Today, I want to review the current roster by focusing on one metric: Positional Years to Free Agency (PYTFA). Presumably, the number of service years available to the team has an effect on which positions are prioritized as part of their 1-5 year roster-planning strategy. Given the public comments made by the FO tandem of Baalke & Marathe, they are likely to build our roster from selective extensions to existing player, new draftees, UDFA via player development system, and through short-term/inexpensive free agents who were drafted highly by other teams. We are not in the market for big-market FAs or expensive trade pieces.
In this context, my hypothesis is that when a team has an abundance of draft choices to invest, PYTFA can be a useful predictor for both total number & types of positions that will get drafted. It is good to think of PYTFA as one of several elements the organization must balance in order to achieve long-term competitive sustainability.
Scale for Positional Years to Free Agency - In the analysis below, the first number is the likely number of players on the 53-man roster and the second number represents total service time left for the position group. Next, I've listed players with time left on their contracts based on available information. Then, the average indicates level of urgency in adding players for that position. Here is the general scale:
- Average above 2.5 suggests good planning as long as there are clear starters.
- An average between 2-2.5 may be good enough for most positions especially when there are clear-cut starters.
- An average between 1.5-2 indicates a need to add to the position from this draft.
- An average below 1.5 indicates an urgent need.
(Note: I am not going to consider players who are either PS newbies, have future-reserve type contracts and are generally unlikely to be a part of our long-term future. In some cases, we might get a surprise player from this group, but it is too difficult to predict).
Let's begin with Offense:
QB (3) - 3 years (Kap 1 + Gabbert 1 + MBT 1) Average of 1 year and missing a reliable back-up.
Kap will likely sign an extension, and we will need to draft at least 1 QB who can groomed as a long-term backup. We should strongly consider getting a QB. Draft Pick either late on day 2 or early on day 3.
RB/FB (6) - 14 years (Gore 1 + Hunter 1 + LMJ 2 + Lattimore 4 + Hampton 2 + Miller 4) Average of 2.3 years (2 w/o Miller)
Beyond 2014, the futures of Gore (FA), Hunter (FA) & LMJ are uncertain. As of right now, Lattimore & Hampton are unproven and thus their combined 6 years of service time is not a sure-thing. It is extremely prudent for 49ers to invest a day-3 pick on a RB who can be a better fit for our long-term offense with Kap. Draft Pick on day 3.
TE (3) - 9 years (VD 2 + Vance 3 + Celek 1 + Carrier 2) Average of 2.25.
It seems that our top-2 TEs are settled and we have at least 2 contenders for the 3rd spot. But Carrier is mostly unproven and if he falters, then Celek gets the job handed without too much real competition. That is not how Harbaalke operates. So, a late day 3 draft pick makes sense as Training Camp competition and possible PS candidate. Draft Pick on day 3.
WRs (5-6) - 8 years (Crabtree 1 + Boldin 2 + Patton 3 + Baldwin 1 + Osgood 1 + some future-reserve guys) Average of 1.6 years with significant questions about the future.
Even if we extend Crabtree, we need to find at least one other WR who has a different skill-set than the current group. It seems to me that we will get at least 1 WR within the first 3 rounds, and possible one more in 7th round & UDFA. May be 2 Draft Picks one each on day 1-2 and on day 3.
OLine (8) - 27 years (Staley 4 + Boone 2 + Kilgore 4 + Iupati 1 + A Davis 6 + Martin 2 + Looney 2 + Snyder 1 + Seymour 2 + Bykowski 3 + some PS guys) Average of 3 years with multiple high-level, under-30 starters in key spots.
Right now, we are great shape with our OLine, but it is a good idea to plan for future IOL at C/G position. This is the perfect spot to add an NFI like Brandon Thomas who can replace either Iupati next year, or Boone the year after. Between Kilgore, Seymour and Looney/Snyder, our C position is set for now. In the worst case, Harbaalke can bring Goodwin back in July. Goodwin's status as a FA may slightly incentivize Harbaalke to ignore the C position in 2014 draft. Draft Pick likely late on day 2 or on day 3.
Punter (1) - We are fine with Lee until 2018.
Kicker (1) - We are basically year-to-year with Dawson. With Colton Schmidt around, no one expects us to use a draft pick on a Kicker until next year at the earliest. We might bring another UDFA to camp to compete with Schmidt.
LS - We are fine with McDermott until at least 2016.
KR/PR (1) - With uncertainty surrounding LMJ, we need to bring in at least 1 guy to compete against LMJ this year and possibly replace him next year. Like last year, I am predicting we spend a draft pick on a guy who can be a primary PR/KR of the future and likely double as a WR or CB. Draft Pick.
DLine - I am going to try and separate DLine into 2 groups. This isn't exact, but approximate...
DE/DT (4-5) - 10 years (Justin 1-2 + RayMac 2 + TJE 2 + Dobbs 1 + Tank 3) Average of 2 which goes down to 1.8 if Justin retires after this year.
Given the uncertainty of how long Justin would play, plus the 1-year contract status for Dobbs and the unknown impact of Tank, it makes sense to add a draft pick to this group. For me, it does not make sense for us to add another marginal player who would compete to be the 5th or 6th best DE/DT and thus be on the bubble. Instead, we should aim for a guy who can make an early impact and could develop into a future starter. if Harbaalke strongly feels that the current group is good enough to win a championship in 2014, then an NFI guy like Easley is a candidate. Draft Pick on day 1 or day 2.
NT/DT (2-3) - 6 years (Dorsey 1 + Ian 2 + Dial 3 + Purcell on PS) Average of 2 years but we are fine for 2014.
Given that our NT is only on the field for less than 40% of snaps, we seem to be fine at this position for now. However, Dorsey will likely be a FA next year, and Ian is still unproven at best. No draft pick, but may be another UDFA to compete with Dial & Purcell for a 2015 role.
ILB (3-4) - 12 years (Willis 3 + Bowman 5 + Wilhoite 1 + Moody 3) Average of 3 years with elite starters.
Obviously, 52 & 53 are the best, but the back-up situation behind them can become shaky if there is another injury beyond Bowman. Wilhoite is a good back-up, but he is likely going to be around for 2 years max. Moody is a ST guy who could use some competition. Bowman is recovering from a serious injury, and Willis is approaching age-30 and also nicked up here & there. We can def use a draft pick who will compete with the back-ups and be a possible starter if either Willis or Wilhoite get hurt and/or if Bowman doesn't recover as quickly as expected. Draft Pick late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
OLB (4) - 10 years (Aldon 1-2 + Brooks 4 + Skuta 1 + Lemonier 3) Average of 2.5 years but major uncertainty at the top
If everything was fine with Aldon, then we would be set at this position. But it isn't so. One additional new mistake by Aldon could make the situation turn quickly. So, we would be smart to plan ahead and obtain one more pass rusher. In this case, the best way to make the numbers work is draft a hybrid pass-rusher who can line up at either OLB or at DE. The question is: is anyone like that available in this draft? My guess is we will draft at least one pass rusher and it could be an OLB or it could be a DE. Draft Pick on day 1 or day 2.
S (4-5) - 12 years (Reid 3-4 + Bethea 4 + Dahl 2 + Spillman 1 + Ventrone 1) Average of 2.4 years but no true back-up (Average drops to 2 if Bethea is let go after 2 years).
We seem to be set at starters, but the back-up situation is not as strong. Even with starters, Reid needs to overcome his concussion-prone style and then stay that way, while Bethea is a solid but unspectacular player. If either go down due to injury, none of the back-ups inspire any confidence which means that we need a better plan B.
So, it makes a lot of sense to draft a Safety who could be a back-up & ST player right away, and could start as early as 2015 or as late as 2017. This means that we can't spend a premium pick on a guy, but also not a late-rounder. Barring injuries, this guy would likely displace either Dahl or Ventrone for the final Safety spot. Also, with Michael Thomas gone, we might add another S in UDFA. Draft Pick either late on day 2 or early on day 3.
CB (5-6) - 10 years (Brock 4 + Culliver 1 + Cox 1 + Wright 1 + Cook 1 + Morris 2) Average of 1.6 years and major question marks with as many as 4 FAs in 2015!
Assuming we keep as many as 6 CBs on the 53, we need to add to this group. Virtually everyone on NN agrees that this is our first or second biggest need for both short & long term. Question is: do we draft 1 or 2 CBs? I am in the camp who does not put any trust in the combustible four-some of Culliver, Cox, Cook & Wright. So, we need at least 1 starter-quality CB and another developmental or NFI-redshirt guy who can compete for a larger role in 2015. 2 Draft Picks. One CB on day 1 or day 2, and another CB on day 3 + an UDFA.
Overall, here is the list for possible draft picks numbering as high as 12 total:
Offense: Back-up QB, Back-up RB, 3rd TE, Starting caliber WR, and IOL as possible future starter.
ST: KR/PR who can compete and potentially win a job over LMJ
Defense: A 3-4 DE/DT, an UDFA NT/DT, promising back-up ILB, a hybrid pass-rusher at OLB/DE, back-up S, and 2 CBs: starter & future role player.
You'll notice that this analysis calls for a draft pick at virtually every position group which seems fairly obvious to most observers. So in the next post, I will prioritize the needs based on PYTFA, look at how our current draft & salary cap resources are already allocated, and then start making predictions about what Harbaalke will do in 2 weeks.
I'll stop here for now and get your thoughts before moving forward.