With the start of free agency, it's time to think more seriously about optimizing the Niners' 2014 roster ... both through free agency and the draft. Which free agents will Baalke sign? What does the draft big board look like? While none of us really knows the answers to those questions, I'd like to play Baalke once again and propose my answers.
PREDICTED OUTCOME FOR NINERS' FREE AGENTS --
Re-Signed: Whitner, Dawson, Osgood, Wilhoite, Cox
Borderline: If James stays, Dixon goes; if James is traded, he's replaced by either Dixon or a draftee
Gone: Brown, Goodwin, Manningham, McCoy, Wright
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT SIGNINGS FROM OTHER CLUBS --
A replacement for McCoy ... Depending upon asking price, I would favor either Josh McCown (Chicago) or Kellen Clemens (St. Louis), or possibly Shawn Hill (Detroit). I don't see this move as precluding the drafting or signing of a QB prospect to compete with Bethel-Thompson for the #3 QB job.
An inside linebacker to replace Wilhoite while he fills in for Bowman ... I would favor our old friend and specials teams ace Blake Costonzo (Chicago). Clearly this would be simply a short-term solution, unless additional injuries should occur.
A free agent cornerback (in addition to any draftee(s)) to replace the combination of Brown / Rogers / Wright ... Most free agent CBs will undoubtedly be asking for more than the Niners will be willing to pay; however, there may be several possibly-affordable targets that could make sense, including Charles Tillman (Chicago) on the outside (with Brock moving to nickel) or Walter Thurmond (Seattle) as the nickel CB.
An off-the-wall replacement idea ... K Phil Dawson is 39 and expensive; free agent K Steven Hauschka (Seattle) is much younger, cheaper, and has a stronger let ... especially on kickoffs. Is it possible that Baalke might be tempted? Maybe something like 4 years, $10M, $2M signing bonus, $4M guaranteed?
Now I may need to duck and cover ...
A starting offensive guard IF Mike Iupati is traded (I'll discuss my reasoning, again, a bit later) ... I would favor either of Kansas City's free agent OGs Jon Asamoah or Geoff Schwartz, either of whom would be far more effective than Iupati in pass protection AND cost far less money. In an evaluation of the top 75 NFL offensive guards, the Niners' guards were ranked and graded as follows: Snyder -- ranked 36th; Inpati -- ranked 28th (pass protection 30/50, run blocking 40/50, overall 70/100); and Boone -- ranked 25th (pass protection 31/50, run blocking 40/50, overall 71/100). The two Kansas City OGs were ranked and graded as follows: Asamoah -- ranked 21st (pass protection 41/50, run blocking 33/50, overall 74/100; and Schwartz -- ranked 7th (pass protection 41/50, run blocking 40/50, overall 81/100). Thus, Schwartz (who is slightly bigger than Iupati at 6'6" 330# and the cheaper of the two KC OGs) was Iupati's equivalent at run blocking but far superior in pass blocking; he made $700K in 2013 compared to Iupati's $2.630M in 2013 and $4.426M in 2014.
Whether you buy this argument probably depends upon whether you're dealing from sentiment and emotion or whether you're dealing from simple logic. I'll present my case for trading Iupati AFTER I've proposed my latest mock draft.
ANSWERING SOME DRAFT-RELATED QUESTIONS
It would seem that a lot of our recent draft-related discussions deal with two issues:
1. Should the Niners draft a WR or CB in the first round? Or, some have suggested the possibility of a safety? And some have even suggested drafting another defensive lineman. So ... what's the best answer?
- Except for the 7th round, drafting A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN THIS YEAR doesn't make any sense. Why? Even though the Niners just tendered RFA Demarcus Dobbs, he will not make the final cut after training camp. Drafting yet another DL would force the Niners to probably also cut Tony Jerod-Eddie, who I think has some promise, unless they were willing to expose the draftee to waivers to get him to the Practice Squad. For even a mid-round draft choice that would be just plain dumb. Take a promising prospect in the 7th round and hope that he doesn't get claimed on the way to the PS.
- Drafting A SAFETY in the first round would only make sense if you could select Calvin Pryor (Louisville). In order to beat Green Bay and Philadelphia to the punch (if he hasn't already been selected), you'd have to trade up to #20 to get him ... way too expensive for a second safety in two years ... especially if Whitner is re-signed. Fortunately, perhaps the best safety prospect for the Niners' needs (Deone Bucannon) will be available in the 2nd round anyway.
- That gets us down to the choice between A WR OR A CB in the first round. Since the class of quality WR prospects is deeper than the CB class, in my opinion IT MAKES THE MOST SENSE TO GET THE CB FIRST. There will be plenty of quality WRs available in the second and third rounds.
2. Should the Niners hold their position at #30, trade UP, or trade DOWN?
I don't think that we can predetermine an answer. I think that Baalke will play it by ear and wait to see how selections unfold. If one or two major targets (Evans, Gilbert, or Dennard) falls to the high teens, I think that he would trade up an get one of them and then adjust his remaining draft strategy. On the other hand, if none falls, I think that he hangs in at #30 or moves up a few picks if that would seem necessary to get the right guy.
POSSIBLE MOCK DRAFT
Here's how I think that the draft could play out, depending upon whether a major target falls or not:
|If CB Justin Gilbert or CB Darqueze Dennard is still available at #19 ...|
|Trade Pick #30 (620) + OG Mike Iupati to Miami|
|Dolphins in exchange for Pick #19 (875)|
|(Thus, Iupati trade value is equivalent to 255|
|trade value points or Pick #3/67).|
|Mock If Gilbert/Dennard IS Available||Mock If Gilbert/Dennard IS NOT Available|
|1 /19||CB JUSTIN GILBERT (Oklahoma St) or|
|CB DARQUEZE DENNARD (Michigan St)|
|1 / 30||Traded to Miami Dolphins||1 / 30||CB JASON VERRETT (TCU) or|
|CB KYLE FULLER (Virginia Tech)|
|Trade Pick #56 (340) + Pick #94 (124) to New||Trade Pick #56 (340) + Pick #94 (124) +|
|York Giants in exchange for Pick #43 (470)||OG Mike Iupati to New York Giants in|
|exchange for Pick #43 (470) + Pick #74 220)|
|(Thus, Iupati trade value is equivalent|
|to 226 points or Pick #3/73)|
|2 / 43||WR JUSTIN MATTHEWS (Vanderbilt)||2 / 43||WR JUSTIN MATTHEWS (Vanderbilt)|
|2 / 56||Traded to New York Giants||Traded to New York Giants|
|2 / 61||SS DEONE BUCANNON (Wash. State)||SS DEONE BUCANNON (Wash. State)|
|3 / 74||OL BILLY TURNER (North Dakota St)|
|3 / 77||WR MARTAVIS BRYANT (Clemson)||WR MARTAVIS BRYANT (Clemson)|
|3 / 94||Traded to New York Giants||Traded to New York Giants|
|If Compensation Pick is a 3rd-Round Pick ...|
|3 / 98||[ C TRAVIS SWANSON (Arkansas) ]||3 / 98||[ C TRAVIS SWANSON (Arkansas) ]|
|See ALTERNATIVE at bottom of mock||See ALTERNATIVE at bottom of mock|
|4 / 125||4 / 125||OLB JORDAN TRIPP (Montana)||4 / 125||OLB JORDAN TRIPP (Montana)|
|If Compensation Pick is a 4th-Round Pick ...|
|4 / 132||[ C BRYAN STORK (Florida State) ]||4 / 132||[ C BRYAN STORK (Florida State) ]|
|5 / 158||5 / 158||TRADE FOR 2015 4TH-ROUND PICK||5 / 158||TRADE FOR 2015 4TH-ROUND PICK|
|6 / 189||KR / PR / WR DRI ARCHER (Kent St)||KR / PR / WR DRI ARCHER (Kent St)|
|7 / 219||CB AARON COLVIN (Oklahoma) NFI||CB AARON COLVIN (Oklahoma) NFI|
|7 / 220||DT JASON BROMLEY (Syracuse) PS||DT JASON BROMLEY (Syracuse) PS|
|7 / 222||S JON DOWLING (W. Kentucky) PS||S JON DOWLING (W. Kentucky) PS|
|UDFA||QB JEFF MATTHEWS (Cornell) PS||QB JEFF MATTHEWS (Cornell) PS|
|UDFA||WR QUINCY ENUNWA (Nebraska) PS||WR QUINCY ENUNWA (Nebraska) PS|
|Trade RB LaMichael James to Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Pick #118 ...|
|4 / 118||RB TERRANCE WEST (Towson)||4 / 118||RB TERRANCE WEST (Towson)|
UNDERSTANDING THE LOGIC BEHIND TRADING MIKE IUPATI
Every time I bring this subject up I get hammered by several of you guys. But that will NOT deter me ... because trading Iupati IS the right thing to do. So ... let me try one more time to explain the logic:
1. Even with the 2014 increase in the salary cap (and additional increases expected in future years), the pure and simple fact is that the Niners "cannot pay everybody" ... within the cap they cannot afford to extend all of the following players: Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Crabtree, Iupati, Miller, Hunter, Culliver, Dorsey, Spillman, etc. etc. THEY MUST PRIORITIZE! How do you do that? Three criteria: (a) relative contribution, (b) cost, and (c) ease of replacement. Think it through and you will conclude, as I have, that Iupati is a liability in pass protection, he is expensive, and he can be replaced with other starting free agent OGs who are better all-around (i.e., equal in run blocking but better in pass protection) and who cost half of what Iupati makes now, and he's about to make a whole lot more.
2. If Iupati has to go, there are two choices: (a) let him play out his present contract through the 2014 season and then let him walk in free agency; or, (b) trade him to another team and get as much for him as you possibly can. Choosing between these two simply means determining how you can get the most for him. If you let him walk after this season, the compensation is, at very best, a late-third-round pick, but very possibly lower, and you can't use it until the 2016 draft. If the Niners can trade him for more than that, then that trade is the right answer.
3. The Niners would need to find a trade partner who has (a) a much higher pick than the Niners in any given round (and that's almost everybody) and (b) a substantial need for a starting OG. If you do some poking around in the first round you quickly conclude that the Miami Dolphins are a target. Why? First, the have Pick #19 in the first round. Better, they are losing FOUR of their starting offensive linemen via free agency and/or the Incognito/Martin fiasco. And, their best lineman, center Mike Pouncey, may have to serve a suspension for his part in the hazing activities. They need almost a WHOLE NEW OL! Thus, I propose to trade Iupati, before or during the 2014 draft in May, plus our first round pick at #30 to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for Pick #19 in the first round. So, what kind of value does that put on Iupati? It's not rocket science ... Pick #19 has a trade value of 875 points, Pick #30 has a trade value of 620 points, a difference of 255 points. 255 points is the value of third pick in the third round (Pick #3 / 67) of the draft; thus, in this proposed trade Iupati would have a trade value of Pick #3/ 67 ... not only much higher than a third-round compensation pick of about #3 / 98 (or possibly worse like #4 / 132), but it would be useable in 2014 rather than 2016 ... think time-value of money here. Conclusion: If Miami would do this trade, it is clearly far better than letting Iupati walk at the end of this season ... IF you can find an equal or better replacement who costs less money.
4. Fortunately, Kansas City has two free agent OGs (Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) who have both been starters, and who both have better 2013 PFF ratings and rankings than Iupati, and both are superior in pass protection to Iupati. Alternatively, the Niners could consider giving Looney or Snyder an opportunity to start and see how they do. However, when making another run at the Super Bowl, I wouldn't even entertain that possibility. Asamoah, Schwartz or even Roger Saffold (St. Louis) should be the choice.
5. My proposed trade, if consummated, would be a good deal for the Niners because they would get more value for Iupati than a compensation pick and they would get it sooner. Further, IF one of the top WRs or CBs is NOT available at #19, they still have greater value than #30 with which to trade back down ... say to maybe #28 where both Verrett and Fuller could be available in addition to picking up another second- or third-round pick. The obvious question is would Miami consider this trade? I believe that the answer is an emphatic "yes", for several reasons:
- As I said before, they are looking for FOUR starting offensive linemen through free agency and/or the draft.
- Compared to another free agent, Iupati would be attractive because Miami could wrap the one remaining year of his rookie contract into an extension, thus lowering the overall per-annum extension cost.
- If you look at the likely prospect selections between #19 and #30 in this year's draft, you conclude that Miami would likely get the same OL at #30 that they would have gotten at #19, PLUS they have acquired another starting OL ... TWO starters, one a previous All-Pro, for one draft pick! What's not for them to like?
Note: While I've used the Miami Dolphins as the example in this explanation, there are several other clubs (like the New York Giants, as pointed out in my alternative mock) who are looking for starting OGs this off-season. Depending upon circumstances, trading Iupati to another club could well be feasible.