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, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and cornerback Chris Culliver.
Today, we move on to left guard Mike Iupati. NFL.com ranked him as the top free agent offensive lineman, and one of the top ten overall free agents. Iupati missed one full game this season, and then 15 snaps in one game, 12 snaps in another game, and three more in a third game. He has dealt with injuries off and on the last two years, missing four games in 2013.
There is a good chance Iupati will find himself getting a huge offer, but it seems that it will most likely come due to his prodigious run blocking, and not his pass blocking. Iupati is a mountain of a man, but his pass blocking has never matched his ability to bulldoze in the run game.
Why he will return
I really don't see him returning, but there is always a slim chance the two sides will work something out. The only way I see that happening is if he decides he wants to continue the continuity he built with the rest of the line. Furthermore, it would involve the 49ers deciding their commitment to the run in 2015 boosts his value in their eyes. Trent Baalke made it very clear that the ground game will be important in 2015. Maybe that means more money invested in the offensive line.
Why he will depart
The 49ers have some space against the salary cap, but not enough that they can invest too heavily in any one position moving forward. They need to replace impending free agents with young, inexpensive options. I don't know if Brandon Thomas, Joe Looney, Daniel Kilgore or Marcus Martin are that option, but my guess is the 49ers will choose to consider that rather than paying Iupati a sizable amount of money. Even if they believe Looney is useless, Thomas is not going to recover from his ACL tear, and they don't want Martin or Kilgore moving to guard, I think they would be more likely spend a high draft pick on another guard. I do think the 49ers could figure out a way to keep Iupati, but the young possibilities combined with what I expect will be a number of big offers out there, I just don't see it happening.
Odds of returning
I'll go with 5 percent. I do think there is a chance he returns, but it strikes me as very slim. This is not based on any inside knowledge. Instead, I just don't think the money will be there for Iupati with the 49ers. I am all ears as to why you think I'm wrong on this.