The NFL and NFLPA* seem closer and closer to a potential collective bargaining agreement, which would mean finally getting to free agency, trades and training camp. One of the details in the latest CBA proposal would set free agent service time back to pre-2010 levels. In the uncapped year, players had to accrue six years of service time to become unrestricted free agents. Under this latest proposal, the requirement would be back to four years.
While the entire CBA impacts the 49ers in a variety of ways, this UFA requirement has the most immediate effect. Under this requirement, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson, and Ray McDonald would all be unrestricted free agents when free agency begins. The 49ers tendered them back in March but those tenders will not mean anything if this proposal comes to pass.
If this proposal ends up in the new CBA, Lawson, Goldson, and McDonald would join Aubrayo Franklin, David Baas, Alex Smith, Takeo Spikes, and Demetric Evans as some of the more significant unrestricted free agents on the 49ers roster.
Now that we seem to be getting a little bit more clarity on things, the question becomes how do you prioritize all these unrestricted free agents? Even if you were to assume Alex Smith and Takeo Spikes are likely to return, several of the names on that list will be looking for a nice little pay day.
For the sake of argument, let's assume Alex Smith and Takeo Spikes return in 2011. Although anything can happen with unrestricted free agents, neither will require a huge expenditure of assets so stay or go, I won't consider them for a ranking of priority. For now, here's how I rank the five most prominent UFAs from highest priority to "lowest." I put "lowest" in quotation marks because I don't think any of these guys is a "low priority" but they're definitely not as high as some of the others.
1. David Baas
2. Dashon Goldson
3. Aubrayo Franklin
4. Ray McDonald
5. Manny Lawson
I went with Baas at the top because of the question mark surrounding Eric Heitmann's health and the overall lack of depth beyond those two at the center position. The team could try and convert Adam Snyder to center like they did with Baas, but otherwise their only options would be rookies or other free agents they might bring in.
I have Goldson up high as well for a couple reasons. The first is I think he can bounce back from last year. Goldson regressed from his 2009 season and while he might not reach the 2009 level again, I do think he's got the talent to perform much better than he did in 2010. The second reason is the general inexperience with many of the other safeties. The 49ers could make do without Goldson, but I think he's worth bringing back in the Fangio defense. One drawback will be the potential for a big pay day and I could see another team overpaying for Goldson.
I've got Lawson at the bottom because if the team has confidence in Aldon Smith as a long term OLB option, that moves Lawson to the bottom of the priority scale. There are questions as to whether Lawson is overrated or underrated in San Francisco, but he's another guy that I think will get a nice pay day that is beyond what the 49ers would like to pay.
How would you rank the five big likely unrestricted free agents in terms of priority for signing?