Fooch's Note: Why yes, there are in fact other storylines besides Peyton Manning!
One of the biggest free agency stories for the 49ers is that of Ted Ginn. While he may not have shown much in the way of a wide receiver, he was great on both kick and punt returns, singlehandedly assuring victory (or helping it) on a few occasions.
Ginn as you know is a free agent and has visited with the Lions already. It's been rumored that he wants a role as more than just a returner, though he hasn't proven himself to be a reliable WR in his opportunities there. I suppose you could say that if someone made him a starter he might have more chances to make plays, but I tend to trust two different coaching staffs who haven't featured Ginn as a starting WR on a regular basis.
The return specialist job is a slight concern, though. Kick returners can be had fairly easily as there's more time to catch the ball before the defense arrives and with the new kickoff rules the ball routinely lands deep in the end-zone resulting in a touchback.
Punt returns are a whole other animal though, as we saw their impact in the fateful NFC Championship game. Having a guy who can catch the ball "every time" (99.9% of the time) AND who can keep it safe thereafter is crucial. The bonus of being able to make a play can also drastically improve field position for the offense, and ours enjoyed some of the best field position in the league last year...contributing to success.
The 49ers have signed Rock Cartwright to replace Blake Costanzo, and he has experience returning kicks, so I'm not concerned there. Kendall Hunter and Delanie Walker have fielded kickoffs in the past, too. Again, not worried about that job nearly as much as punt returner.
One option that most fans won't want to hear after his gaffes on the big stage: Kyle Williams. He was thrust into the role after Ginn wasn't able to play, though he has past experience. I don't think his mistakes mean that he will never be a reliable returner, not at all. We have to take emotion out of the equation and consider that Kyle is, at present, the most likely option at punt returner.
Perrish Cox was a great punt returner in college and is certainly an option, but his entire future with the team is day-by-day with his chequered past. I doubt that 35 year old Randy Moss is a candidate for the job, either.
It seems likely that the 49ers will be searching both their own roster as well as the free agent pool for a reliable returner this off-season. Who would you prefer?