The best free-agent signings of the last six years

Chris Graythen

We explore the free agents that Trent Baalke should be proud of dating back to his time as director of player personnel.

The San Francisco 49ers have had some pretty good -- and bad, stay tuned for that tomorrow -- free-agent signings over the years. Some of the most notable in franchise history include the likes of Deion Sanders, Ken Norton Jr., and Ray Brown. Players that helped get an already solid roster over the hump.

The current iteration of the 49ers may not be afforded the ability to go out and get the sort of boon some of those players provided. The roster is already extremely deep, and the salary cap pockets are already pretty stuffed. I don't know that guys like Primetime and Gentleman Ray will be scooped up as that final piece to the puzzle.

Let's take a look at some of the recent important additions, though. We'll go back to 2008, when Trent Baalke's influence grew as he became director of player personnel. And, yes, Scot McCloughan deserves credit for some of these signings. We're just plucking an arbitrary date that includes some of the current regime's doings and players that are still around.

DE Justin Smith (2008)

Cowboy was an important building block for the team's current run of success. You need not be reminded of the team's continued struggles during Smith's first three campaigns with the club, but there was improvement during that time frame, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

Leaving the Cincinnati Bengals, Smith was able to get the contract he sought with a rebuilding club. He's exactly the kind of guy a team looking to improve should seek. Solid player, stays healthy, works hard and leads by example. As the team has improved by adding a wealth of youth, Smith is the sort of guy that teaches those younger players how to prepare and execute.

LB Takeo Spikes (2008)

Spikes was a grizzled veteran by the time he found his way to the Bay Area. After spreading his previous decade out with Cincinnati, the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, Spikes joined the Niners for what could have been one of those veteran moves where they're seeking their last decent contract.

But Spikes was pretty good fit with the Niners, seemingly having a nose for the interception. In fact, he tied CB Walt Harris for the team lead in picks in 2008 with three, two years before once again tying corners Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer for the lead in 2010. Yeah, some of that is because the team's secondary wasn't especially good. But, it was a pretty cool addition to Spike's generally good linebacking play.

CB Carlos Rogers (2011)

The first of a trio of impact additions in the off-season leading up to the 2011 season, Rogers has provided the team with what they probably thought they were getting from Nate Clements.

He hit the ground running, dialing up six picks -- one returned to the house -- and piled up 19 passes defensed in 2011. Offenses seemed to notice and didn't go his way as often in 2012, which caused a reduction in the counting stats, but he was still productive. While 2013 was less than stellar and was interrupted by injury, Rogers was overall a boon to a defense that needed severe help on the corners when he arrived.

S Donte Whitner (2011)

After it was originally thought he'd be signing with the Bengals, Whitner ended up with the 49ers and formed one of the hardest hitting duos of safeties in the league with Dashon Goldson.

Threatening to change one's name to Hitner doesn't help with the attention that his been drawn to your bone rattling hits, and may have helped lead to several bad flags by the officials on the field. Often penalized, rarely fined, Whitner has been an artist at timing big-time legal hits. He hasn't been perfect, but like Rogers, he filled a massive hole brilliantly and helped shore up one of the league's best overall defenses.

C Jonathan Goodwin (2011)

The defensive side of the ball wasn't the only one to get a boost in 2011. A good offensive line became great when the former New York Jet and New Orleans Saint was added to the mix.

While the future of Goodwin with the 49ers is uncertain at this juncture, his three years with the team has provided veteran leadership and terrific play in the middle of perhaps the best line in all of football during that period. One more year, in a role of training his eventual successor -- likely a draft pick in this upcoming draft -- would be one last great gift. Putting a ring on his finger seems proper, no?

NT Glenn Dorsey and LB Dan Skuta (2013)

I don't couple these two to slight them. Rather, their importance to the team this past year -- and perhaps next -- are extremely similar.

When the Niners lost Ian Williams for the year in week two, having Dorsey on the roster became vital. He filled in wonderfully, helping ensure that the defensive front seven didn't have a weak link. For Skuta, he and Corey Lemonier filled in for Aldon Smith when the outside linebacker went into rehab. Even after his return, Skuta provided solid play as a rotational guy, and also on special teams. Look for the 49ers to continue with the rotation behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.

Adding depth is huge for a winning team. You never know when a player will go down. While the Niners don't need to add a mega star in free agency this off-season, finding free agent values for depth could certainly come in handy again.

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