Don’t be surprised if the Niners don’t resign free agents Carlos Rogers or Ahmad Brooks.
The Niners have roughly $33.8 million in cap space. They’re most likely going to franchise tag Dashon Goldson, so $6.2 of that would go to him. Another $7 or $8 million will go to Alex Smith, probably.
Then there are the guys who will probably come back on cheap contracts – Joshua Morgan, Adam Snyder, C.J. Spillman, Blake Costanzo, Tavares Gooden. Then there are the draft picks and the practice squad guys who the Niners have to sign.
After all that, the Niners will probably have around $13 million in cap space. That might not be enough to bring back both Rogers and Brooks.
Rogers is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL because he can cover a team’s No.1 receiver or their slot receiver. He said he’d resign with the Niners for slightly below market value, but he still wants a four or five year contract. He’ll be 31 next season, the same season the Niners think Chris Culliver will be ready to start. Tarell Brown is under contract for one more season, and he’s a starter, too. Plus, the Niners really like Tramaine Brock.
So, they’re not desperate for Rogers. They may be better served spending money on someone else.
What about Brooks?
Brooks played almost all the downs for the Niners elite defense last season. He can “set the edge” in the run game, rush the passer (seven sacks) and even drop back in coverage. He’s a complete 3-4 outside linebacker who can play all three downs. Players like Brooks are rare and valuable. The Niners won’t be able to resign him cheaply. Could they afford to lose him?
Here’s why they could: Aldon Smith will most likely be a three-down player next season at right outside linebacker. This season, Parys Haralson played first and second down at that spot and Aldon Smith came in for him on third down. The Niners didn’t draft Smith with the No. 7 overall pick to be a situational pass rusher for his whole career. They were breaking him in slowly in 2011, but in 2012 he’ll probably play almost every single defensive snap.
So, the Niners could move Haralson over to left outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks’ spot, and draft a situational pass rusher to play third downs and compliment Haralson like Smith did in ‘11. Some prospects who fit that description are Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch, Cam Johnson and Vinny Curry.
Or, DeMarcus Dobbs could be the situational pass rusher who splits time with Haralson. The point is, the Niners have options if Brooks wants more money than they’re willing to give him.
If they let Rogers and Brooks walk in free agency, they’ll have the cap space to make a competitive contract offer to one of the top wide receivers on the market, like Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston or Stevie Johnson or DeSean Jackson.
Or, they could sign a younger replacement for Rogers, like Brandon Carr or Richard Marhsall or Terrell Thomas.
Or, they could sign an older pass rusher, like Robert Mathis.
Or, they could put all this aside and go after the best, most expensive free agent: DE/OLB Mario Williams, who would make the Niners’ already great defense the best defense of all time.
If I were Trent Baalke, I’d have a long talk with Mario Williams and his agent before I signed or resigned anyone.
What would you do?