NFL free agents flying under the radar

Otto Greule Jr

NFL free agency features plenty of discussion about the big names. We take a look at some of the players potentially flying a little more under the radar.

AN INTRODUCTION
As a new contributor to Niners Nation, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Steve Busichio, a 27 year-old New Jersey native and an avid Niners "diehard". Despite growing up in the tri-state area where the Giants, Jets, and Eagles are gospel, I didn't connect with any of those ball clubs. Instead, in a family full of Giants fans, mind you, I found myself gravitating toward Young, Rice, Watters, Hanks, etc. at the tender age of 7. It was then that my passion was born. Fast forward to now and my interest in the team has only grown. Throughout the darkest days of the franchise, I've stood by and endured, like many of you have, watching every minute of every game.

I've had the pleasure of going out to San Francisco/Candlestick seven or eight times over the years to go see the red and gold, the ultimate highlight being when my girlfriend and I watched from the 35 yard line as Vernon Davis caught the game winner over the Saints in the 2011 playoffs. This year, we took a 13-hour road trip down to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game and amazingly, my friend won tickets and took me with him to Super Bowl XLVII two weeks later (still stings a bit... but let's not go there).

I currently work as a copywriter in pharmaceutical advertising and also have writing experience at 49erswebzone.com. Anyway, it's a pleasure to start writing for Niners Nation (thank you, David Fucillo). I look forward to interacting with readers and providing articles that I hope you'll enjoy.

Cheers!

With offseason headlines dedicated to high-profile players like Darrelle Revis, Wes Welker, Alex Smith, Dashon Goldson, etc., it's important to remember that for every Nnamdi Asomugha signing there is a Carlos Rogers signing. That is, big money doesn't always mean big results. So what bargain players could test the market and pay off dividends for San Francisco? Here are some possibilities Harbaugh and Baalke may explore in the offseason.

Danny Amendola: Wide Receiver, St. Louis Rams

While Wes Welker is this year's biggest name at the slot receiver position; Amendola (with skills akin to Welker's) may indeed hit the market. Sources indicate that the Rams don't plan to tag the gritty 5-year veteran and the two sides remain far apart in contract negotiations. A history riddled with injury will keep him from earning big money, so he could be had at a decent price if he and the Rams can't reach an agreement.

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Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why it may happen: Although the Niners currently have Kyle Williams penciled in the slot position, Amendola is a far more electric player with starting experience. His scrappy style and tough mentality fall right in line with the philosophy to which Jim Harbaugh subscribes. Lastly, familiarity could play a role. Don't think the Niners forgot about Amendola torching them for 11 receptions and 102 yards in their tie against St. Louis at Candlestick back in November. Plus, Michael Crabtree spent much of his college career at Texas Tech playing alongside Amendola, and the two are good friends.

Why it may not: Much of the reason why the Rams may not shell out the cash for Amendola is his injury-riddled past. A dislocated elbow in 2011 limited him to just a single game all season, and a collarbone and heel injury held him out at two different points during 2012. That equates to just 12 games over two seasons. After losing Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams to season-ending injures in 2012, do the 49ers want to bring a historically fragile wideout on board?

Jerome Simpson: Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Simpson is fresh off of an extremely disappointing one year stint with the Minnesota Vikings. A three-game suspension and lingering back injury forced him out of action in several games, and he never caught on with Ponder in the offense. That resulted in an abysmal season in which he tallied merely 26 catches for 274 yards.

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Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Why it may happen: One could attribute Simpson's disastrous 2012 season to his suspension, lingering back injury, a run-first offensive identity, and the oft poor play of Christian Ponder. A year prior, Simpson was a big playmaker alongside A.J. Green for the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals. His 50 receptions, 725 yards, and 4 TD's were all career highs. The 49ers need a downfield complement to Crabtree, and may find value in Simpson's 6'2 frame. His 14.5 average yards per catch in 2011 could also be compelling.

Why it may not: The Vikings may re-sign Simpson, but reportedly only view him as a No. 3 or No. 4 WR at best. If a team in desperate need of upgrading their passing offense such as Minnesota places that value on Simpson, wouldn't the Niners share that same sentiment? Furthermore, Simpson's back injury clearly limited him throughout the entire season. Back injuries can frequently reappear so, much like the red flags surrounding Amendola, injury concerns could also deter Niners brass from entertaining Simpson.

Doug Legursky: Center, Pittsburgh Steelers

The 49ers offensive line is a very talented, very young unit. Center Jonathan Goodwin, however-who turns 35 in December-is getting long in the tooth. With that said, it's likely Goodwin only has a couple years left in the tank so it would serve the Niners well in finding an heir apparent now. That could come in the form of Steeler free agent, Doug Legursky.

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Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Why it may happen: As mentioned earlier, Goodwin is not getting any younger. And if the Niners don't like what they see from the position in this year's draft class, they may make a move in free agency. Legursky, 26, has the versatility, experience, and build to play both guard and center, making him an attractive option for a Niners' line that's somewhat thin on depth there.

Why it may not: The Steelers will probably make Legursky a priority in re-signing. Although he doesn't start at neither guard nor center, he's a valuable reserve. But if a bidding war is waged for Legursky's services, neither Pittsburgh nor the Niners will throw their hat into the ring.

Alan Branch: Defensive Tackle, Seattle Seahawks

After a disappointing 4 years in Arizona, Alan Branch has rejuvenated his career with the Seattle Seahawks the past two seasons.

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Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Why it may happen: Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois are both free agents, and if both land lucrative deals elsewhere, the 49ers will be without a starting nose tackle. At 6'6 and 325 pounds, Branch has the build to play nose tackle, a position he played 16 games in at Michigan. The Niners rush defense, although good, broke down at times during the season and struggled against physical runners like Ahmad Bradshaw and Marshawn Lynch. Branch could plug the middle and help to resolve that issue.

What it may not: Though it's less likely the Niners strike a deal with Sopoaga, they could very well end up retaining Ricky Jean Francois, a guy who can play every position on the line and filled in nicely at nose tackle in 2011. Furthermore, Alan Branch currently plays left tackle in a 4-3 defense and has taken root in Seattle. He has stated he would like to return to the Seahawks and, after his key run-stopping performance in the 2nd half of Seattle's wildcard victory against Washington, I'm sure Seattle feels the same.

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