No, no ... this isn't Michael Irvin coming at you, the title is in reference to Isaac Sopoaga, of course! How could you even think such a thing? Anyway ... I don't actually think Franklin is "probably" leaving, but I do acknowledge that there is a chance he could be going elsewhere if the money is right. I'm not convinced that the money will be there to some huge extent, but if the new CBA (or whatever we end up with) allows the franchise tag to operate as it should, then that means Franklin will be the top nose tackle available, and that means the 49ers will likely have to get into a bidding war to retain him.
Or perhaps they'll just let him walk, leaving a hole in the middle of their defensive line. Would it be that big of a hole without Franklin? It's possible that Isaac Sopoaga could move over and play nose tackle, as many have indicated would happen in such a scenario. I don't recall how Sopoaga specifically performed when he played nose, but I do know that, aside from this past season, he'd never impressed in a 49ers uniform. It seemed like he's been "one offseason away" from being an impact player for awhile now. Make the jump.
So why move him now? That's the only caveat to the argument that Sopoaga could play nose tackle. That is to say, the fact that he had a good year in 2010 at defensive end should tell us that the team should ... leave him there! We don't want to mess with a good thing, especially with Jim Tomsula returning as the defensive line coach. In a battle of weighing the pros and cons of this situation, we can only do one thing ... see who else we got.
And by "we" I mean "potential free agents." Let's look at free agent nose tackles and free agent defensive ends and see how they stack up. If there's a top-flight defensive end that could be had for anything resembling "cheap," should we then let Franklin walk and move Sopoaga over? Probably.
Nose Tackles - The pool has run pretty dry here. It's a season where Haloti Ngata and Paul Soliai are both free agents, but they both had the franchise tag put on them. That makes Franklin the next best guy, and after him ... there really is not much. There's Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and Ron Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs. Edwards could be solid, and if he doesn't cost much, I wouldn't mind him coming in to compete with Sopoaga, provided we ended up with a good defensive end.
Defensie Ends - This is definitely not a bad class at all. There's quite a few young guys who could be cheap, and who could definitely pan out. Mathias Kiwanuka is the most intriguing option, he started 2010 on fire before a season-ending neck injury in week four. If he's healthy and good to go, I would love to get him on the team. Ray Edwards is also an intriguing option out of Minnesota. Charles Johnson from Carolina could be a solid option, though he's less of a Sopoaga kind of guy, and more of a Justin Smith kind of guy.
Some of these guys may not be the best fit for a 3-4 defense, but there are some solid names out there. If it was up to me and I have a chance at landing one of them, I let Franklin walk and move Sopoaga over to nose tackle without a second thought. Somehow, I don't have any faith in Ray McDonald to get things done as the starter.