Free agency begins Tuesday which means it's going to be a free-for-all frenzy with free agents. The 49ers decided not to wait to make a few moves, as they signed NT Ian Williams to a two-year contract extension and acquired Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a sixth-round pick.
Both moves have significant impact on the 49ers' needs and their approach to free agency. The extension of Williams likely means that Ricky Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga will not be back with the team next season. It also indicates that the team believes that he could possibly take over the starting role.
The trade for Boldin caught many by surprise, myself included. The 49ers gave up just a sixth-round pick for a very good number two wide receiver. The position was sort of an uncertainty because of the health of Kyle Williams and, more specifically, Mario Manningham. But because of the trade (pending a physical) wide receiver is no longer a need which means the position will likely not be further addressed in free agency or the draft.
Backup QB, #2 TE, Swing Tackle, DL Depth, Corner, Safety, Kicker
The 49ers and Chiefs agreed to a trade sending Alex Smith to KC in exchange for a 2013 2nd-round pick and a conditional 2014 3rd-round pick, adding over $9 million of cap space. There are a number of available veteran QBs in the free agency pool. But none of them are very appealing. It's possible Josh Johnson could be resigned which would be fine. He's obviously very familiar with Harbaugh and was with the team in 2012 before being cut before the season started. Or the 49ers could draft one in the middle rounds. Arizona's Matt Scott is the one I like the best. He's familiar with the read option as he ran it in college, so he fits our system.
Delanie Walker is a free agent and it's uncertain if he'll return to the 49ers. While I think and hope he is resigned, I can see a team paying him more money than we will offer. If he does not come back, the Niners will be losing one of the best blocking TEs in the league and a very good special teams players. There are some other good TEs available, like Martellus Bennet and Jared Cook Jr., but they both will likely cost more than Walker. A cheaper option that those three is Benjamin Watson who the Browns will not resign. Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) and Zach Ertz (Stanford) are the top two TEs in the draft, but probably won't be there at our original 2nd round pick.
The 49ers didn't really have an actually swing tackle in 2012. If Joe Staley or Anthony Davis had to come out they were replaced by right guard Alex Boone. That is not a plan the Niners should go into next season with. So expect the team to sign a veteran to fill this spot.
Adding depth on the defensive line is a huge priority. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald both rarely came off the field and played at least 90% of the defensive snaps when healthy. The defense fell to pieces at the end of last year and fatigue probably played a role in that. The 49ers brought in Cullen Jenkins (signed with the Giants) and John Abraham recently, acknowledging the need. Abraham would be a very good signing -- for the right amount, of course -- as he would help spell the Smith's, McDonald, or Brooks and not be much of a drop-off. Last year he had 10 sacks to go with 56 quarterback pressures. They could also address the position in the draft with someone like Datone Jones from UCLA.
The corner position isn't really that much of a need for this season. Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown (#8 ranked CB in 2012, via PFF), and Chris Culliver are a solid trio. Though this position is not stable for the future. Brown is a free agent in 2014 and Rogers will probably be cut next season. I really like Sean Smith, and sources have said the 49ers are very interested in him. He's a big, physical corner who is only 25. He's inconsistent, but if he is able to improve that he would be a great signing. I'm not sure if we'd be able to fit him under our cap, though. Other available corners include Aqib Talib, Adam Jones, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Keenan Lewis. If they run into cap problems with one of these guys, they could sign the player and wait until June 1 and cut Rogers (saving $4.15 million). Of course there's the draft with guys like Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant.
It's all but guaranteed that Dashon Goldson won't be returning to the 49ers. So the free safety position is probably the biggest hole on this team. The Niners have been linked to future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed recently. We don't know what Reed's asking price is, but if it's not that big of a hit signing him would be great. While he's not the player he used to be in his prime, he's still a ball hawk and good in coverage. Reed would also be a great mentor/teacher if we draft a safety early. Another free agent possibility is Kenny Phillips from the Giants. He's good against the pass and a sure tackler. Though he has had a history of knee injuries, including last season. Other possibilities are Quintin Mikell, Charles Woodson, and Louis Delmas. Also, the 49ers need to resign Darcel McBath.
This one is obvious and doesn't need to be explained. David Akers was cut after having an awful 2012 season. I'm hoping they draft Dustin Hopkins from Florida State, but there are options available in free agency like Phil Dawson, Lawrence Tynes, Rob Bironas, Steven Hauschka, and Mike Nugent.