Posted: 9:06 a.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013
By Steve Busichio
Day two of free agency has wrapped up and, outside of the Anquan Boldin trade that preceded the free agency period, things are going as expected for the San Francisco 49ers up to this point in the offseason.
Sure, there's a changing of the guard with some pretty notable names; but the Niners front office has expected (and planned for) just about every single contingency thus far. After all, compiling 14 picks in the 2013 Draft wasn't just some blind-eyed lark.
Alex Smith was officially announced as the new starting quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs on Wednesday.
Everyone knew Dashon Goldson was hitting the road and he found his payday in central Florida, inking a five-year deal with the Buccaneers. Isaac Sopoaga is officially an Eagle, for three years/$12 million, and Delanie Walker gets his shot as a starter in Nashville, signing on with the Titans for four years/$7.5 million, with over $8.6 guaranteed.
And while all of these moves have been anticipated as near certainty, every player has been a lifelong 49er, brought up through the system from draft to departure. It's a sign of the times though and, above all else, a positive symptom of the gradual, ever-intriguing plan this 49ers front office is implementing.
All of the aforementioned players are varying degrees of "talented", how much so being purely subjective. But Harbaugh, Baalke, and Marathe appear to be in lockstep when it comes to decision-making and determining player value; and they don't budge. Retaining those players would be in stark contrast to their philosophy of sustainability. The money they received on the open market would simply not have been feasible for the 49ers, especially in the case of Walker who, despite his versatility, was still the second string tight end on the team.
So how have the 49ers gone about filling in the gaps left behind so far? How will they plug additional holes in the roster?
Quarterback: This is one that will bear watching. There have yet to be any rumblings about how the 49ers are going to replace Alex Smith. Scott Tolzien enters his second year with the team and may very well earn the second string spot, but that will still leave third string empty. Depending on what slot Tolzien falls into will dictate the Niners move. If they don't feel comfortable with him at 2nd string, they'll likely look to bring in a veteran such as Josh Johnson. If they do envision Tolzien as the backup to Kaepernick, the Niners may have more of an option to pickup a quarterback in the draft.
Tight End: The Niners remain in the hunt for a tight end, but the trade for Anquan Boldin partially fills the void left behind by Delanie Walker. In Boldin, the Niners gain a physical blocker and better receiver than Walker. Lining Boldin up in different positions on designed runs allows for the ability to spring Kaepernick, Gore, James etc. downfield for big gains. But at the end of the day, Boldin is a wide receiver, not a tight end; and there's zero possibility that he lines up at all the positions Walker did and plays special teams.
So, the Niners will have to take a close look at their options. Many are calling for Stanford prospect, Zach Ertz - the nation's leader in receiving yards for a tight end, and a former student of Jim Harbaugh. With the Niners showing little interest in this year's free agency crop, Ertz, as well as other tight ends in this year's draft class, appear to be likelier targets.
Nose Tackle/Defensive Line: Former starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is in Philly, and the versatile Ricky Jean-Francois is still fielding offers. That leaves the 49ers with some serious question marks on the defensive line. Niners brass immediately took to this matter by extending Ian Williams, and signing Glenn Dorsey away from Kansas City. Ian Williams was quoted as saying that he's "ready for the workload they're about to put on (his) back".
In reading the tea leaves there, I'd say they're giving Williams a chance to compete for the starting role. Dorsey seems to be heading down one of two paths, he'll either bulk up and compete for the starting nose tackle position as well. Or he'll fill the role of Francois in being a versatile, backup across the defensive line. Remember, Dorsey was a top-ten draft pick five years ago, making this signing very reminiscent of the Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers acquisitions a couple years ago.
The Niners continue in their pursuit of affordable free agents whom they feel they can coach up. Like Rogers in Washington and Whitner in Buffalo, Dorsey's issues can at least partially be contributed to a poor environment and supporting cast in Kansas City. So the 49ers swoop in and offer a 2-year, incentive-laden contract. Now, Baalke and Harbaugh look to a fresh start in San Francisco, and the tutelage of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula as the keystones of Dorsey's potential emergence; at a bargain price.
Free Safety: The 49ers have been planning for Goldson's departure for at least the past year now. They brought Charles Woodson in on Wednesday, and have scheduled a visit with Lions free agent safety Louis Delmas. Meanwhile, the 49ers still have the option of potentially sliding Carlos Rogers or Chris Culliver to free safety and utilizing the draft for depth at cornerback. As is the Niners M.O., they will see what kind of prices the likes of Delmas and Woodson are bearing on the market and how they line up with their assessments. Something tells me Woodson isn't happening unless it's really, really cheap. I can't see the Niners wanting to get older and slower in the secondary, especially playing in a division against Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, etc.
Yes, there's still much business to be conducted inside the walls of 4949 Centennial but so far, all is as you'd expect and want from the decision makers. The 49ers continue to address the here-and-now, but with the future firmly factored into every decision. I'm sure the 49ers would have loved to keep every player that's left so far (with the exception of David Akers and Randy Moss) but with future contracts needed for players like Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis and Colin Kaepernick; there was just no way to accommodate everyone. That's business and life in the NFL. Plus, it's not as if the 49ers have slighted any of these players in the process. Each one steps into a starting role and great money in their respective new homes - so all sides are happy.
As the next few days pass, you'll see more of the same. Ricky Jean-Francois will likely find his payday outside of the Bay Area and the 49ers will continue to entertain free agents where they have need; but only at the right price will you see signatures on the dotted line. You see, "more of the same" in the era of Baalke and Harbaugh is a good thing.