Free agency has slowed to a crawl and the draft is a month away.
The 49ers’ foray into free-agency has been modest. The team is in the process of negotiating with free-agent tackle Marvel Smith – a potential starter. They gave receiver Brandon Jones starters’ money, though he was not a regular starter in four seasons with the Titans. They signed defensive end Demetric Evans, who finally cracked the starting lineup with the Redskins last season. And they signed a starting fullback, Moran Norris.
I’m not sure the 49ers have a glaring, gotta-have-it, need at any one position, assuming Marvel Smith signs. But the flip side of that is that the 49ers can find improvements at nearly every position.
That’s why I really believe this is a best-available player kind of draft for the club. Almost every position group could use an upgrade. Here are the positions the 49ers could choose to address in the draft:
Quarterback: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are competing for the job. Coach Mike Singletary says Hill would start if the team played today. But the team does not play today, tomorrow or for more than five months. Singletary said he feels lucky to have Hill and Smith on his roster. But, we should not forget, the 49ers did go after Kurt Warner during the first week of free agency and were prepared to pay him nearly $15 million a year. That tells you the 49ers are not altogether confident in the abilities of Hill and Smith. If they can take a “franchise” quarterback in the first round, they should. But it’s doubtful whether there’s a quarterback who fits that description in this draft.
Running back: The 49ers are looking to get a bigger back to share the load with Frank Gore. It’s probably too early to take that player at No. 10. But it’s a possibility anytime thereafter.
Wide receiver: The team’s top two receivers, right now, would appear to be Josh Morgan and Brandon Jones. Jason Hill and Arnaz Battle are also in the mix, as Isaac Bruce continues to contemplate his options. The 49ers still don’t have a receiver who is a slam-dunk No. 1 man. If somebody who fits that bill is around when the 49ers select at No. 10, the club would have to take him.
Tight end: They don’t have a blocking tight end for short-yardage situations. Billy Bajema remains unsigned. One of these role players can be found in the seventh round.
Offensive line: Locking up Tony Wragge through 2010 helps with the depth on the interior. Regardless of whether Marvel Smith signs, the 49ers should not pass on an offensive tackle . . . if they’re convinced he is the best player on the board.
Defensive line: Teams that play 3-4 defenses, generally keep six defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. The 49ers might already have their six players: Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Kentwan Balmer, Demetric Evans and Ray McDonald. Smith is outstanding, but if there’s a chance to upgrade any of the other spots, the 49ers need to pull the trigger.
Outside linebacker: The 49ers need a pass rush. The pass rush is going to come from the outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. Is Manny Lawson the answer? He has not shown it so far, but he also hasn’t had the chance to show it. The 49ers need more firepower at this spot, especially with Parys Haralson entering the final year of his contract.
Inside linebacker: They signed Takeo Spikes for a couple seasons, but there is not a whole lot of depth here. At the very least, the 49ers could use another special-teams standout.
Cornerback: The 49ers wanted a veteran corner to add to the mix. They have lost Donald Strickland to free agency, and they have not replaced him. The 49ers have some players here, but they need to add another good one with Walt Harris entering the final year of his deal.
Safety: Michael Lewis and Dashon Goldson are penciled in as the starters. Maybe the 49ers don’t need to address this spot because, in essence, they did a year ago. Reggie Smith spent his rookie season at cornerback, but he was moved to strong safety in the recent minicamp. He lined up alongside Goldson with the first team with Lewis resting an injury.