Although the 49ers have indicated from day one that they want to re-sign some of their guys, I think it was a fairly common feeling that Ahmad Brooks would likely depart in free agency. That's not to say it was a shock when he re-signed, but my general belief was that the team would look in another direction for his outside linebacker role.
However, upon further reflection, this move might actually make a lot more sense. Andrew Davidson had a solid comment about this in one of yesterday's Brooks threads. I grabbed lunch with the Bay Area Sports Guy and we discussed the topic, leading in part to this post as well. Simply put, the belief would appear to be that the 49ers look at their front seven as one of the big reasons for the secondary's success and want to address their defense accordingly.
I certainly won't say that Carlos Rogers benefited solely from the front seven. Carlos Rogers had a great year and showed some incredible cover skills, even when the front seven was not getting a consistent pass rush from time to time. One of my favorite plays was against the Saints when he went up on a deep pass and broke up a Drew Brees pass to prevent a big play. He showed a great consistency in that regard.
Nonetheless, in determining how they would spend their cap money on numerous free agents, they would appear to be going with their strength. Under a salary cap, a strong cohesive unit is never going to be able to pay everybody what they want. The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching cap hell (cap purgatory for now?) as they continue restructuring veteran contracts in hopes of making one last Super Bowl push. Eventually they will have to pay the piper.
The 49ers have remained out of cap hell for much of the last ten years, but of course they also had some God-awful teams during that stretch. Now they are returning to prominence and are in a solid enough position with regards to the cap. They will lose some players, but responsible teams learn to accept that.
Simply put, I would be a bit surprised if the 49ers were able to re-sign Carlos Rogers moving forward. Anything is possible, particularly if the market has other ideas about cornerbacks. Rogers might not find the kind of deal he wants and the 49ers could score a decent discount on him. However, given the year Rogers had, I would be surprised to see that happen. I'd love to keep everybody from such a dominant defensive unit, but the salary cap means teams have to make tough decisions.
Reports have indicated the 49ers are comfortable moving Chris Culliver into the starting lineup. He received extensive playing time as a rookie and showed some great potential. Tarell Brown had his ups and downs, but late in the season he was looking rather sharp opposite Carlos Rogers. If the team truly believes its front seven is the key, it would not be surprising to see them go with Brown and Culliver at the one and two. Tramaine Brock had his moments and will get a shot at the three along with Curtis Holcomb and potentially Cory Nelms.
The team likely will add a corner in the draft, but depending on their confidence level, I don't see them necessarily reaching too early. If the right guy falls to them, so be it, but if not, they might be much more content than others would believe. It should make for an interesting few weeks as we get into free agency.