Yesterday the 49ers made some relatively big news. They tendered restricted free agents Manny Lawson, Ray McDonald and Dashon Goldson. The moves indicate that the 49ers are interested in bringing back the three defensive players. However, a new CBA could cloud the situations of these three players. As noted in recent articles. A new CBA could lower the experience of players that hit the unrestricted free agent market from five years, to four. This means that Lawson, Goldson and McDonald would be unrestricted free agents, pretty much making the tenders irrelevant.
The CBA issue aside, these three moves are important for the following reasons. First, they indicate that the 49ers are interested in retaining the services of the three for the 2011 season and beyond. Second, it shows that the front office has confidence in the three being solid contributors next season. Finally, it indicates in what direction the 49ers may go in free agency and/or the draft.
It is important to look at these moves on an individual level because they are in fact individual transactions. For example, the 49ers tendering Manny Lawson means something different than them tendering Dashon Goldson. Lawson would be well thought of in the free agent market. He has shown the ability to play in the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, which opens up opportunities outside of San Francisco. Dashon Goldson struggled a great deal in 2010, and may receive a reality check on the free agent market. The 49ers were not the only team to notice his struggles in 2010, all 32 teams must have noticed.
These moves do not mean that all three will be back with San Francisco in 2011, they only increase the chances that they will be back. By tendering Lawson, Goldson and McDonald the 49ers have made it incredibly difficult for other teams to sign them on the market because San Francisco would have an opportunity to match the offer. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Andy Lee, a restricted free agent, a couple years ago; however, most everybody within the NFL knew that Lee would never play a game for Pittsburgh because San Francisco was dead set on matching the offer. The dynamics changed 100 percent with these tenders because other teams may ignore the three and focus on unrestricted free agents this spring. Of course, all of this depends on the CBA and whether or not it is signed, and if it is will the three be unrestricted free agents. However, it also shows to the three that the 49ers have a nice amount of interest in them being part of the future.
Now onto the specifics and the individual players tendered.
Manny Lawson: I have been an outspoken critic of Lawson during his stint in San Francisco. Not because I don't believe he is a good player, but because I think that he would be much better in a traditional 4-3 defense. Lawson does not have a dominating pass rush move and doesn't get to the QB constitantly. However, a lot of that could have to do with the fact that the OLBs playing opposite Lawson are not dominant either. If the 49ers are able to get a pass rushing specialist via the draft (Von Miller) or in free agency (Tamba Hali), Manny Lawson would fit perfectly in what the 49ers are attempting to do in the 3-4 under Fangio. I don't believe that he will ever be a dominating pass rusher in the NFL. What I do believe is that he is and will always be a special talent that plays defense real well. He is a good all-around LB, and those are hard to come by. In my opinion the 49ers retaining his services will depend on what they do with the other OLB position. I don't mind having a player like Lawson one on side if we can get a pass rush specialist on the other side.
Ray McDonald: He has been a real good player for the 49ers over the last couple of seasons. His strengths may not show up a lot on the box score, but he has been real solid. McDonald has yet to have that break out season, and some believe he may never will. McDonald only has 5 career sacks and didn't accumulate a single one in 2010, that is hard to believe considering the amount of pressure we have seen him get on opposing QBs over the duration of his time with the 49ers. For the most part he has had to sit behind Isaac Sopoaga, who I believe has little to no value as an end for the 49ers. In deciding whether or not to retain his services the 49ers need to think about a few different variables. First, will he come into 2011 with an opportunity to get more playing time. This means will the 49ers cut the cord with Soap? Secondly, are the 49ers going to add a 3-4 end early in the draft (Cameron Jordan)? Those answers will tell whether or not the 49ers should re-sign McDonald, even if he hits the unrestricted free agent market.
Dashon Goldson: Doing the game recaps for Niners Nation has shown me a couple things. First, how bad the coaching was. And, secondly how Dashon Goldson looked utterly lost at times roving the secondary. Goldson topped a breakout 2009 season with an extremely subpar 2010 season. He missed many tackles, didn't force the turnovers he did in 2009 and was absolutely horrible on coverage. However, his complete disaster of a 2010 season means a couple things. The market for a safety that doesn't cover well and misses a lot of tackles isn't going to be too strong. And, if the 49ers do re-sign Goldson, it will come relatively cheap. Once again, the 49ers need to ask themselves a couple questions. Will they bring Goldson back to compete for a starting job? What is the value for underperforming 4 year veteran? And finally, what other options do they have. I wouldn't mind Goldson coming back to San Francisco in 2011 if we have a nice amount of competition for him at the Strong Safety spot. Personally, I would rather have Goldson and Reggie Smith vying for the starting spot than signing a player like O.J. Atogwe for 40 million.
There are a lot of different variables that come into the possible retention of these three players. Moving forward, specific situations will give us a sense of whether or not the 49ers are really interested in these players returning to the 49ers. Additionally, these specific situations will determine whether or not I agree with the 49ers decisions. For example, losing Ray McDonald in free agency and drafting Cameron Jordan in the first round would make little sense to me. I really think that it would be counter productive. How much more productive do you envision Jordan being in 2011 than Ray McDonald? That is the question you have to ask yourself. I think that the combination of the two opposite Justin Smith would work out really nice.
Accordingly, the same goes for Manny Lawson. If the 49ers are unable to find a pass rushing specialist opposite of him, I would rather have the likes of Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and a mid-round pick rotating between the three spots. Brooks, and Haralson , however underperforming he may be, get to the QB on a more consistent basis then does Manny Lawson. However, a combination of Von Miller and Manny Lawson at OLB with Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes and NaVorro Bowman is good enough to scare the best of offensive lines. The 49ers have three safeties that have the ability to start in Reggie Smith, Taylor Mays and Dashon Goldson. These three also have the ability to fall flat on their faces at times.
The 49ers are in a precarious position as we speak right now. They have three athletically gifted individuals vying for two starting spots, but none of them have had the constant success that you would look for in a starter. Short of spending 40 million on Atogwe or making a play on Eric Weddle, who was tendered by San Diego, the 49ers may have to go into the 2011 season with these three, along with Curtis Taylor and a mid-round pick at the safety position. I would not mind that being the case if the 49ers are able to get a shutdown corner in the draft or via free agency. Retaining Goldson makes sense as long as the 49ers are able to upgrade the CB position.