Historically, the best teams are those that are able to find success in both the NFL Draft and in free agency. Most NFL general managers will tell you that, in an ideal world, top draft picks are not spent on immediate starters, but on guys that will eventually start.
If a team is drafting a player with the intention of starting him in his rookie season, they were either surprised said player fell to them or there is a big hole on the team. The best result for any team is to have a long-term plan at as many positions as possible. The San Francisco 49ers, however hectic this offseason has been, are going through many transitions that they are either adequately prepared for at least think they are.
Inside linebacker was one of those positions with Chris Borland, but the 49ers got hit with a double dose of awful with that position. Left guard is one of particular note, with Brandon Thomas drafted with a high pick in 2014. San Francisco knew all along that Mike Iupati was going to command a big contract, and they knew all along that Thomas would spend a season on injured reserve.
They're also looking at a transition from Frank Gore to Carlos Hyde, a player the 49ers feel they've seen enough from to trust with a starting role. You can bet that, had they not seen what they wanted out of Hyde in his rookie season, they would have made a bigger push to re-sign Gore. I doubt it would have been difficult.
With this big flurry of free agency out of the way, the 2015 NFL Draft is right around the corner and I'm wondering what positions the 49ers will attempt to address. The 49ers are not in a situation where they can spend a first-round pick on something other than need with big holes at cornerback and inside linebacker, but I imagine San Francisco's second-, third- and fourth-round picks will mean more for the team's future than its first rounder.
So let's take a look at the 49ers' 2016 free agents and which players the 49ers will need to look to replace sooner rather than later.
The one that really sticks out to me personally is tight end Vernon Davis. I don't think the 49ers' tight end of the future is currently on the roster -- sorry Vance McDonald -- and I can't imagine Davis has much left in the tank. I was exploring the possibility of the 49ers using a first-round pick on a tight end just a couple weeks ago, but with the 49ers neglecting to sign either Chris Culliver or Perrish Cox, I feel that takes precedent.
Then there's Anquan Boldin, who will likely be retiring soon. The 49ers signed Torrey Smith this offseason and he can adequately fill the role of a deep threat on the outside, but the 49ers will need another starter sooner rather than later. I'd be interested to see what they go with in that vein. Alex Boone and Ian Williams are also hitting free agency, and while guys like Joe Looney can step up for Boone, I don't see an answer for Williams' defensive tackle spot.
The big one is obviously outside linebacker Aldon Smith. He's going to cost a lot of money and the 49ers will likely want to extend him if he stays out of trouble, but it's still not out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers address the position with a high pick this year.
One position that gets overlooked: kicker. Phil Dawson is 40 years old and I can't imagine him sticking around past next season. The 49ers will need to address the kicker position at some point, though I don't know if getting one this offseason is in their plans.
Which position do you think the 49ers will go after early for the future? Will they plan for Smith's departure, or look for a franchise tight end?