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49ers Contract Extensions: Patrick Willis...Vernon Davis...Who's Next?

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The 49ers kick off their 2010 regular season in a few years hours and the excitement level is certainly reaching a fevered pitch. We'll obviously plenty to discuss about the game, but I thought I'd open the day with a little more discussion related to yesterday's big news of TE Vernon Davis signing a five year contract extension.

This offseason has seen two key contract extensions, one for Patrick Willis and one now for Vernon Davis. The team has expended big money, but most would agree that locking up core players is essential. Vernon Davis has plenty to prove in terms of general consistency and not making stupid plays on a weekly basis. However, we all know how talented he is and any gamble in the contract is worth the upside he has shown he can bring over the course of a season.

The Davis and Willis extensions were the two primary contract moves most people expected to be done at some point this offseason. Of course, there are still several players potentially worthy of a new contract. Who will be that next person? After the jump we break down some of the potential players that might receive a new contract in the near future.

Also, check out the conference call involving Coach Singletary and Vernon Davis HERE.

I've included a poll that looks at some of the key free agents following the 2010 season. There are other players potentially worthy of contract extensions, but this appear to me to be the more prominent players due for contracts. I thought I'd take a look at each of them and some of the reasons for and against signing each of them to an extension.

Dashon Goldson
He is far and away the most discussed 49er when it comes to a contract extension. He had a very impressive season in 2009, in what was his first full season as a starting free safety. He's a big-hitting ball hawk who makes game-changing plays, and was second only to Patrick Willis for total tackles. Not too shabby. He switched agents and is now represented by Drew Rosenhaus. While some may find this ominous, Rosenhaus has worked well with the 49ers, most notably in the extension Frank Gore received a few years back.

He is probably the odds on favorite for a new contract in most folks eyes. The question is whether he can provide 2009 production on a consistent basis. He still has plenty to learn about the role of a free safety, but he's obviously making progress. Some might compare him to Vernon Davis who also signed an extension following one big season. I'd argue that Davis was a slightly safer option to extend at this point because he had flashed a lot of different skills throughout the first four seasons of his career. He managed 52 receptions for a bad 2007 49ers squad, and then 2008 saw him flash his blocking prowess. He wasn't putting up stud receiving numbers until last season, but I think the talent has always been evident in some form or fashion.

If the 49ers do get a deal done with Goldson, I'd be surprised if it happened before the midway point of the season. I really think the team wants to see how Goldson performs to start the season. Of course, there's always the potential use of the franchise tag as well now that Davis is locked up.

Alex Smith
We've discussed Alex Smith over and over again. We know this is the year he has to prove himself. Rather than dredge up the same comments, I think the one area worth discussing is whether Alex Smith could do enough to get an extension before season's end (assuming he even wants to do an extension before the end of the season). Does the team just wait until the offseason however Smith performs? If he has a strong campaign where he's more than a game manager but less than a Pro Bowler, what kind of contract would he even merit considering what some of the big time QBs in the league are getting?

Manny Lawson
Of all the players, Manny seems to be the guy the 49ers are most likely to let walk. He is handling himself with complete professionalism so any comments either way have not appeared in the press. Lawson led the 49ers in sacks last season and is a solid option in pass coverage. The last time the 49ers had a player like this, Julian Peterson, he ended up walking because the two sides couldn't come to terms on a contract.

At this point, the 49ers would probably be perfectly content moving Ahmad Brooks into Lawson's slot and taking their chances letting Lawson walk. You take a loss in pass coverage, but you get a better pure pass rusher. Lawson is no slouch in rushing the QB, but Brooks seems built for the pass rush from top to bottom. Once he gets healthy, the 49ers will be hoping to see a second straight year of solid production before making a final decision.

Aubrayo Franklin
One of the keys to the 49ers defense taking a step forward in 2009 was the fact that Aubrayo Franklin was an absolute beast at the nose tackle position. The 3-4 nose tackle has a primary responsibility of occupying the interior offensive linemen, at least the center, but preferably also one of the guards, thus opening holes for the inside linebackers, and possibly a blitzing safety. The secondary task of the nose tackle is to then gain penetration of his own into the backfield to make plays. At times last year Aubrayo Franklin was as good as anybody at that task. It seemed like every game we saw Franklin deep in the opposing backfield wrapping up a running back for a loss.

This monster season (which followed a strong 2008 season) led to the 49ers slapping the franchise tag on Franklin to keep him around for one more year. The 49ers realized a somewhat unexpected benefit from that move as second year defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to get just about every possible snap at nose tackle in the offseason. While he has plenty to learn about being an NFL nose tackle, he took a monster step forward thanks to Aubrayo Franklin's decision to wait in signing his franchise tender.

In yesterday's Davis thread some folks mentioned Franklin as the guy the team should next sign to an extension. I certainly don't know if RJF is ready for the team to hand over the nose tackle position on a full time basis. He showed improvement in offseason practices and then showed that improvement on the field in preseason action. Is that enough of a reason to let Franklin walk? I have a feeling the team will have to use their franchise tag on somebody else (we'll forget about the labor issues for a minute and assume the franchise tag sticks around), which means they'd have to make a final decision with Franklin.

So really any decision to extend Franklin has to factor in a decision on whether RJF is in a position to step in a full-time basis.

Ray McDonald
McDonald is a guy who is in a situation that is rather hard to assess. He's been utilized primarily as a situational pass rushing type of player, in part because the team has obviously been satisfied with Justin Smith, but also has seemed content to let Isaac Sopoaga do his thing. McDonald has been an impact player on the field managing sacks and blocked field goals. However, he hasn't received enough playing time to really raise his profile all that high.

Given some of the contract extensions of the last few years, McDonald seems like the type of guy who would get a two or three year contract extension almost out of the blue. If you're McDonald though, do you take your efforts and see if you can land a deal where you have a better chance of being a starter? I'm really not sure what his best play is at this point in his career.

Travis LaBoy
LaBoy hasn't even played his first game as a 49er, so I'd imagine any talk of a contract extension will be among the fans at most. More than anything, LaBoy has to prove he can stay healthy. The natural pass rushing talent was quite evident in the preseason. I'm fairly confident he can be an impact player as part of the OLB rotation. The question is if he can stay healthy. I'd imagine both he and the team would prefer to wait until the offseason to get any new deal done. A full season would give LaBoy more bargaining leverage, while the 49ers would be able to see if he stayed healthy.

The 49ers have plenty of contract issues to deal with over the next couple of seasons. Some of the "others" that might be considered include Frank Gore who is a free agent following the 2011 season. I'd imagine the team will take their time with that kind of deal. Gore gets banged up a lot but he continues to be a workhorse, so I could see the team eventually extending his contract.

The 49ers will see David Baas enter free agency after this season. He's stepped into Eric Heitmann's shoes and has performed well in the preseason. If he puts together a strong performance before Heitmann returns, I'd imagine he could parlay that into a nice sized deal with another team. It'd be nice to have him around for depth, but I don't think the team will pay a whole ton of money to keep around a backup.

Whatever the case, at least we have some real football to finally enjoysome football!