We've had a lot of individual posts concerning whether or not to re-sign each of our own free agents. On the subject of free agents, we've also had a lot of discussion about potential non-Niners free agent signings and/or trades. And finally, the current focus on the NFL Combine and mock drafts brings attention to potential draft prospects who could satisfy some of our roster needs. The problem is that we usually discuss each of these components for upgrading our roster separately, when in fact they are all interdependent. So, rather than artificially separating them, I'd like to look at the revision of our roster as one combined process. Thus, I thought that an interesting approach to this might be to look at how we might replace each of our 12 free agents (including with themselves, if appropriate) plus any other non-free-agent cuts we might make to upgrade the roster.
While it's easy to say "oh ... let's sign free agent WR Dwayne Bowe, or WR Mike Wallace, or WR Greg Jennings or DE Cliff Avril or trade for WR Percy Harvin or CB Darelle Revis", I think that we all know that signing those types of free agents would not only blow our salary cap restrictions but would further hinder us in being able to extend many of our own core players, and potentially have a negative effect on locker room harmony. Thus, I set a restriction on myself for this exercise ... the total cost of adding any free agents cannot exceed the total cap relief achieved in cutting any of our non-free-agents.
With that limitation, let's see how we might improve the roster. First the offense, then the defense, then special teams.
CHANGES TO THE OFFENSIVE ROSTER
- Trade Alex Smith for one or more draft picks. Replace Alex by signing FA QB Josh Johnson (Cleveland). Johnson is known to us and has the skilll-sets and athleticism to fit into our offensive system while being obtainable at a reasonable price, thus allowing for Kaep's extension in the short term.
- Draft Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) in the late third round; I would expect no game time during the 2013 season as he rehabs from surgery and learns the playbook; conceptually he would phase in as Frank's replacement as Frank's reps wind down toward the end of his contract.
- Do not re-sign FA Randy Moss. Replace Moss with draftee WR Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) in the second round. As one of Mayock's top-five wideouts, Patton's strong suits are his precise route-running and unusual ability to stretch the field.
- Do not re-sign FA Ted Ginn, Jr. Replace Ginn by signing FA WR Danny Amendola (St. Louis). While seemingly susceptible to injury, Amendola catches everything and I see him as sharing the slot receiver position with Kyle Williams. St. Louis is not currently expected to franchise Amendola.
- Draft two tall WRs in the seventh round for training camp, then assign them to the Practice Squad for further development ... 6'6" WR Rodney Smith (Florida State) and 6'5" WR Brandon Kaufman (Eastern Washington).
- Do not re-sign FA Delanie Walker ... not only does Walker want to be the #1 TE (which will never happen in San Francisco) but he will command more money elsewhere than we can afford to pay him as a #2. Replace Walker with draftee TE Zach Ertz (Stanford) in the first round. Should Ertz already be gone in the draft, in preferred order, I would select either Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) or Gavin Escobar (San Diego State).
Offensive Tackle / Offensive Guard:
- Do not re-sign FA Leonard Davis. Replace Davis by signing a more versatile offensive lineman FA OT/OG Geoff Schwartz (Minnesota). You may recall that the Niners discussed their RG position opportunity with Schwartz last year but he elected to sign with Minnesota. Schwartz is a versatile guy who can play either guard or tackle, is very reasonably priced for an above-average backup, and I think would relish the opportunity to play for a now-elite team.
- Release C Jonathan Goodwin. Replace Goodwin by promoting Joe Looney to starter; Daniel Kilgore remains the backup.
CHANGES TO THE DEFENSIVE ROSTER
- Do not re-sign FA Isaac Sopoaga. Replace Sopoaga with draftee NT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern State) in the second round. For a big guy (6'3" 340#), Williams is a workout warrior and keeps himself in great shape, manages his weight well, and is amazingly agile for his size. If you watched the Senior Bowl or practices, you know that this guy really dominated in his first crack against elite OL talent.
Defensive End / Defensive Tackle:
- Re-sign backup DL Ricky Jean-Francois to a two-year contract. Competent backup until the rookie draftees develop.
- Sign FA DE Michael Johnson (Cincinnati). Johnson came into his own in 2012 ... he had 11.5 sacks and was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team. It's not yet clear what Cincinnati might do with their franchise tag ... but I don't see them tagging Johnson because the notoriously cheap Bengals will not be willing to pay an $11M tag salary, nor do I see them committing to a long-term contract because of the number of free agents they have and the extensions that are needed.
- Draft DE Margus Hunt (Southern Methodist) in the early third round. Hunt is a real project, but he has huge upside potential. I don't see Hunt getting much playing time in the 2013 season, but Tomsula should have a field day developing this guy's raw potential. The Niners are very fortunate to have such a strong roster that they can afford to draft and develop guys like Lattimore and Hunt for future success rather than trying to play them immediately.
- Draft DE Devin Taylor (South Carolina) in the fifth round. Same as Hunt. If you don't know Taylor, he is the DL that dominated throughout the East/West Shrine Game ... nobody could deal with his size and speed.
- Re-sign backup FA ILB Larry Grant. Competent backup and a good special teams player.
- Re-sign backup FA ILB Tavares Goodin. Same as Grant but an even better special teams player.
- Do not re-sign FA Clark Haggans. Remember that Parys Haralson will be returning from Injured Reserve.
- Re-sign (or franchise) FA S Dashon Goldson. The only questions are ... How many years? Price?
- Release S Donte Whitner. Replace Whitner by signing FA S William Moore (Atlanta). Moore is younger, cheaper, a good cover safety, excellent against the run, and a hard hitter. What's to discuss other than Writner's cap hit?
- Do not re-sign FA Darcel McBath. Replace McBath by drafting S D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina) in the late third round. We even have a fellow Gamecock to orient both Lattimore and Swearinger ... Chris Culliver; but the only subject is football ... NOT sexual orientation.
- Release CB Carlos Rogers. Replace Rogers by signing FA CB Aqib Talib (New England). Like Moore, Talib is younger, cheaper, and a very good cover corner. The Patriots will not tag this guy. As some of you undoubtedly know, this guy can be a real headcase with multiple off-field issues (while at Tampa Bay); but, he seemingly has cleaned up his act with the Patriots ... my sense is that we've got the coaching and locker room that this guy needs to fully mature.
- Re-sign RFA CB Tramaine Brock.
- If Alex Smith is traded for a second round pick, draft CB Darius Slay (Mississippi State) in the second round; if Alex is not traded or traded for a lower-round pick, draft CB Bidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut) in the fourth round. I would very much like to bag Slay if possible; CB Jonathan Banks got all of the publicity at Mississippi State, but IMO Slay is just as good and maybe even better as a pro.
CHANGES TO THE SPECIAL TEAMS ROSTER
- Release K David Akers. Replace Akers by drafting K Dustin Hopkins (Florida State) in the sixth round. Obtain better field goal accuracy, just as many kickoff touchbacks, for the next twelve years, for nearly $3M less annually in the short term. The best kicker in college football. What's to think about?
To summarize all of the suggested changes:
- QB Alex Smith -- 2013 salary $7.5 + $1.0
- WR Randy Moss.
- WR Ted Ginn, Jr.
- TE Delanie Walker.
- G Leonard Davis.
- C Jonathan Goodwin -- 2013 salary $3.7M
- NT Isaac Sopoaga.
- OLB Clark Haggans.
- S Donte Whitner -- 2013 salary $3.85M
- S Darcel McBath.
- CB Carlos Rogers -- 2013 salary $5.5M
- K David Akers -- 2013 salary $3.0M
- DL Ricky Jean-Francois.
- ILB Larry Grant.
- ILB Tavares Goodin.
- S Dashon Goldson.
- CB Tramaine Brock.
NEW FACES (17)
- QB Josh Johnson (Free Agent) -- age 26, 2012 salary $700K.
- RB Marcus Lattimore (Draftee).
- WR Quinton Patton (Draftee).
- WR Danny Amendola (Free Agent) -- age 27, 2012 salary $1.97M.
- WR Rodney Smith (Draftee for Practice Squad).
- WR Brandon Kaufman (Draftee for Practice Squad).
- TE Zach Ertz (Draftee).
- OT/OG Geoff Schwartz (Free Agent) -- age 26, 2012 salary $550K.
- NT Brandon Williams (Draftee).
- DE Michael Johnson (Free Agent) -- age 25, 2012 salary $1.41M.
- DE Margus Hunt (Draftee).
- DE Devin Taylor (Draftee).
- S William Moore (Free Agent) -- age 27, 2012 salary $565K.
- S D.J. Swearinger (Draftee).
- CB Aqib Talib (Free Agent) -- age 26, 2012 salary $1.85M.
- CB Darius Slay or CB Bidi Wreh-Wilson (Draftee).
- K Dustin Hopkins (Draftee).
Obviously I've proposed adding more players than have left the roster. Problem? No ... more competition in training camp. But ... it also means that not all of the returnees and/or additions will make the Final 53 + Practice Squad. Once again, not a problem ... an improved roster ... more talent, younger and cheaper. And THAT is THE GOAL here.