49ers face key decisions in free agency

This is my Sunday column.

Is it too early to predict which free agents the 49ers will re-sign this offseason?

The 49ers still haven’t announced the hiring of Eric Mangini as the defensive coordinator or Geep Chryst as the offensive coordinator, and we still don’t know what schemes they plan on using. On defense will they use a Tampa-2 scheme or a single-high safety scheme, a three-man defensive front or a four-man front, a pressure defense or a bend-but-don’t-break defense? On offense will they use a one-back running game or a two-back running game or the read-option?

Yes, it is too early to make a prediction.

So, let’s predict away. What’s the fun in waiting?

The 49ers have six key free agents – Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree, Blaine Gabbert, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. How many of them will Trent Baalke re-sign?

Gore is the best of the six free agents even though he turns 32 in May. Gore is one of the few 49ers players who had a pulse on offense last season. And, Gore is a goner, most likely.

From everything Baalke and Jed York have said this offseason, it seems they want to feature Colin Kaepernick and the read-option more than Jim Harbaugh did the past two seasons. The read-option is not Gore’s strength – he’s much more productive running from an I-formation when the quarterback is under center. That’s what he’s been doing his whole life, and that’s a big reason Harbaugh dialed back the read option in the first place.

Carlos Hyde ran the read-option almost exclusively at Ohio State. Urban Meyer’s offense rarely puts his quarterback under center. The read-option is Hyde’s entire background, his strength.

I predict Hyde will be the 49ers’ starting running back next season, and Gore will start for a team that uses a traditional running game, like the Colts.

Same goes for Iupati. Someone will want him, just not the Niners. Iupati can push back the defender in front of him, but he’s had so many lower body injuries in his career he can’t pull on runs or move effectively anymore. Read-option plays tend to feature zone blocking, which requires nimble offensive linemen, not oversized behemoths.

Iupati no longer is suited to play left guard, the position he has played his whole career. Left guard is the primary puller and the most important run blocker. Whichever team signs Iupati will want him to play right guard, a less important position. The Niners already have a right guard – Alex Boone.

Goodbye, Iupati, and goodbye, Gore.

What about Crabtree? Must we say goodbye to him as well?

Yes. Crabtree lost his explosiveness when he tore his Achilles’ tendon in 2013. He’s washed up now. This past season, he looked like he was running under water.

Some team will talk itself into believing the 49ers used Crabtree incorrectly and he still can play. Some team will talk itself into signing him. That team will make a dreadful mistake. Too bad for them.

On the other hand, no team will make the Gabbert Mistake again. The 49ers made the Gabbert Mistake last season when they traded for him, hoping they could turn him into a decent backup.

The Niners learned what the rest of the world already figured out – Gabbert is not a starter or a backup, he is a waste of a franchise’s time and resources. He is not developable. The 49ers will draft a quarterback they can develop.

I predict the 49ers will re-sign none of their key free agents on offense.

What about on defense? The Niners have two notable defensive free agents, Cox and Culliver, the starting cornerbacks.

Cox played left corner last season after Tramaine Brock got injured. Cox was decent, but the 49ers prefer Brock – they’re paying him starter’s money through 2017. So, Cox is out.

Culliver is the one guy who might not be out.

Last season was Culliver’s best. Opposing quarterbacks threw at him 73 times and completed just 37 passes.

But, Culliver’s best performances came against ordinary receivers – Riley Cooper and Rueben Randle, for example. Whenever Culliver covered the best receiver in the NFC West, Michael Floyd, Floyd ate Culliver’s lunch. The Cardinals drafted Floyd in 2012. Since then, Culliver has given up a 117 passer rating to Cardinals’ quarterbacks when they target Floyd.

I predict Baalke will replace Culliver with someone who can hold his own against the best receiver in the division – call me crazy.

I predict Baalke will re-sign none of the Niners’ six key free agents.

The rebuilding process, which Baalke incorrectly named a reloading process, starts now.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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    1. My thoughts exactly. One might be as high as a 3rd rounder. Maybe two 4th rounders… as long as Baalke goes easy on signing new FAs (he usually does).

      Baalke likes to trade late picks for in-fill talent not acquired by draft. What he loses in junky 6th-7th round picks, he gains because players signed though trade/release don’t subtract from the compensatory formula.

      Why risk dropping a 3rd rounder down to a 4th if you can trade a 7th for a player?

  1. I think they will try to re-sign Culliver, but he may get too good an offer elsewhere to keep him. I agree on the rest.

    1. pretty spot on. i wouldn’t be surprised if we held onto Gore though, maybe to give us fans SOMETHING . he might want to go out with a team ( colts) that gives him a shot to win a ring though…..if our FO is interested in bringing him back and he bails….that will say a lot about what he thinks of the FO and ownership!

      I would be SHOCKED if both Culliver and Cox are gone, letting 2 of the top 3 cb’s walk could be disastrous ( i know we did the exact same thing last year, but CC & PC are younger than TB & CR)
      Ward could step in for one and a high draft pick could replace the other if they do leave

      1. I don’t think the 49ers will draft a CB in the first round, especially if the team decides to trade or release V. Davis.

          1. It’s also easier to get a good CB down lower in the draft or less expensive as a free agent than it is to get a top receiver. The front office has done well in finding good CB’s down lower in the draft.

        1. If the team does get rid of Davis I agree a receiver will be a top priority. But if they don’t re-sign Culliver or Cox then CB will be just as big a priority. And I don’t think they’ll get rid of Davis.

          1. I disagree Scooter. It would become a priority but not a big one. They have Brock, Johnson, and Ward as the probable starters next season with Reaser and Acker right behind them, one of which looked really good in the preseason before being placed on IR. I think they will draft somebody to go along with this group, but it won’t be until the second round at the earliest.

              1. I agree, although I read around the time of the Senior Bowl that the 49ers absolutely love Quandre Diggs.

              2. I’d be very surprised if he made it out of the second round. He needs work on his technique, but that combination of size and athletic ability won’t be allowed to fall far.

              3. LOL Scooter.

                I won’t deny that the group wasn’t strong, but it had quite a bit of questions on it just like the current group does. That’s what I mean when I said they weren’t good options.

              4. Ronald Darby ,Florida State CB.Crazy fast(read he clocked a 4.31 in the past !)5’11 ,strong one on one skills-nicknamed “the invisible man” no one threw his way. Intriguing prospect!

            1. “They have Brock, Johnson, and Ward as the probable starters next season with Reaser and Acker right behind them.”

              Aside from Brock, how many NFL snaps do any of those guys have as a boundary CB? It is one thing to hope or even expect these guys will develop, another to be reliant on it. I can’t see Baalke going into the season with just those options. And I don’t think adding another mid round CB is the answer.

              1. They went into last season with Brock who had been the #4 CB at the beginning of the previous season and Culliver who had played more at the NB. Those weren’t really good options either, but Baalke went into the season with them.

              2. Brock was the starting CB by end of 2013, ahead of Brown. And while Culliver was the #3 CB he played exclusively on the boundary, and as I’m sure you are aware the 49ers played in their nickel package more than half the time with Fangio in charge. He had two seasons of fairly extensive action under his belt on the boundary already.

              3. That extensive action entailed him being mostly ignored by QBs and top flight WRs until the NFCC game and the Super Bowl. And we know how well that turned out. Plus add the fact that Culliver was coming back from a season-ending injury the previous. Again, not good options.

              4. “That extensive action entailed him being mostly ignored by QBs and top flight WRs”.

                Yes, because he had good coverage. While we all know he had some issues turning his head to locate the ball in his rookie and second year, and gave up same plays as a result, aside from that he has always been a good cover CB.

                And yes, he was coming back from a knee injury, but they had seen how he was recovering.

                While I know you don’t like to back down, you must realise having Brock, Culliver, Cox, Wright and Morris on the books last year before the draft is better than Brock and four second year players of which only one (Ward) has seen any extensive NFL action.

              5. Yes, because he had good coverage.

                No, that was because he wasn’t really tested before those two games. When he was, he flunked big time.

                While I know you don’t like to back down, you must realise having Brock, Culliver, Cox, Wright and Morris on the books last year before the draft is better than Brock and four second year players of which only one (Ward) has seen any extensive NFL action.

                We’re the same you and I in that neither one wants to back down.
                You forgot to mention that Johnson logged some reps last season as well.
                Cox and Wright weren’t considered good backups and Morris was more of a STs player. So no I don’t that was better at the time. Do I now? Yes, but that scenario could be the same for the current CB unit as well.

              6. No, Culliver was tested earlier in the 2012 season and held up fine for the most part. It has only ever been the deep ball he’s had some issues with, and he gave up some plays towards the back end of 2012 where he failed to locate the ball. The reason he wasn’t tested much prior to that is because aside from his issues locating the ball, he plays the coverage down the field very well, nice and tight.

                The not backing down was an observation, not an accusation, and yes I am the same!

                I didn’t forget to mention Johnson. I intentionally didn’t mention him, just like I intentionally mentioned “extensive NFL action”. Ward played a lot of snaps in the games he played. Johnson was a bit of a yo-yo all year in terms of snaps, but only had a handful of games where he logged a decent number of snaps.

                While 49er fans may not have been big fans of Wright, he had a lot of starting experience. And Cox had been in the system for a few years already. Its also worth noting that despite having far more experience on the DB roster last year, they still took a guy to play CB in the first round.

              7. The not backing down was an observation, not an accusation, and yes I am the same!

                As was mine. ;-P

                And Cox had been in the system for a few years already.

                Actually it was only two years with a year in between of being out of football.

                Its also worth noting that despite having far more experience on the DB roster last year, they still took a guy to play CB in the first round.

                That’s a misleading statement there Scooter. The reason they took Ward in the first round was, despite the fact they had a good and strong CB corps the team needed a NCB because the position was exposed the previous season.

              8. “despite the fact they had a good and strong CB corps”.

                I knew you’d come round to my way of thinking Mid. ;-)

              9. Mid and Scooter
                What I think you guys are overlooking is the context of the season. Last year we were legitimately competing for #6. This year despite what Jed says we are in the playoff mix but not necessarily the SB favorites so we might be more open to let the 4 young uns compete where last year we were more likely to rely on an experienced vet. There is not as much to loose and in building for the future we might as well see what Acker reaser and johnson have rather than overpaying (relative to the names I just mentioned) for Cox or Cully

              10. BOS, if they let Culliver and Cox go I’d be shocked if they didn’t draft a CB in the first two rounds. Brock is the experienced CB on the roster, and if we’re honest he’s an ok player but nothing great and he’s yet to start a full season’s worth of games. Meanwhile the second year guys have a handful of NFL snaps between them, with Ward the most experienced despite missing almost half the season.

                Baalke will be expecting the young guys to develop and contribute, of that I have no doubt. But he’s smart enough to know the difference between expectation and reliance. You don’t want to be in a position where you are reliant on mid to late round talent developing into starters.

                If they lose Culliver and Cox, and don’t replace them in FA, I think they’d bring in a high round CB through the draft, and just let the new guy, Brock and the second year guys all compete for the starting roles. And given the hole at starting CB, I expect they would want to take a CB that already has pretty good technique and is somewhat NFL ready, which means they’d probably need to look at the first round.

      2. I don’t understand why every year grant you think there is this chance that the niners would select a corner in the first. Balke does not believe in drafting corners in the first couple rounds unless it’s someone who is versatile like ward. Balke has shown a good ability whether through free agency or latter in the draft to get quality bargains.

        1. I have been saying that each year the past three years, so usually I’d agree with you. But if they lose both starting CBs from last year I think he breaks from his usual philosophy.

          1. But if they lose both starting CBs from last year I think he breaks from his usual philosophy.

            They lost both their starters after the 2013 season and Baalke still didn’t break from his usual philosophy.

            1. No they didn’t. Brock was the starter by the end of the season in 2013. And unlike this year they also had a guy in Culliver that had played extensive snaps as a boundary CB for them previously. They already had their starting CBs locked up for 2014 before the draft.

              Now as it turned out Brock got hurt and barely played all year, but doesn’t change the fact that heading into the draft they already had guys in place ready to go.

              1. Brock was the starter by the end of the season in 2013.

                Because the injury to Rogers. He also helped his cause at being the starter for the rest of the season by not only his play but also accepting the deal that Brown snubbed his nose at.

              2. No, Brock moved into the #3 role when Asomugha got hurt, then into Brown’s #2 role when Brown got hurt. He then stayed ahead of Brown the rest of the year. Brown took over from Rogers when he was hurt.

                If you want to believe he was only kept in the starters role because he had signed a contract and Brown had not, that is up to you, but seems unlike something Fangio would agree with to me.

              3. If you want to believe he was only kept in the starters role because he had signed a contract and Brown had not, that is up to you, but seems unlike something Fangio would agree with to me.

                I never said that was the only reason Scooter, unless of course you consider my mention of his play a moot point. I am however saying that it played a part in it. How big of a part though is something we’ll never know.

      3. I don’t think any rookie will be an upgrade this season over the sixth highest ranked coverage CB in the NFL last year. Long term I think Waynes could be better

          1. Doesn’t matter which way you slice it, Culliver played well this past season. Better than you can expect any rookie to play, though obviously there are exceptions. Expecting Waynes to play better than Culliver did this past year is asking a lot.

            1. Culliver ranked 14th in coverage, just a few spots ahead of rookie Bene Benwikere.

              Cox faced much better WRs than Culliver did last season. Culliver’s matchups were easier.

              1. I believe Culliver’s 66.5 passer rating allowed was 6th best in the NFL. PFF also credited him with a +10.7 rating over the final 13 games of the season which was fifth best over that period. I think he can be forgiven for a few shaky games to start the year coming back from a torn knee ligament.

                I know you don’t rate Culliver so no matter what I say you’ll find a way to disparage his level of play and convince yourself it was just luck. But he played very well last season.

                And while I’m sure there were a couple of rookies that played well last year too, at a level not too far behind Culliver, I think it is telling that none of them were the top rated CBs in the draft. Now that isn’t to say the likes of Gilbert, Fuller, Dennard, Verrett or Roby might not become better players than Culliver – in fact I’d hope and expect a couple of those guys do so – but it shows the danger of just expecting a rookie to come in and play at such a high level, even if you spend a high draft pick on the player.

              2. So Culliver’s a starting CB and the WR most teams put across from him was no match for him. Sounds like a pretty good player to have on your team to me.

                I’m not suggesting he is an excellent player, but he is good. Good enough they would miss him if they lost him. But at the same time you wouldn’t pay him like a great CB. If some other team wants to do that, then so be it.

              3. Yes, Culliver is better than Riley Cooper, Rueben Randle, Kenny Britt and Junior Hemmingway, but he is no match for Michael Floyd.

                Culliver still can’t find the deep ball. He hardly was tested deep in 2014. I think that will change.

              4. Were they the only three WRs Culliver faced last year?

                Culliver was actually much improved last year in getting his head turned around on the deep ball. The most important thing for him though is he’s usually able to run stride for stride with receivers down field, keeping tight coverage. Its why teams don’t test him deep very often.

              5. That’s true, but he still can’t find the ball even though he’s starting to look for it, which is a big reason why Floyd always has his way with Culliver. Teams will start throwing deep against him until he starts breaking up some of those deep passes.

                Culliver faced Malcom Butler last season. Gave up a TD.

      4. to be honest, i dont pay a lot of attention to college guys until now ( draft/combine time)

        You know what they say…..a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. we know Culliver can start in this league and be successful.

        Just read a lot of bad things about J. Gillbert, #8 pick last year for the browns. See: bird in the bush comment above

  2. i want to point out a couple things: letting Culliver walk, only to burn a high pick on another cb is a foolish move! look at the chargers, let Brees walk…..burn a draft pick on Rivers. let sproles walk….burn a pick on Mathews. i do not thinks it wise to use draft picks to REPLACE talent as opposed to ADDING talent.

    also, Iupati is gone! Coulda used that draft pick on Dez Bryant! that one will hurt for years to come! good job Baalke!

    P.S. am i the only person disgusted with the new stadium? anyone notice how 40k or more seats face the sun FOR THE ENTIRE DAY! at least the stick only had a few seats in the upper eastern end zone blinded by the sun!

      1. that is true terry from Hayward…..but the issue is ” position value”! some positions are far more valuable than others. this is based on:
        1. price/value
        2.draft position
        3. availability

        positions like qb,wr,cb,Lt & pass rusher are far more valuable than G,C,rb, te, s,mlb.

        look at the landscape of the NFL. how often do star qb’s EVER hit the FA market?
        or pass rushers that are in their prime? need more evidence? look at the 1st round of the draft. top 15 picks or so are all LT, cb, pass rush, wr…..dont forget about all the reaching for qb’s either.
        also, G, C, etc….are positions were you can find pro-bowl type guys in the mid to late rounds.

        position value! Baalke does not understand this basic fundamental and it is what makes him an average GM imo.

  3. York and Baalke were implying that they had the players, just not the right coach. Now your talking rebuild? This will be interesting to see how dumb and dumber get through this season.

  4. Of the six FA’s, I think the 49ers really only want Gore and Culliver, but it’s quite possible that none of the six will return.

    Even in the case that none of the six are back, the assembly of the roster can still be considered more a reloading than a rebuilding. To replace Culliver they have Johnson and Acker waiting in the wings and can draft more help. Hyde looks ready to replace Gore. I’m not even sure how much of a downgrade Iupati’s replacement will be and there are options – Kilgore, Martin, Looney and Thomas. The loss of Crabtree, Cox, and Gabbert isn’t significant.

    1. Culliver is the only one they will try to retain. The rest can go.. Sucks to say that about a legend like gore but it’s the Hyde show now.

    2. I dunno, golfer …
      but, I remember seeing some plays where
      J. Martin appeared to be “bullied” out there ..

      Got a feeling he’s gone as well

  5. The team will resign Gore to either a two or three year deal. However when you look at the details it will show to really be either a one or two year deal but I believe Gore returns. I believe Baalke likes Gore and I believe that he still sees value in him. I think Tomsula will also want to keep him for the sake of his skill and for the sake of continuity on offense which is very valuable to a DL coach who is now responsible for both sides of the ball.

    I don’t think Gore will leave to find a bigger payday and that if the team offers him something fair he’ll take it.

    I think Culliver will be offered more then what the 49ers are willing to and he’ll leave but not without the team at least trying to resign him.

    Cox will be resigned because his track record is still spotty and could be seen as a one season wonder. He wont command the type of deal that Culliver can pull and will take what the team offers him to come back.

    Crabtree, Iupati and Gabbert are gone for sure.

    1. Agree, Coffee …

      Gore is the heart n soul of the offense ..
      If Baalke and Jed get rid of him .. then
      their new moniker should be ..

      “Stupid and Stupider” !

      1. I do believe that Baalke and York are dumb and dumber, but not sure why you would call that a stupid move in not signing Gore. If Bill Walsh was running the team, Gore would of been gone 2 years ago.Of-course you can make a argument that Baalke draft picks don’t have good replacements for older vets.

        1. Gore is my favorite niner however I think alas he will move on -this team is going to rebuild not retool at this juncture as Grant states. Change is unpleasant but necessary.

    2. @C4C

      Excellent post….I agree with you….Iupati may be retained also, it depends if the niners decide to go all in with CK

  6. Iupati is a pro bowl guard. He’s struggled in pass protection but you don’t give up on a young offensive linemen. I can’t see Baalke letting him walk after he was chosen so high.
    Culliver and Iupati resigned. Everyone else walks.

    1. prime, you cannot pay a guard in the neighborhood of $8 mil a year! CANT DO IT BRAH! no effing way! especially one that cant stay healthy! you know what they say about bigger dogs……shorter lives, hard to keep such a large body healthy. same about bugger humans.

      to think, we coulda used that pick on one mr. Dez Bryant!!!
      Dez Bryant could steped in for kyle Williams after that first fumble in 2011……result- trip to the SB

      Dez Bryant woulda been the guy we targeted at the 5 yard line in the SB….result- championship!

      Dez Bryant woulda been the guy we were throwing to at the end of the NFCC last year…..result- well, who knows, but you get the point.

        1. im not a big Kendall Hunter fan. at his best, he reminds me of a ray rice/ mjd type, small bowling ball type of body. just look how those guys fell off the map.

          If KH is the #3…. im cool with that. but if he’s #2 or higher…..i dont think it bodes well for us.

      1. Good call hightop, I really like Duke Johnson from the U. It’s a little ironic given the present context, but he reminds me of F.Gore.

        1. I’d be okay with Johnson but would rather have Abdullah because I think he would better fit what this team wants to do offensive wise.

          1. Mid,
            I would be good with Ameer as well, but he will likely be gone by the 2nd rd. Duke is projected to go mid 3rd to 4th rd which could be more suitable for the 49ers given bigger needs with their 1st and 3rd rds.

            The priority needs within the first 3 rounds are:
            1. WR
            2. CB
            3. O-line or TE (not sure if VD can recapture his swag)
            4. RB
            5. QB
            6. BPA
            7. BPA

            1. I don’t think the OL is as big of a priority as some think. We could use some backups, but the line should be set for the next year or two.
              I’d put a backup FS ahead of the RB and QB position in terms of needs AES. Reid has suffered three concussions in less than two years so it would be prudent to find someone that could an effective backup in a pinch and also be able assume the starting position if Reid gets his bell rung again.

              1. Mid,
                Our best pass-blocking O-lineman are A.Davis and Joe Staley. We don’t know how Marcus Martin and last years redshirt rookie Brandon Thomas will do as of now.
                Both of these players rated high for their positions coming out of college so the potential for success is there.

                MM got forced into action at Center when Kilgore was lost for the season and BT never touched the field.
                Jonathan Martin was a complete bust and should have been cut during TC instead of taking up a spot on the roster.

                With Kilgore back healthy and the emergence of Marcus and a strong TC from Thomas we may be fine at the O-line but we don’t know that for sure.
                A young stud at O-line could be a real boost especially if Iupati walks and I believe he will.
                At the moment the starting offensive O-line look to be:
                Boone
                Staley
                A.Davis
                Kilgore
                Marcus Martin taking over for Iupati.

                Joe Looney, Dillon Farrell, Andrew Tiller and Fou Fonoti don’t do anything to stir my interest.

    1. Razor

      I was hot for Spiller at the draft, but he has been proven to be a bit fragile…he is awfully small, but man does he have moves!

  7. The 49ers will make a good will offer to F.Gore but will not negotiate beyond their set numbers.

    In this scenario they leave it up to Gore to stay or leave in order to relieve themselves from looking like the bad guys.

    If Gore decides to stay he will do so by agreeing to a limited role.
    Gore loves and bleeds 49ers red and gold but he will not go out like that because his fierce competitive nature will not allow it.
    Gore will not accept a limited role and sign elsewhere.
    The locker room will miss a true leader but with the team in flux with all the changes over the past couple of months Gore’ departure will only be another symbol of change and direction.

  8. I believe that Vernon Davis is gone…perhaps traded on draft day, rather than released….Frank Gore stays…Iuipati is also gone, along with Crabtree….of the three, Iupati’s loss will have more impact…..Justin Smith will retire, Culliver will leave along with Cox, and the ‘braintrust’ will have some gaping holes to fill on both sides of the ball….8-8 this season, at best.

  9. Doesn’t Culliver still have a criminal offense hanging over his head (think it’s a felony but not sure)? Won’t that deter at least some teams from being interested in him or possibly reduce what other teams are willing to pay. After all, how do other teams know that he might not be suspended for a year (you could say the same thing about the 49ers). Culliver has shown that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed (remember the Super Bowl).

    I think Baalke will resign Culliver and Cox. Not at all sure about Gore. He would be a good signing for his locker room presence alone, but as far as I can tell he firmly believes he is still a number one.

    1. I’d be surprised if they re-signed both Culliver and Cox. They drafted three CBs last year (four including Ward) and will no doubt be expecting those guys to be better and play bigger roles this year. And Brock will be back. Culliver, Brock, Ward, Johnson, Acker and Reaser, plus maybe a low cost FA like Cook and maybe a draft pick should be plenty of competition.

      Keep in mind Cox was on the roster last year initially to compete with Ward for the nickel role. Necessity placed him in a starters role on the outside, and while he played well the first half of the year he was picked on the second half. I don’t think they’ll try that hard to keep him unless they can’t re-sign Culliver. And even then, I don’t think they’ll look to offer him a big contract.

        1. Reaser would, Acker and Johnson are more outside corners, although I feel Johnson could handle those duties if needed….

          1. I thought it was interesting that Johnson was looking really quite good last season until necessity had him playing the slot. Then he started to give up some plays. I think it is in Johnson’s best interests to stay on the boundary.

            1. I think Cox’s versatility is a reason why they should attempt to resign him and I think they will attempt it. Of course, Baalke has a number in mind…

              1. I’m assuming that some team will be willing to give him a multi-year offer worth a few million a year. I don’t think the 49ers would want to.

                If he doesn’t get any interest then sure, I could see them bringing him back on the cheap.

          1. I think he’s a sleeper and vastly overrated. Put him in that Patriots offense and you’ve got another Edleman/Welker….

        1. Plays tough, runs decent routes, and looks like an excellent run blocker. Saw he has trouble getting separation and can’t ‘go up and get it’. Also not shifty enough to make up for his lack of acceleration.

          1. Exactly what I saw Mid. Tough guy, and I wish the best for guys that play like he does. But I think he is limited physically and while he works hard he isn’t a guy like Jarvis Landry that can make up for his physical limitations with craftiness, technique and strong hands.

    2. @cubus

      c’mon man the Super Bowl was over two years ago…Culliver has improved every facet of his game, and Cox has been nothing but plusses. You just don’t give away decent CB’s in the NFL.Get shed of Crabtree, Iupati if need be, and get some negotiatiions going with Brooks and Gore….and get ‘Cowboy’ back in the chopper….!

      1. Oregoniner:

        Culliver’s legal problems may still be an issue. With that said, I’m hoping that other teams think that Culliver is still a knucklehead and that the legal issues might be a problem. That way we can sign him relatively cheap. As I said, I hope we can sign Cox as well as he has proven to be a good backup and can step in as a starter. Releasing Brooks after June 1st can save us about $4.7 million (according to overthecap.com). That should be enough to sign the rookie class. We could keep Brooks if the price is right, but he may have already screwed the pooch with those shouting matches with Tomsula last season.

  10. This is likely the best article you have ever written, Grant………except for the jab at the end about reloading. The same GM got rid of both starting CB’s last year and the D was still top 5. You hit all the nails on the head for all the Niners free agents. Well done.

    1. Yea, a lot of teams blow away their coaching staff, face a lot of player issues, and don’t rebuild. At the moment I can’t think of one, but I’m sure it will come to me soon.

  11. Perhaps Baalke got rid of Harbaugh because Baalke believes his efforts to rebuild the team (Hyde, McDonald, Ellington, Patton, etc…) were thwarted by the coach who only played veterans unless his hands were tied. That was Harbaugh’s downfall. He couldn’t develop young talent. The list is long. He was a cheerleader, not a teacher.

  12. interesting analysis, but a bit far out…
    “sign none of the six free agents”…i would disagree. i think all comes down to “value”. obviously, if you can resign one of these guys at a bargain basement price, you would do it. unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like any of these free agents are into staying for cheap. for a economic/budget standpoint, i think you’ve made a right prediction.

    amongst the six free agents, i’d personally like to sign either Cox or Culliver for the right price. I don’t like the other 4 offensive free agents – lack of value to resign. Ultimately, if they want continuity,they should re-sign at two of free agents.

  13. I think the number one priority is replacing Justin Smith; either this year or next. He is one of the main reasons for the Defenses success. Are there any free agents are players in the draft who might be able to fill this void?
    Suh could, except for being a major head case and he will break the bank, but who else?

    I think we need to add speed to the offense. The QB should not be the fastest player. A play maker wide receiver and a kick returner/WR or RB are needed.

    I do hope Gore comes back. I think the offense would not only miss his running, but also his blocking and toughness.

      1. Do you mean Tank Carradine? Justin is one of the best 2-gap DEs in the league. I’m not sure, but wasn’t Carradine a one-gap lineman in a 4-3 defense in college? Has he been able to make the transition?

        Or are you thinking the 49ers will start playing more 4-3 if Smith retires.

        1. Tank plays Justin smiths position. He has been groomed to take over that spot. A big reason why for most of the season he was not active. Although the last 3-4 games tank was coming on..

    1. It’s this game that made me hesitant about keeping Culliver. Rivers and Floyd took him to task. Same thing with Culliver, good coverage until the ball arrives and he fails to turn around and make a play on it.

  14. I agree with all of your predictions, however, I do believe they’ll resign Cox. I don’t believe they’ll go into next year without having at least one previous starting CB on the roster and he will come much cheaper than other FA CB’s of the same caliber. I don’t expect there to be a big market for Cox. Culliver, on the other hand, will garner a lot of attention and money even though he isn’t elite (see Nate Clements.) If last year was any indication, they need depth as they have issues staying healthy at that position. Cox could be used as a starter or a back up/plug in starter if someone goes down, giving them options they wouldn’t have if they let him go and tried to fill that spot with an unknown from the draft or a lower end (cheap) FA.

  15. A lot of people expect Cox to be there if we want him. Maybe. Don’t forget his position coach since forever is now with Chicago, which suggests they’ll make a play for him. He’s not great, but he’s solid, can play the slot and outside, has good hands, and can return punts.

        1. I’ve got Ward to replace him in the slot and Brock to replace him on the outside.

          Cox is a decent player, but I’m not getting in a bidding war for him.

          1. I agree Cox isn’t a top tier guy, but I think they found out the hard way last year that Ward needs a lot of work in order to be a quality NFL DB and he didn’t get any work the 2nd half of the season. If he doesn’t pan out, it leaves a big void at slot and at CB if Reaser and Acker don’t recover from their injuries or prove to be NFL caliber. Ward, Brock, Acker and Reaser all have recent injury histories. There isn’t one there that you could count on to make it through an entire season at this point. It would be a big gamble. Cox at least stayed healthy, and as mentioned, is versatile. I think you’re right about Cox possibly going to Chicago though… he seemed to have followed his position coach throughout his career and if both teams offered the same low $, short term contract, I’m guessing he’d probably go with CHI.

          2. Thanks, Jack. What you say makes sense, and that’s what their plan was last year as I recall. My point was that Cox isn’t chopped liver and that there could be other interest in him, especially from Chicago, although I admit to knowing nothing about their needs in the secondary. As for a bidding war, as you know Baalke doesn’t engage in that.

            1. I hear you George. Cox is a vet minimum type of player. If someone wants to give him more let him go.

              I don’t think there’ll be much demand for his services except for maybe Chicago as you pointed out.

          3. That’s right Jack. Not to mention the young guys in Johnson, Acker and Reaser should all be improved this year and expected to play larger roles. Cox showed over the second half of the season that his early season form was a mirage. His greatest strength is that he is opportunistic, but he’s only an average coverage guy.

            He’s a good backup option. Some team will likely pay him to be a starter or at least a decent contract to compete for a starting job. I hope it isn’t (and expect it won’t be) the 49ers.

  16. First pick will be Trae Waynes I think he will be the real deal , Second pick will be Melvin Gordon they need another strong back , and call me crazy but I think they trade for a Wr from a team

  17. I love Gore but I don’t expect him back. Let them all go. Culliver is a piece of trash, Crabtree is an overrated diva. Good riddance.

  18. The Best player in free Agency without a doubt Randall Cobb he can flat out fly and is a great WR and returns kicks what more do you need 24 years old , if Niners belong to Me Cobb would be a niner next year

  19. four-nine,

    Like your scenario. You think Gordon will last until the 46 pick? If he’s there it’s a no-brainer, but drafting Gordon could take touches from Hyde and if the 49ers are not re-signing Gore my thinking is that they feel Hyde is ready to become the go-to RB.

    I really like Cobb and he could fill needs at WR and special teams and his youthful age could be a big plus for the long-haul if he can find a chemistry with Kap.

    1. I like the idea of signing a receiver, as opposed to using a draft pick to fill the need (it would require using our first pick to get the value we need). Cobb fits the bill, and I feel like Torrey Smith would, too. It would have to be paired with cutting Stevie, but I feel like Patton and Bruce would be serviceable as 3rd and 4th WRs (then draft a tall #5 receiver in later rounds).

      By signing our WR, we can use the first few rounds of draft to add more depth on D, O-line, insurance at RB, and a backup QB.

  20. AES
    He probably will be there at the 46th pick (gourdon) and yes he will take carries from the other running backs but that could be a good thing considering how bad the Niners were hurt last year and I agree with you Cobb is everything

      1. The other option is if the 49ers find a stud WR with their first pick they could pass on Cobb. Their first pick will be interesting because it could determine the 49ers key priority. I say they go with a WR.

        1. Free agency happens before the draft. They’ll be passing on Cobb before knowing if they can get a stud WR with their first pick.

          1. Picking at 15, I think they can find their stud WR. But why not keep Stevie Johnson instead of breaking the bank on R.Cobb?

            SJ could still prove to be a good signee when given enough chances at WR.

            But drafting at 15 should provide a variety of options at WR depending on which way they want to go.
            If team wants physical WR’ they could go with DeVante Parker, Jalen Strong, Dorial Green Beckham or Sammie Coats.
            If they want to take the top off the defense they could go with Kevin White, Devin Smith (27.yrd per catch).

            I really like Philip Dorsett (24.yrd per catch) who at 5’10 and 195lbs could be a R.Sherman killer with his excellent quickness and speed.
            The encouraging prospect in this is that DGB, Coats, D.Smith and P.Dorsett could be available in the 2nd round.
            But again, at 15 they could find their stud WR.

            1. That assumes they like all of those prospects. And how many of those guys will realistically turn out to be “studs”?

              It may be they really only like Cooper and Parker, and both of those guys could be gone by #15. And it may be that only a couple of these guys turn out to be any good – after the success of the 2014 WR crop, which included a lot of underclassmen, odds are against this crop being as good as advertised.

              1. Scooter,
                We really don’t know if these guys will turn out to studs, and I agree that this years crop is not as good as last year.
                But the thinking last year was that the WR corps was the best in years.
                We missed out on last years crop especially when we let a WR like Martavias Bryant get away on the second day of the draft.

                Aside from Cooper and DeVante, there may not be any studs coming out this year, but I would be happy with a Devin Smith or a Kevin White if they last to 46. The question is, would they gamble on that happening or just choose one of them with their 1st pick?

            2. Btw, I am not advocating for signing a big money free agent, or against drafting a WR in the first or second round. In fact I think they should pass on a big money FA WR and should draft a WR early.

              I’m just pointing out that the 49ers can’t pass on Cobb because they find a stud WR in the draft. FA comes first. They would be passing on Cobb in the hope of drafting a good WR they like in the draft.

              1. But how much are they willing to offer Cobb since I’m sure that he will play the bidding war with all suitors. If they are willing to sign Cobb they (49ers) better be ready to pay top dollar.
                I actually would like Cobb because of his skill level and age but the cost may be insurmountable.

                Philip Dorsett reminds me of R.Cobb and he could also help as a special teams player. He is almost a lock to be there at 46 for the 49ers and he’s my darkhorse in the draft. I pushed for Martevias Bryant last year as my darkhorse but we passed on him. Big mistake!

                I really like Devin Smith of Ohio St. but I don’t think he will be there at 46. If he’s there at 46 I would be highly upset if we pass on him.

              2. I think you are missing the point of my posts AES. I’m seriously not advocating for signing Cobb or any other big name WR in free agency. The 49ers don’t have the cap space to spend that kind of money without making significant roster moves.

                And if they were to go after a big name WR, Cobb is not the guy I would recommend. They already have Ellington who plays a similar style. Signing Cobb would make Ellington redundant, and I don’t think the 49ers offense makes the most out of those types of slot WRs anyway to make giving them a big contract a worthwhile investment.

                Based on the players you like I see you really like guys that run fast. That’s fine, and the 49ers do need a deep threat. I think Bryant is going to be a good player for the Steelers, but he’s only ever going to be a complementary player. Great pick, fits what the Steelers needed, but there will be plenty of receivers from the 2014 draft that have better careers than him. I too would have liked him in the fourth round, but don’t give up on Ellington. I think he’ll be a much improved player in 2015 and a more rounded receiver than Bryant.

                Devin Smith is now being massively overrated in my opinion. He’s gone from a mid round guy to talk of a potential first rounder. Crazy. He’s a big play guy like Bryant, so his highlight reel looks amazing. There is certainly a lot to like about him, but he too will only be a complementary player unless he develops his game a lot.

                Dorsett I can get on board with. His hands worry me a little, as does his size and past knee injury, but he’s more than just a speed guy (and boy does he have some speed!). Will be interesting to see what round he gets taken in.

              3. Scooter,
                (replying to your 6:25 post)

                Devin Smith may be overrated by some and massively overrated by a few, but his numbers need to be viewed through the lenses that he had three different starting QB’s this past season and also plays for a highly explosive running offense that featured Ezekiel Elliott.

                The fact that Smith still was able to garner a 27 yrd average per catch is not overrated imo.
                But I agree with you that we just don’t know how any of these players will do at the next level.

              4. When it comes to looking at college stats I don’t really focus on numbers so much as shares. For a WR, I focus on what share of receiving yards did he contribute. Its a good indicator of a player’s role in the team, and how dominant the player was. Another factor I look at is age – as prospects get older they should (hopefully) be making up a higher percentage of the team’s total receiving yards.

                Smith’s best season statistics wise was 2014, but he only accounted for 25% of total receiving yards. That is sub-par. As a senior you’d be hoping for around 35%, minimum. Despite being the leading receiver on the team in terms of yards, having such a low percentage indicates he wasn’t a dominant player – he was a role player or complementary player. This is further highlighted by only contributing 13% of the team’s receptions – while yards are by far the more important, this shows he was the complementary, big play receiver. Important to have, but not worthy of a first or second round pick in my opinion.

                Smith’s best year in terms of market share came in 2012, when he made up 28% of the team’s receiving yards. Doing that as a sophomore was impressive. Its surprising he didn’t build on that.

              5. Scooter,
                I like your numbers vs shares take. But while Smith did not dominate at the college level it may have more to do with the offensive system that Ohio St employs vs numbers and shares.

                Again, I think it’s a big factor that Smith had 3 different starting QB’s and use their QB and RB’s for the majority of their offensive run output.

                What I see in Devin Smith is a speed WR with good size that has better than average hands and the ability to go after every pass thrown his way.
                But having said that, I would prefer we take him in the 2nd rd if he’s available.

              6. I guess that’s the beauty in the shares approach, AES. It takes out most of the concerns of a team bias towards run vs pass, or how good or bad the QB play was. It shouldn’t matter that he had 3 QBs this season, because so did all the receivers on his team. If the team saw him as a complete WR, you’d have to think they’d have integrated him into the passing game more.

                But it is by no means fool proof. It is just a guide. As I said there is a lot to like about him as a player. And I do like him. And there is certainly a lot of people that blame his lack of production on the system not the player. But to me he’s a risky prospect in the first or second round.

              7. Scooter,
                (replying to your 8:24pm)

                I rely on you, Hammer, and rocket for my football knowledge around here and will
                continue to do so. But I am a little perplexed that you are diminishing the importance of Devin Smith not having sustainability at the QB position.
                The QB, WR relationship is one of the most important one on the offense.
                There is a rythym and chemistry that has to be built and that is difficult when there is change at the QB position especially in the same season.

                Even the legendary Jerry Rice said it took him a few games to get used to Steve Young’ passes because the spin was opposite from Joe Montana.

              8. AES, all I am saying is that every receiver on the Ohio St team had to deal with that too. The shares approach minimises the impact of QB play by examining what share each receiver made of their team’s offense. Michael Thomas, a sophomore, was their go-to WR. Smith was their complementary deep threat, big play guy.

                If Smith was a more rounded player you’d expect it would show up in the team’s receiving distribution, getting him integrated into all facets of the passing game, not just as a deep threat, and he’d have made up more of the team’s receiving offense.

                Worth noting that Miller never played a down too – they only had two QBs play through the season, and Barrett played the vast majority of it.

        2. White or Parker in round 1…if we go that route. But assuming we have to draft a QB within first few rounds, too, that means we’d only have one or two picks on days 1 and 2 to address needs at the following: O-line, CB, D-line and/or maybe I/OLB, TE.

      2. Therein lies the problem with that scenario, ht. To sign someone like Cobb they need to cut a few players to free up cap space.

          1. Only Brooks is on the roster and will save them money by releasing him. Crabtree is already a FA and off the books for next season.

            1. Yep. None of the “free agents” are included in the 2015 roster and salary cap at this point in time. They could be if they are signed during the free agency period.

  21. Htwaits
    Frank might not be back no Justin and Brooks is gone no Crabtree Vernon Davis either gets cut restructure his contract I think If some of those things Mentioned above happen they should have some Cap space

    1. All true BUT …

      What’s Cobb’s market value? How much does Green Bay value him?

      Would he leave Rogers for Kaepernick for how much more money?

      What slice of the Cap would Baalke allot to Cobb?

      No way to know right now.

    1. No way! That’s funny, I’ve been thinking for a while the 49ers would be smart to sign whoever the LSU WR coach is, because he did a fantastic job getting Beckham and Landry NFL ready.

      Good hire!

    2. From an ESPN report last year about Beckham and Landry:

      “[Cam] Cameron credited LSU receivers coach Adam Henry, another former NFL assistant, for teaching Beckham and Jarvis Landry how to attack the ball as pass catchers.

      “Adam Henry does a tremendous job teaching our guys how to run into the football,” Cameron said. “Of course, guys who have great hands aren’t cushioning the ball into their body. They just come attack the ball. And those two are the best college receivers I’ve been around at attacking the football, which you have to do in the NFL.””

      Guys like Patton and Ellington should benefit from Henry.

      1. I know he’s not the TEs coach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis, McDonald and the other TEs spend some time with Henry as well. He was the TE coach at Oakland and helped develop Zach Miller into a pro bowler.

    1. I’m not sure I follow this logic. How does bringing in Henry provide any indication they could be looking at WR in the first round? They brought in Lewis to be the new secondary coach, following the same logic does that not mean they could look to add a DB? Or an OLB with the addition of Tarver? Or in ILB with the addition of Pendergast? Or a TE with the addition of Sparano? Etc. etc.

      They had an opening at the WR coach position and hired a guy that has proven successful working with and developing NFL calibre WRs. But I fail to see how this provides any insight into what position they will be looking to draft in the first round.

      1. He definitely will be very familiar with the wide receiver talent from the collegiate ranks within the SEC. Should provide Baalke with valuable information, but I fail to see how it means they’re going wide receiver in the first round….

      2. Easy logic. They need and have needed a threat at the WR position for the last 3-4 seasons. Randy (freakin’) Moss was our last threat (although it was based more on reputation than production) when he was on the team in 2012.
        Coincidently, the last year we went to the Superbowl.

        1. What does that have anything to do with the coaching hire though?

          I’m not arguing that WR may well be their first round pick. It is a pretty obvious need. But they’ve signed a bunch of new coaches across the board. Getting Henry is just another good coaching hire that fills a vacancy.

      3. First off, I never said just WR. I said receiving corps, which includes the WRs and TEs.
        Second, no other area has a bigger need. Even if the front office decides to keep Davis for the final year of his contract, this area of the offense needs addressed. There is a void besides Boldin that none of the WRs currently on the team have proven that they’re ready to take hold of. There is also the fact that, even though he had another great year, Boldin had an increased number of drops this year which could be a sign of things to come. And even if that’ not the case, there’s the fact that both Boldin and Davis are in the final year of their respective contracts. The hiring of a guy that coached up two good receivers plus made TE Zach Miller a Pro Bowl player is a pretty good sign that the front office is not happy with the current receiving corps.
        Finally, you’re assuming that Baalke won’t go with BPA or trade out of the first round. Just because I said this area would be addressed first does not mean that it will be done in the first round.

        1. None of that explains why the coaching hire is a precursor to taking a receiver (whether it be WR or TE) first.

          What makes them taking a receiver first a strong possibility is that it is an area of need. Plain and simple. You said it yourself, “Second, no other area has a bigger need.” Lets think of it another way – if they just went with Ronald Curry as the WR coach, do you think that would have any bearing on what direction they take on draft day? Would that lessen the need for a receiver?

          And no, hiring a good WR coach is not a sign they aren’t happy with the receiving group. Do you only hire good coaches at positions of weakness? They’ve been looking to bring in good coaches at every position group. Its the same as them signing Tim Lewis to be the secondary coach. Or any of the other coaches they’ve hired.

          Regarding your final point, I’m not assuming anything. Going BPA has nothing to do with the coaching hire, which is exactly my point. And sure, Baalke may trade out of the first round, but again that has nothing to do with the coaching hire.

          1. You’re taking it too literal Scooter. It’s just:
            1) Supposition on my part, just like your statement about the TEs maybe working with Adam Henry since he has experience as a TE coach.
            2) Me trying to find some freaking ray of hope because it feels like they’re hiring good position coaches to make up for a subpar OC, DC, and head coach.

            1. All good Mid. Like I said originally, I just don’t follow the logic. Hadn’t thought to make it a big thing or that it would take so many posts to clear up why I thought the supposition was flawed.

              Just be happy they finally have what looks like a good WR coach.

              1. If they re-sign Culliver or bring in a vet CB in FA, I think WR will be their top priority in the draft (though if an excellent prospect at another position falls to them, BPA and all…). If they don’t re-sign Culliver or bring in a vet CB, I think its a coin toss between WR and CB as to which is the top priority.

                If they get rid of Stevie Johnson and/ or Vernon Davis then the need for a receiver of some sort will obviously increase. Johnson could well be a casualty as that salary is too high for what he brings to the table. He’ll no doubt be asked to take a pay cut. If they do release him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lower price vet WR brought in.

                I really think Davis will be back though. The TE crop this year is weak.

              2. Agree with all of that, but they still could draft Maxx Williams in the first round and either let go of Davis or have Williams be his understudy. I doubt either scenario will occur, but still…

  22. Niners missed the best wr draft Ever so don’t miss out on this year witch might go down as the best WR freeangnce ever they need a stud period , no WR in this draft will even come close to playing as well as Cobb no how no way

    1. Your wrong they don’t need a small Wr for a team that wants to identify its self as a running team. I’m not saying Cobb is not good but they already have that type of receiver on the roster in Ellington. Paying 40 mil for Cobb makes very little sense for this team. They need a bigger Wr like a Brandon Marshall type on the outside.. Someone that can help in the red zone.. I believe they will draft a Wr in the first couple rnds regardless on what they do in free agency but I also agree with scooter in that we will not no for certain what they will do in the draft until free agency is over.

      1. CK=Elite,
        You may have your wish if we go after Dorial Green Beckham. DGB would fit the bill as a redzone threat.
        He’s a Brandon Marshall type but has some negative baggage. Teams may be scared off by this and pass on him because he’s too risky for a 1st round pick.
        But even if teams aren’t willing to give him first round money I don’t see him sliding to 46 at the 49ers spot in the 2nd.

        1. AES, you think it makes any sense whatsoever to commit a lot of money to a small hybrid receiver like Cobb? Considering we want to be known as a run first team?

  23. It was just what I would like , I watched 3 small wr’s kill the sea hawks in the Super Bowl so it got me thinking that’s all , maybe he would not fit just a pipe dream

    1. Four~nine, your idea is a good one. The problem with it is that our GM and coach want to build an offense around or running game. To invest that kind of money to a smaller Wr would go against there philosophy.. That’s all I was trying to say.

    2. Like this: Tom Brady, three small receivers and one free agent rookie defensive back just barely beat the Seahawks. Where are we going to get a Tom Brady?

  24. Ck=Elite
    Not to be rude or disrespectful but Ellington is not Even in the same class as Cobb is the real deal , the Niners have two possion WR all read it would be nice to have a real game breaker

  25. Ck=Elite
    No hard feelings hear my friend just chating , you are 100% right tho this team is not going in that direction

    1. Oh no problem at all bud… Cobb is a quality receiver and is obviously better at the moment then Ellington. Although I will disagree with the fact that he is a game breaking receiver. I wouldn’t characterize him as that. Quality Wr no doubt but he doesn’t pump fear like the top guys.. IMO a guy they should target before a Cobb is a Torrey smith. An outside reliever with blazing speed. Now he is not an elite Wr but he would complement the niners specifically more.

  26. I dunno, CK …but
    I gotta feeling “The Duke” might be a sleeper ..
    After all .. he didn’t really garner that many targets
    this past season, so .. imo .. we don’t really know
    how much of a down-field threat he can be …

    OTOH … Josh Morgan is a FA .. and I wouldn’t
    mind, too much if the Niners could bring him home
    (on the cheap, of course)

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