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49ers free agents 2015: Predictions for Chris Culliver

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The San Francisco 49ers have 15 unrestricted free agents this season. We're taking a look and predicting what will happen with each of them. Today is cornerback Chris Culliver.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have 15 players hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason, including some big, big names. They weren't successful overall last season, but there were flashes of strong play and they weren't that far removed from making the playoffs at the end of the day. They've got a talented team, and losing all 15 of those guys would be disastrous.

There's 15 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and two exclusive rights free agents. We're going to go over each of the unrestricted free agents prior to the new league year getting underway in March. Thus far, we've taken a look at cornerback Perrish Cox and backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Today, we're going to look at another cornerback: Chris Culliver. He's had an interesting career as a 49er thus far, but it's been largely limited due to injuries. Culliver is a hard player to gauge due to said injuries, but when he's on the field he's generally successful. He's fairly consistent, though when he starts to get beat, I've noticed he has trouble recovering.

But this past season, I thought Culliver was pretty solid. Like Fooch, I think Culliver had an overall better season than Cox did, though Cox is the guy we hear about when it comes to talk of a potential pay raise. That's because Cox made some bigger and better plays later in the season, while Culliver was solid throughout. I actually thought Cox had some great games in the second half of the season, despite low grades from sites like Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that's going to translate to when it comes to a potential contract on the open market.

Why he will return

If Cox winds up getting a bigger deal than the 49ers are willing to give him, then Culliver becomes quite a bit more valuable for San Francisco. The 49ers drafted him, they gave him an opportunity and he'll likely be in line to start again next season, given the way the cornerback depth chart is looking. That in itself might be enough of a reason for him to return. There's also the chance that he wants to sign a short-term deal to try and put together a strong enough season to earn a big payday in 2016.

Why he will depart

Culliver is young, and he's shown flashes of top-flight play. Cornerbacks are a premium position in the NFL, and a player like Culliver could draw a lot of attention on the open market. I could easily see a team rolling the dice and offering him a long-term contract that the 49ers are unwilling to match. I doubt San Francisco would give him anything more than a three-year deal, and even if they went that long, it'd have to be at a reduced rate. In this market, Culliver could certainly get better action elsewhere.

Odds of returning

I'm going to actually be pessimistic on this one (shocker) and say he's got about a 25 percent chance of returning to the 49ers. The more I think about it, the more I think that the 49ers really like cornerback Dontae Johnson, and Tramaine Brock will get another opportunity. I also think, like Fooch, that Cox has a solid chance of returning and the 49ers may fight to bring him back with a significant pay raise, making him start opposite Brock.

There's easily a scenario in which Culliver returns to the 49ers, but I think the situations in which he sees greener pastures elsewhere are more numerous and likely. It would be just a little bit surprising if Culliver was a 49er next season.