Bye weeks always seem to drag out … although this one is more interesting than most because of the roster-change activity. In my boredom I decided to amuse myself by taking another crack at predicting the Niners’ roster for the start of the 2014 Regular Season. What’s different from the last time that I undertook this task? Actually, quire a bit. First, I think that we have a much better sense for the real strengths and weaknesses of the Niners’ existing roster and likely roster turnover … giving us some feel for what Baalke might do with respect to extending and/or re-signing players whose contracts expire after this season. Also, we have a much better feel for the relative strengths and weaknesses of the other NFL clubs and their resulting player needs … either via free agency or the draft. So far as next May’s draft is concerned, prospect rankings are evolving based upon actual 2013 college season performances rather than the rankings previously based upon pre-season expectations. Given those changes, let’s work through the process of building the 2014 roster.
Let’s start by fast forwarding to the start of the free agency period next spring … after the idiotic freeze-fest known as the Super Bowl in Met Life Stadium next February … where the Niners will beat the Denver Broncos, by the way, thus assuring themselves of the 32nd pick in each round of the draft. The Niners currently have 18 players on all of their rosters whose contracts will expire after this season. It may surprise you that I project that only 4 to 6 of those players will be re-signed and the remaining 12 to 14 will be allowed to walk. And just who might those players be? Here’s how I see it:
ILB Michael Wilhoite
CB Trumaine Brock
CB Eric Wright
K Phil Dawson (presuming that he doesn’t encounter an Akers-like face plant during the balance of this season)
Players Possibly Re-Signed (IF they agree to a substantial salary reduction):
WR Anquan Boldin
S Donte Whitner
Players Not Re-Signed:
QB Colt McCoy *
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB Anthony Dixon
WR Mario Manningham
WR Kassim Osgood
WR Kyle Williams
OC Jonathan Goodwin
DL Demarcus Dobbs
S Bubba Ventrone
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
CB Tarell Brown
CB Parrish Cox
* It is conceivable that the Niners may try to trade McCoy; if they are unsuccessful in trading him it is conceivable that he could return for 2014 IF they are unable to attract a better free agent.
Continuing my projection of expected front office activity during the free agency period, I believe that the Niners will try to strengthen the roster by attempting to attract and sign several free agents who would offer superior ability to the current players that they would replace … all assuming of course that an appropriate cap-appropriate contract can be negotiated. Who might those free agents from other teams be and who would they replace? Here’s how I see that:
Free Agent Signings:
· A #2 Quarterback … possible candidates include Kellen Clemens (St. Louis), Trent Edwards (Chicago), Rex Grossman (Washington), and Colt McCoy (San Francisco).
· TE/WR Clay Harbor (Jacksonville) 6’3" 255# 26 years old … upgrade from Garrett Celek as #3 tight end.
(2013 Cap Hits: Harbor = $630K; Celek = $482K)
[Harbor was a fourth-round pick (#125) by Philadelphia in the 2010 draft and signed a one-year contract with Jacksonville for 2013; he averages 10 yards per catch and 1+ catches per game in playing part time.]
· OT/OG Geoff Schwartz (Kansas City) 6’6" 340# 27 years old … upgrade from Adam Snyder as backup OL.
(2013 Cap Hits: Schwartz = $700K; Snyder = $1.14M)
[Schwartz was a seventh-round pick by Carolina in the 2008 draft, then signed a one-year contract with Minnesota after selecting them over the Niners; he then signed a one-year contract with Kansas City for 2013; he has played in 45 games and started 20.]
· OG Jon Asamoah (Kansas City) 6’4" 305# 25 years old … upgrade from Joe Looney as backup, or possibly starting, offensive guard.
(2013 Cap Hits: Asamoah = $1.55M; Iupati = $2.63M; Looney = $586K)
[Note: I see this addition as preparation for the possibility that the Niners may not, depending upon how they prioritize players needing contract extensions, be able to afford to extend Mike Iupati; in that case they could trade Iupati and replace him with Asamoah, who was a high third-round pick (#68) by Kansas City in the 2010 draft and has been a full-time starter in KC for more than two years.]
· OC Alex Mack (Cleveland) 6’4" 311# 27 years old … replacement for Jonathan Goodwin, whose contract expires after this season.
(2013 Cap Hits: Mack = $3.7M; Goodwin = $3.2M)
[Note: Others may disagree, but I have no confidence that Dan Kilgore is prepared to take over as starting center for this superior OL; Mack was a first-round pick (#21) by Cleveland in the 2009 draft, has started all 64 games of his career and has been named a Pro-Bowler. Still young, Mack is the ideal addition to replace Goodwin and keep a superior OL in place for a number of years going forward.]
What If Boldin and/or Whitner Decline to Re-Sign?
I honestly believe that both Boldin and Whitner will agree to reduced compensation in order to continue their careers with the Niners. However, should either or both decide otherwise, I think if important to replace them with veteran free agents until such time as the younger players develop.
· Should Boldin decide to go elsewhere, I would pursue free agent WR Eric Decker (Denver) 6’3" 214# 26 years old.
(2013 Cap Hits: Decker = $1.5M; Boldin = $6.0M)
If unsuccessful in signing Decker, there are a number of other free agent receivers to be considered.
· Should Whitner decide to go elsewhere, I would pursue free agent S Bernard Pollard (Tennessee) 6’1" 228# 28 years old.
(2013 Cap Hits: Pollard = $2.0M; Whitner = $4.9M)
Again, if unsuccessful in signing Pollard, there are several other reasonably-priced free agent safeties to be considered.
The 2014 Draft
Moving forward again to May, 2014, we reach the annual 3-day NFL Draft. As mentioned earlier, I think that the Niners win the Super Bowl and therefore pick last in each round of the draft, although, once again, I fully expect Baalke to use multiple picks to move up where appropriate to get the guy he wants. Based upon the picks likely to be available to the Niners, my assessment of the team’s greatest roster needs in the draft, my evaluation of eligible prospects and their likely rankings among all prospects, here is my mock draft for the Niners next May:
· Round 1 / Pick 32 (Own):
WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) Sr 6’3" 205# 4.55 speed
(Top-5 WR in the draft)
[Note: Previously I had projected that the Niners would trade up in the first round to select WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M); however, Evans’ stock has risen such that he is approaching top-10 status; a trade up from pick 32 to the top 10 or so would simply cost far too much in additional picks to be justified; while Matthews is a completely different kind of WR than Evans, he is a polished, do-everything-well receiver and will become an outstanding NFL wideout.]
· Round 2 / Pick 62 (Kansas City) + Round 5 / Pick 160 (Own):
CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) Sr 6’0" 194# 4.45 speed
(Top-5 CB in the draft)
· Round 2 / Pick 64 (Own):
CB Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma) Sr 6’0" 192# 4.48 speed
(Top-10 CB in the draft)
· Round 3 / Pick 72 (Tennessee) + Round 7 / Pick XXX:
SS Deone Bucannon (Washington State) Sr 6’1" 215# 4.57 speed
(Top-3 SS in the draft)
· Round 3 / Pick 96 (Own) + Round 6 / Pick 192 (Own) + Round 7 / Pick XXX:
DE Henry Anderson (Stanford) RSr 6’6" 295# 4.88 speed
(Top-10 DE in the draft)
· Round 3 / Pick 98 (Compensation):
QB A. J. McCarron (Alabama) Sr 6’4" 214# 4.84 speed
(Top-10 QB in the draft)
· Round 4 / Pick 128 (Own):
SWR Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma) Sr 5’9" 157# 4.49 speed
(Top-15 WR in the draft)
· Any remaining 7th round picks (with the possible exception of a 7th-round compensation pick) are assumed to be traded to other teams for 2015 6th-round picks.
Resulting 2014 Projected Final-53 Roster
To summarize all of the above activity, here’s my projected Niners’ Final-53 roster to begin the 2014 regular season (starters in Bold and draftees in Italics):
Kellen Clemens or Trent Edwards or Rex Grossman or Colt McCoy … free agent
A.J. McCarron (Alabama) … 3rd round draft selection
Running Backs (4):
Wide Receivers (6):
Anquan Boldin (or Eric Decker)
Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) … 1st round draft selection
Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma) … 4th round draft selection
Tight Ends (3):
Clay Harbor … free agent
Offensive Tackles (3):
Geoff Schwartz … free agent
Offensive Guards (3):
Mike Iupati (or Jon Asamoah)
Offensive Center (2):
Alex Mack … free agent
Nose Tackles (2):
Defensive Ends /Tackles (5):
Henry Anderson (Stanford) … 3rd round draft selection
Outside Linebackers (4):
Inside Linebackers (4):
Donte Whitner (or Bernard Pollard)
Deone Bucannon (Washington State) … 3rd round draft selection
Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) … 2nd round draft selection
Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma) … 2nd round draft selection
SPECIAL TEAMS (3):
P Andy Lee
K Phil Dawson
LS Kevin McDermott
I fully admit that I have NOT calculated the implications of my proposed roster on the Niners salary cap status. However, my gut tells me that these changes are affordable because they represent salary reductions in most cases … the only significant cost increase would be signing C Alex Mack, but that increase is more than offset by the reductions from the salaries of current players who are allowed to walk. What is also NOT accounted for is the impact of contract extensions for Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Crabtree, Hunter, Miller, et. al. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that Jason or Modesto Matt will quickly be all over that and point out my "fail" if that be the case.
I’ve been a Niners fan for more than 60 years. And, I can tell you without hesitation that, were this roster actually to be put together, it would be the Niners’ STRONGEST ROSTER EVER from top to bottom.