Last year the 49ers offensive line was stricken by the injury bug. Eric Heitman went down with a neck injury and was done for the year. David Baas stepped up as a center and performed admirably--in fact I think he did every bit as good a job as Heitman ever did. Given Heitman's season-ending (and possibly career ending) neck surgery a replacement center is needed.
As a reminder, here is my top 10 Free Agents list
- Alex Smith
- Aubrayo Franklin (our options here are incredibly limited)
- David Baas (really he and Spikes are tied)
- Takeo Spikes
- Ray McDonald (give him his starting DE spot. He's earned it)
- Manny Lawson
- Dashon Goldson
- Nate Clements (redo his contract)
- Barry Sims (we need more veteran presence on the offensive line especially with Heitman gone).
- Travis LaBoy
As with my post on Aubrayo Franklin the majority of my statistics and rankings will come from Pro Football Focus. Again I can't use every player listed, so to keep the comparison fair I'm limiting it to centers who took at least 700 snaps, since that seems to be the minimum amount for a starter.
Pretty impressive for a guy who's never played center before and who didn't practice at that position in the off-season. He came in and managed to rank 12th out of all centers in the league in his first year as a starting center.
1.) Nick Mangold
2.) Matt Birk
3.) Chris Myers
4.) Brad Meester
5.) Todd McClure
11.) David Baas
Again pretty impressive considering that as a guard in 2009 PFF ranked him as only the 68th best guard in the league vs the run, which is basically the bottom 1/3rd. Now he's in the top 1/3rd of centers, almost breaking top 10.
I don't know about you but I did see a significant improvement in our screen blocking last season compared to 2009--it looks as if Baas was a big contributor to that success.
1.) Jeff Saturday
2.) Matt Birk
3.) Lyle Sendlein
4.) Nick Mangold
5.) Andre Gurod
23.) David Baas
Again, not exactly surprising given last season's results. Also not surprising since he had a rookie at LG (and normally guards help the center out, not the other way around), an inconsistent blocker at RG, and a rookie at RT.
Looking at free agent centers David Baas might just be the best available center. The team approached him last year about an extension, and he does have a playbook so it seems to me that he's lock to return.
Matt Birk--3 years $12 million (32 years old)
Nick Mangold--8 years, $57.4 million (27 years old)
Chris Myers--4 years, $11 million (26 years old)
Jeff Saturday--3 years $13 million (33 years old)
Brad Meester--4 years, $10 million (32 years old)
Those are the top 5 overall centers as ranked by PFF. The first thing I see is that even an old center can still expect to get paid at least $2 million, with $3 million being more likely. A top young center can make $6 or $7million per year.
Baas isn't a top 5 center so let's look at the 11th and 13th ranked centers to see their contracts. Kyle Cook of the Bengals was the 11th overall center. His last deal was a one year deal as a Restricted Free Agent. The 13th ranked center is Todd McClure of the Falcons. His last deal was when he was 30 years old and it was for 5 years, $10 million. Not a lot to go on. The two centers closest to Baas in age (and it does make a difference in negotiating contracts) have widely varying contracts (but Myers did sign his when he was used primarily as a guard).
A recent contract that might be of some interest--Jason Brown of the St. Louis Rams signed a contract last year for 5 years, $37.5 million. He's only one year younger than Baas. I have a tough time seeing this team paying Baas that kind of money, but a 5 year $28-30 million deal is not out of the question.