Running back/return man Darren Sproles is expected to hit the open market next week, and the 49ers seem like a logical suitor. But there are some obvious issues that create doubts among league insiders that the 49ers will be much of a player in the pursuit of his services.
Sproles made $6.6 million as the San Diego Chargers’ franchise player last season. In speaking with some agents and NFL folks, Sproles might command in the neighborhood of $5 million per season as a free agent.
Do not expect the 49ers to compete in that kind of market.
After all, if the 49ers were to sign Sproles to any deal of significance, it likely would mean they would be unable to retain at least one of their young players. So, although it would make sense for the 49ers to acquire a player before the draft that fills a dire need, it probably will not happen.
More than likely, Sproles will not be wearing 49ers colors in 2010, and the organization will have to fill that need via the draft.
* * *
Here is why the 49ers do not figure to spend much money in the free-agent market and will likely opt to save up to invest in keeping together the nucleus of the team.
NT Aubrayo Franklin: He is scheduled to play under the one-year franchise designation of $7.003 million. GM Scot McCloughan says the club is continuing to talk with his representation about a contract extension. With the value placed on this position, it could get costly.
LB Ahmad Brooks: The 49ers have talked to him about a multi-year contract extension. If that’s unable to be accomplished, the 49ers will tender Brooks for one year at $1.176 million, which gives the 49ers the right of first refusal in case he signs an offer sheet with another team. If the 49ers decline to match, the club would receive a third-round pick as compensation.
LG David Baas: The 49ers aren’t likely to sign him to an extension. He hasn’t done enough to earn it. Instead, they’re expected to tender him $1.226 million. If he signs elsewhere, the 49ers probably would not match, so they’d get a second-round pick as compensation.
Signed through 2010
QB Alex Smith: The 49ers are not going to sign him to an extension until they feel 100-percent certain he is deserving of the starting role beyond 2010. And if he takes that next step, he’ll get another sizeable contract as he enters what should be the prime years of his career.
OLB Manny Lawson: He starts and does a good job on first and second downs. His pass rush has not been consistent, though, and he lost his third-down role to Brooks. That said, Lawson led the 49ers with 6.5 sacks.
DL Ray McDonald: A third-down inside pass rusher who will be a full year removed from knee surgery. He could be a valuable asset and worth the price to keep him from hitting the open market.
Signed through 2011
They still have plenty of time to get things done, but certainly LB Patrick Willis’ next contract will make him among the highest paid defenders in the NFL. WR Josh Morgan caught 52 passes in his first full season as a starter. As the 49ers’ passing game grows, so, too, should his numbers. RB Frank Gore is the focal point of the 49ers’ offense. But when his current contract expires, he’ll be 29 years old and nearing the point when running backs typically start to lose it. Starters C Eric Heitmann and RG Chilo Rachal also have contracts set to expire.
* * *