It’d probably make more sense to grade the San Francisco 49ers based on how they performed over the past season, a season that ended less than 100 hours ago. The only problem: I have no interest in doing so.
Today I ate lunch with David Fucillo of Niners Nation (and I swear, no tears over the NFC Championship Game were shed … actually, Fucillo wears glasses so I can’t totally confirm).
We haunt Flippers about once every two or three weeks in Hayes Valley, where we annoy the patrons around us with loud chattering about the 49ers, and order the same thing every time. It’s like we’re old men, only instead of a coffee shop we’re at a burger joint next door to a gay bar.
As far as old man routines go, lunch at Flipper’s is pretty solid.
Anyway, Fooch talked about how he has no interest in writing about the loss to the New York Giants. I pretty much agreed. Writing a post about it on Sunday night, a few hours after leaving The Stick, was difficult enough. Earlier this week I figured that by now I would have re-watched the game and obsessed over a play here or there, but it’s been pretty easy to find other ways to occupy my time. Like covering a Warriors game or complaining about Lowell Cohn’s inability to quote himself accurately.
Looking ahead to the next 49ers season seems like a lot more fun at this point, and the Niners have plenty of decisions to make. I expect the 49ers to squash the Peyton Manning talk any day now, as Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the front office have enough to worry about — starting with their own free agents.
So instead of grading how the QB, RBs, WRs and everyone else performed during the 49ers’ 14-4 season, I’m going to grade the 2011 San Francisco 49ers who’ll be hitting the market.
Note: The following grades aren’t based on how much each player should be paid, but instead how important it is for the 49ers to keep bring each player back next year.
Or conversely, how important it is for Baalke to set his phone on “sleep mode” whenever agents who represent players on the bottom of the list call on behalf of their clients.
CB Tramaine Brock (EFA) and DE Will Tukuafu (EFA): As Exclusive Rights Free Agents these two aren’t under contract, but the 49ers own their rights and will certainly bring both players back.
CB Carlos Rogers: The team’s No. 1 cornerback all season, Rogers made the Pro Bowl and Second Team All-Pro, and stands to make a lot more than the $4 million or so he pulled down in 2011. Using the 49ers’ Franchise tag on Rogers could be a possibility. He showed no signs of slowing down at age 31 and mentioned he’d be willing to sign at what he called a “team discount.” With almost every team besides the 49ers carrying an elite wide receiver these days, you can never have too much depth at cornerback.
QB Alex Smith: Unless the 49ers are really considering the option of going after Peyton Manning, they’ll need to bring Smith back.
LB Ahmad Brooks: He started all 16 games and came up with 7 sacks. Brooks also graded out as a good run defender according to Pro Football Focus. His only problems: penalties and being overshadowed by the rest of the Forty-Niners’ Fantastic Front Seven. It’d sure be nice to have him back, however.
FS Dashon Goldson: Ridiculously impressive one moment, absolutely maddening a minute later. He provides a physical presence that’s uncommon throughout the league, but how much longer can he throw his body around? Goldson will probably seek a signing bonus that makes him a good investment only if he can remain an above-average safety for at least a few years. Goldson could be a good guy to franchise if a comparable safety isn’t available who’s cheaper.
WR Joshua Morgan: His first name gained two letters this season, and he was also the best receiver on the team before breaking his leg at the end of a blowout win over the Bucs. Morgan is reportedly on track to be fully healed in time for next season, and the 49ers need all the receivers they can get.
LB Blake Costanzo: A lot of teams are going to copy the 49ers and their obsession with special teams, so maybe it’s better that Costanzo didn’t make the Pro Bowl. Kick and punt coverage wouldn’t be the same without him.
DB C.J. Spillman (RFA): Not as demonstrative as Costanzo, but Spillman may be just as good in special teams coverage.
OL Adam Snyder: Continuity on the line is huge, and while Snyder might not be your first choice as your starting right guard, he played a ton for the 49ers this past season.
WR Ted Ginn Jr.: He was sorely missed in a certain recent game, as we all know. Ginn made some plays here and there in the passing game, and had what would have been an important long TD catch against the Ravens that was stolen by the officials on that chop block call on Frank Gore. But as a wide receiver, Ginn’s a really good return man.
LB Larry Grant (RFA): Kind of a luxury item at this point, even though he showed flashes of brilliance in relief of Patrick Willis. If nobody else wants him, bring him back. But not at starter money.
S Reggie Smith: The Niners have safeties who can hit, look for them to try to add some safeties who can cover this off-season. Smith’s a serviceable safety, but he’s not an above-average cover guy.
LB Tavares Gooden: Contributor to the great special teams coverage units, but replaceable.
WR Brett Swain: He didn’t do much after joining the Niners from the Packers’ practice squad (2 catches for 15 yards). Even though the 49ers aren’t in the position to turn away receivers, they shouldn’t worry too much about bringing Swain back.
TE Justin Peelle: There’s got to be some Stanford guy who’s just as good (or better) lurking around the practice facility, right?
S Madieu Williams: It almost seemed like Whitner and Williams came as a package deal because the 49ers added both within a couple days of each other, but they are far from the same player. Tough to imagine the 49ers keeping Williams around.
FB Moran Norris: Only gets a passing grade (barely) because Frank Gore likes him. He’ll retire.
G Chilo Rachal: Harbaugh tried, but even he had no answers for Rachal. Good physical tools, really bad offensive lineman. Cue the Kwame Harris jokes…