San Francisco drafted Aldon Smith in April's draft in order to add to a pass rushing unit that hasn't been all too great. Many people believed that Smith's acquisition signaled the end to Manny Lawson's career with the 49ers. I don't see it that way, the two can complement one another greatly.
Rather, the 49ers now have one of the deepest, all be it, not most talented, outside linebacker groups in the NFL, if they re-sign Lawson. Does this mean San Francisco will not look to acquire another pass rusher via free agency? No. But, it probably means that they will be looking at a 3-4 end rather than an OLB. That said, San Francisco could decide to let Lawson walk and pair Smith with a true 3-4 OLB.
As it is, I am going to take a look at the incoming group of free agent outside linebackers.
Free Agents Under Any System
Keith Bulluck New York Giants
2010 Stats: 31 Tackles, 10 Solo, 2 INT, 6 Passes Defended
Thomas Davis Carolina Panthers
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
LeRoy Hill Seattle Seahawks
2010 Stats: 1 Game
Travis LaBoy San Francisco 49ers
2010 Stats: 21 Tackles, 14 Solo, 5 Sacks
Ben Leber Minnesota Vikings
2010 Stats: 35 Tackles, 25 Solo, 1 INT
Matt Roth Cleveland Browns
2010 Stats: 59 Tackles, 32 Solo, 3.5 Sacks, 2 Passes Defended
David Thornton Tennessee Titans
2010 Stats: 45 Tackles, 32 Solo, 1 Sack, 1 Forced Fumble
Mike Vrabel Kansas City Chiefs
2010 Stats: 30 Tackles, 12 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 INT
Analysis: It is highly unlikely that the 49ers would make a move for any of these players listed above, with the possible exception of retaining Travis Laboy. Listen, most of these players are OLBs in a 4-3 system, not the 3-4 scheme San Francisco practices. In fact, this is pretty much the case with every player listed as free agent OLBs in this article.
That said, it is possible the 49ers take a flyer on the likes of LeRoy Hill or Matt Roth at near the veteran minimum instead of bringing back Travis LaBoy. But, in terms of production it makes more sense to bring LaBoy back.
Franchised: Teams that sign a franchised player would be required to give up two 1st round picks as compensation. It has been noted, but not confirmed, that Tamba Hali had already signed his franchise tender; which means, he is no longer a free agent.
LaMarr Woodley Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 Stats: 50 Tackles, 35 Solo, 10 Sacks, 1 INT, 3 Forced Fumbles
Chad Greenway Minnesota Vikings
2010 Stats: 144 Tackles, 1 Sack, 1 Forced Fumble
Kamerion Wimbley Oakland Raiders
2010 Stats: 58 Tackles, 46 Solo, 9 Sacks
Analysis: This is where it gets interesting. There is a possibility that the franchise tag will be eliminated under a new collective bargaining agreement, however, I really doubt that will happen. I know many of us would love for Woodley to come in and play opposite Aldon Smith, but that isn't going to happen. There is no way San Francisco gives up two 1st round picks for any player.
I am extremely surprised that the Raiders franchised Wimbley. He had one breakout season in 2010, but hasn't done a great deal beyond that. If Wimbley was an unrestricted free agent I could imagine the 49ers going after him.
Possible Free Agents Under New 2011 Free Agent Rules: Each player will have accrued enough NFL experience to hit the open market if a new CBA is agreed to. I will indicate tender offers as they relate to each player below. Tender offers mean that their current team offered some sort of restricted free agent tender. This tender means that the team signing each player would have to give up what was tendered.
Manny Lawson San Francisco 49ers
2010 Stats: 59 Tackles, 48 Solo, 2.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 2 Forced Fumbles
Contract Situation: Tendered unknown round by San Francisco. Matt Maiocco reported on May 25th that Lawson is as good as gone if his free agency isn't restricted.
Rocky McIntosh Washington Redskins
2010 Stats: 110 Tackles, 73 Solo, 2 Sacks, 1 Force Fumble
Contract Situation: According to the Washington Post McIntosh is expected to walk via free agency. He will be an unrestricted free agent if a new CBA is signed. Washington did not tender McIntosh a contract. So, even though he will be a restricted free agent there will be no compensation if he signs elsewhere.
James Anderson Carolina Panthers
2010 Stats: 130 Tackles, 101 Solo, 3.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 1 Forced Fumble
Contract Situation: Given 2nd round tender by Carolina. If a new CBA is signed Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent, if not he will be restricted.
Stephen Nicholas Atlanta Falcons
2010 Stats: 78 Tackles, 64 Solo, 1 INT
Contract Situation: Will be a restricted free agent no matter what. Atlanta offered an original round tender.
Quincy Black Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2010 Stats: 61 Tackles, 54 Solo, 2 Sacks, 1 INT, 1 Forced Fumble
Contract Situation: Was tendered a contract, but specifics remain in question. Will be a restricted free agent under any system.
Justin Durant Jacksonville Jaguars
2010 Stats: 55 Tackles, 47 Solo
Contract Situation: Not tendered a contract. Will be a restricted free agent if a new CBA isn't agreed to, unrestricted if one is agreed to.
Thomas Howard Oakland Raiders
2010 Stats: 9 Tackles, 7 Solo, 1 Forced Fumble
Contract Situation: Restricted free agent if no CBA is agreed to, unrestricted if one is agreed to. Oakland did not tender him a contract.
Analysis: Once again, you have to look at the available players. Obviously, there are some intriguing names here, however, not many of them fit into what the 49ers are attempting to build on defense. The best all-around LB of this group is Manny Lawson, who may or may not return to San Francisco. Other than that, you are looking at marginal 3-4 OLB and solid 4-3 weakside LBs.
Overview: If you are looking for the 49ers to acquire a pass rusher via free agency your best bet would be to look at my defensive end article coming up in a few days. Running a 3-4 scheme means that San Francisco would be looking for 4-3 defensive ends, rather than 4-3 OLBs.
The players listed above do not fit what the 49ers are attempting to build on defense. We need to look at a solid defensive end in free agency, someone that could replace Demetric Evans and/or Ray McDonald.