackle position. I've said it a few times, but as it stands, it doesn't seem to stick with people, perhaps those who have once claimed to dislike the personal parts of the Nuggets, wherein I detailed this point before and they happened to miss it. That's totally fine, I suppose I need to get a couple points out and across for you good folks in an actual article. First, we'll start with why he's probably not coming back.
The biggest caveat to the "Aubrayo Franklin is returning," scenario is the fact that putting all of your eggs in the free agency basket, when the draft is most likely coming first this year, is not a smart move. Aubrayo's best years have come on contract years, and this may indicate dollar signs flashing through his head snap after snap. Couple that with the fact that this is a draft deep in nose tackle talent, and the Franklin's chance of returning diminishes even more. There are nose tackles spread throughout the second, third and potentially fourth rounds that are all viable options to start right from the get-go.
Someone like Phil Taylor may be out of our range, unless we move back into the first round with the intention of not even trying to retain Aubrayo. Other players would be someone like Sione Fua in the fourth round, or Tre9er's favorite, Kendrick Ellis a bit earlier, perhaps in the third round or late second. Every guy that the 49ers have an option to draft on draft day (read as: when they're up to pick and a nose tackle is on their board) diminishes the chances that Aubrayo returns.
We're in an offseason where Aubrayo Franklin is the top of the line when it comes to nose tackles, with Haloti Ngata and Paul Solial being franchised by the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, respectively. This should work in his favor, right? Wrong. In a normal free agency period, teams with needs at nose tackle would be on the phone at midnight, trying to get Franklin to agree on principle to a deal and fly out, for the simple fact that he's the best nose tackle in the class. Let's say seven or eight teams are going for Franklin's services in that scenario, which is insanely generous.
That's not the scenario that we're dealing with, though. It's true that some teams will bank on free agency and operate their draft accordingly, but how many will forsake perhaps the most important position in a 3-4 defense when so many teams have that same need, while there is only one or two viable free agent options available? Teams will look at the list of free agents and see Aubrayo Franklin, Pat Williams and Ron Edwards and start playing with their draft boards. So that group of seven or eight teams is reduced drastically to two or three teams going for Franklin's talent. It only takes two people to have a bidding war, this much is true, but it brings his chances of returning way up.
Now I know what you're thinking: doesn't that also mean that the 49ers aren't going to want to depend on free agency to address this need, especially in a year with a new defensive coordinator and totally new regime? This is totally a fair point, and it's something I'll concede, but I have ammunition with which to weaken it at least a little. First: those "seven or eight teams" mentioned initially was a bit inflated, as all teams with a nose tackle need aren't going to have a scheme appropriate for Aubrayo. He's a smaller nose tackle that plays unique to almost every other nose in the league (except Ricky Jean Francois, which isn't by accident) and so that number should perhaps be halved. On the flip-side, Vic Fangio's defense, with its trademark movement and aggression, would be a perfect fit for Franklin, and one of the few returning coaches last year is one of Aubrayo's biggest supporters, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
To me, that means that San Francisco feels pretty good about being able to retain his services. I've said throughout this that the free agency market will be diminished and that teams will have the best chance of retaining their own free agents when the period finally does come around. Does this mean that they should avoid drafting a nose tackle? Absolutely not, but the other day I used the wording "don't have to go out of their way" and I stand by it. If they're in the third round, and a guy is there, maybe they pull the trigger, maybe they don't. In the fourth round, maybe they grab somebody like Sione Fua, maybe they don't. I'd like to think they draft a guy regardless, and fully believe that they will, but they do not need to put a high premium on the position in the draft. It is my belief that the 49ers have a greater than 50% chance to bring back Aubrayo Franklin in 2011.