In less than a week, Darren Sproles will likely to be an unrestricted free agent.
And at 9:01 p.m. (PT) on March 4 – the first minute the move is legal – the
Moreover, I think it’s a realistic possibility.
The San Diego Chargers tagged Sproles last year as their franchise player, giving him a one-year contract worth $6.62 million. Sproles is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, but in order for the Chargers to maintain that status they’d have to give him a 10-percent pay raise to $7.28 million.
That is too much for a return specialist and change-of-pace running back, so the Chargers will allow Sproles to be an unrestricted free agent. And that’s where the 49ers should step in.
Coach Mike Singletary promised the 49ers would place an emphasis on improving the return game this offseason. There have been hints all along the 49ers planned go after a top-notch return man. And Sproles could be that man. The 49ers, theoretically, could sign Sproles without compromising their salary structure.
As noted here previously, the 49ers like big running backs. And Sproles is listed at 5-foot-6, 181 pounds. But Sproles is not an every-down running back. He carried just 93 times for 343 yards last season for the Chargers, while also catching 45 passes for 497 yards and four touchdowns.
The 49ers would have to find some small role for him on offense, but Sproles’ main duty would be as a return specialist.
Last season, Sproles averaged 7.0 yards on 26 punt returns with one touchdown. He also averaged 24.1 yards on 54 kickoff returns. In four NFL seasons, Sproles has four touchdown returns. He turns 27 in June.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve written numerous times how it doesn’t make much sense for the 49ers to try to acquire certain high-profile players, such as Julius Peppers, Donovan McNabb, Brandon Marshall, Karlos Dansby and others this offseason.
But the 49ers need the service that Sproles provides, and he would likely fit in their budget. I would not be surprised if the club makes a legitimate bid to obtain his services.
* * *