This morning I am going to finish up this segment with our very own NFC Western Division. With free agency likely set to begin within the next couple weeks there is going to be a mad scramble for teams to fill holes at certain positions. Not only is this one of the best free agent classes in recent memory, it will have to be completed within 10-14 days instead of the normal few months.
It goes without saying that the NFC West is the weakest division in football. Couple that with the fact that the four teams in the division have great salary cap situations and you will find the list below to be pretty weak. Mediocre to bad teams in a great salary cap situation wont be looking to release valuable players.
That said, there are some players San Francisco may find intriguing. If nothing else, to take some talent away from a rival and fill a position of need.
QB- Derek Anderson: Obviously he didn't have much success with the Arizona Cardinals last season. Probably one of the worse veteran quarterback performances in recent memory. Additionally, he is set to make over 4 million this season. There is no doubt that Anderson will be released when free agency starts.
Now, what teams would show interest? There will be mild interest in Anderson as a backup quarterback around the leagues. Some teams are just in a horrible situation if there starter goes down. Indianapolis and Kansas City come to mind first. However, there are much better backup options out there on the open market.
OT- Levi Brown: This is more a case of a player that had under performed than anything else. The Arizona Cardinals are not happy with Brown's play since he was a 1st round pick a couple seasons ago. He is set to make just over 5 million in 2011 and Arizona could look to cut their losses and upgrade via free agency. If so, expect Brown to get some play on the market because he is still young and has good offensive line skills; it just won't be as a starting tackle.
LB- Gerald Hayes: The "Arizona Republic" states that Hayes is as good as gone once free agency begins. He is set to make over 4 million and has regressed over the last two seasons losing his starting job in 2010. Hayes does have talent, as evidenced by his 2007 breakout season (98 tackles and 4 sacks). He will get some play by teams that run the 3-4 and are looking for depth at ILB. If San Francisco doesn't retain Takeo Spikes, Hayes will be an option.
LB- Joey Porter: His play dropped off dramatically after joining Arizona. At 34 years old, Porter accumulated only 5 sacks and is set to make nearly 6 million this year. Arizona is extremely thin at the pass rushing LB position and would have to find an upgrade in free agency. That said, they do have a lot of money to work with and taking 6 million off the books by releasing Porter would only add to that.
Porter's big paydays are something of the past, he will get a look somewhere but only as a pass rushing specialist on a 1 year contract. San Francisco could be interested if they believe he is an upgrade over Travis LaBoy.
QB- David Carr: It is being reported that Harbaugh wants an open competition for the starting job when free agency beings. However, I doubt very much Carr would be a part of that competition. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported back in June
Carr has a better chance of getting released than starting Week 1
As obvious as that sounds, I think the 49ers will look to upgrade at the backup QB position. It remains to be seen whether CK7 will be the starter or the primary backup to Alex Smith. If so, San Francisco may want some insurance in case the rookie isn't ready to play. Carr is set to make 2.4 million this season, and there are better options out there on the market than him.
FB- Moran Norris: He was just horrible last season, there is not a single reason I can think of to keep Norris on the roster. He is set to make 1.5 million and the 49ers selected Bruce Miller in April; reports suggest he is doing a fine job transitioning to the new position. Even if Miller isn't ready to be the full time fullback, the 49ers have so many more options out there than retaining Norris. In my opinion, he is as good as gone.
WR- Ted Ginn Jr: He did add another presence to the 49ers special teams last season, but was nowhere to be found on offense. Right now, San Francisco do have some nice return man options on the roster. Additionally, the selection of Ronald Johnson means that if the 49ers are looking to add a veteran receiver, they have to release or trade a current receiver. The only realistic option if that is the case would be Ginn. He is set to make 1.5 million this year and is on the roster bubble.
C- Eric Heitmann: I am not 100 percent sure on the rule of releasing injured players, but I have seen it happen in the past. Either way, it is unlikely that Heitmann will see any action for San Francisco in 2011 because of a "career threatening" neck injury. San Francisco needs to either retain David Baas or find a free agent center, and taking 2 million off the books would help that a lot.
CB- Nate Clements: A couple months ago it seemed all but certain that Clements would be released by San Francisco. Now, it looks as if he may take a pay cut to remain with the 49ers, which would be excellent news. Clements, who is set to make over 7 million, is not a #1 corner in the NFL anymore; San Francisco knows this. Therefore, he has two options; take a pay cut and be moved down on the depth chart after the 49ers sign a top tier corner. Or, refuse the new assignment and hit the open market.
K- Joe Nedney: The 38 year old kicker has had injury issues over the last couple of seasons and San Francisco expects to bring in competition during training camp. Fabrizo Scaccia is already on the practice squad and will see a lot of playing time. Additionally, San Francisco could look at an undrafted free agent such as Kai Forbath to compete. Either way, Nedney and his 2 million dollar price tag may not make it to opening day.
G- Stacy Andrews: He has been a major disappointment over the last couple of seasons, first in Philadelphia then in Seattle last season. However, Pete Carroll seems somewhat happy with his below average play. That may all change once the frantic training cap sessions begin. Andrews is known for slacking off and needs to prove himself over the next month or two.
He is set to make over 5 million dollar this season, so there is absolutely no guarantee he will be on the Seahawks opening day roster.
DT- Colin Cole: The Seahawks are going to be well under the cap this off-season, however, they do have some important and high priced players hitting the market. Matt Hasselbeck, Brandon Mebane and Sean Locklear come to mind first. You are looking at Seattle probably having to dole out 22 million in combined salaries for those three players; that extremely limits their flexibility.
This is where Cole comes into play. He is set to make about 4 million in 2011 and Seattle needs to think about retaining the younger Brandon Mebane. Although extremely productive, Cole was injured last season and is turning 32 in 2011. There remains a strong possibility that this solid defensive tackle will be allowed to hit the open market. If so, there will be a nice amount of interest from both 3-4 and 4-3 teams.
LB- Aaron Curry: I know this seams like a little bit of a reach, but it really isn't. Curry has been a major disappointment after going 4th overall in 2009; in just two seasons he has a total of 5.5 sacks. The Seahawks organization is extremely unhappy with his performance thus far. In projecting where certain players are going to lineup, Carroll has indicated that the "project" of using Curry as a pass rusher is no longer on the table. Well, that doesn't bode well for his future in Seattle. Curry is set to make over 10 million dollar this season and his performance doesn't match that level of pay.
Just two years removed from being one of the top players selected Aaron Curry could actually find himself being released. Is it a probability? Most likely not. But, you have to attach the word "bust" by his name, and 10 million is an incredibly high amount of money to pay for a "pass rusher" that has accumulated just 5.5 sacks in 28 career games.
C- Hank Fraley: He is a nice backup option to Jason Brown, but that is about it for the Rams. Fraley is owed over a million this season, and is expendable if need be. Fraley might get a chance to start somewhere because he has been an extremely solid center for the better part of the last decade.
LB- Na'il Diggs: The Rams have multiple young options at linebacker and Diggs was injury prone during the 2010 season. That couple with the fact that he has regressed as a player leads me to believe St. Louis will release him. There will be a market for Diggs to play a backup/mentor role and be a special team performer; that is about it right now.
Analysis: There are not a lot of prominent names on this list. However, there are a few players that could fall under the radar and perform at a high level in 2011. The NFC West was incredibly weak last season and any player that isn't wanted on each teams roster has to have some limitations to their abilities.
That said, I do believe that San Francisco could find use for a couple of the players listed above. Gerald Hayes and Joey Porter, both from the Arizona Cardinals, come to mind first. Each player would take on a bit of a reserve role in San Francisco's 3-4 defense. Hayes would take over in the event that the 49ers do not retain Spikes; he would probably be asked to back up NaVorro Bowman. Joey Porter would be a pass rush specialist filling the role that Travis LaBoy played last season.
The only other name on this list that may intrigue San Francisco is Colin Cole. He played real well for Green Bay in a similar 3-4 defense and would be a cheaper alternative to re-signing Aubrayo Franklin. Additionally, he is more proven than RJF and Soap at the NT position.
Other than that there probably wont be a lot of interest in these players coming from the 49ers front office.