The 49ers and Alex Smith finally agreed to terms on a contract, ending the 49ers’ suddenly turbulent search for their 2012 quarterback. Many may concur with the idea that Smith still has much to prove – seven years of failure is not easily forgiven, even after a season of success.
Although the 49ers may still invite Buccaneers free agent back-up quarterback Josh Johnson for a look, it appears the position of quarterback is finally set. Smith is the 49ers quarterback for 2012, with Colin Kaepernick spending another season in the wings. What they do with Scott Tolzien is anybody’s guess – he’ll probably stay put unless Jim Harbaugh’s still crushing on Johnson.
Enough about the quarterbacks. What about the team, the team, the team?
The 49ers bolstered their receiving corps, adding Randy Moss on a “prove it to us” deal and Mario Manningham on a mysterious 2-year contract (the details of Manningham’s deal slid under the “where the hell is Peyton going to play” radar). Incumbent wideouts Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams will be back, while it’s beginning to look like Ted Ginn will be taking his questionable hands elsewhere.
The 49ers signed former Raiders special teams ace Rock Cartwright, presumably to replace Blake Costanzo, who signed with Chicago. They also added secondary depth by signing Parrish Cox to a 2-year deal. The re-signed Ahmad Brooks to a 5-year deal, solidifying Aldon Smith’s counterpart and instilling faith in the once-troubled outside linebacker. But arguably their biggest pick up was wooing Carlos Rogers back on an affordable 4-year contract.
Where are the holes?
Position to position, there really aren’t many.
Defensive Backs – With Rogers, Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown, Cox and Tramaine Brock, the 49ers have a pretty solid core of young cornerbacks. But the key word there is YOUNG – they may still be in the market for some corner help. There’s no telling what the 49ers have in Cox, who’s been involved in more than a few off the field incidents. The NFL Draft is a likelier source if the 49ers want to add cornerback depth, but they might wait out the market and add a CB who falls through the cracks.
The 49ers are solidified at free and strong safety with Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. The drop off should one of them get hurt is significant, especially with names like Colin Jones, CJ Spillman and Mark LeGree as your backups. Adding a safety in free agency or the later rounds in the draft is a possibility.
Linebackers – Not much to complain about here. The 49ers have the best inside linebacker duo in the league between Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis. They just re-signed Ahmad Brooks to a hefty 5 year contract and Parys Haralson is still around … for now.
Defensive Line – Not much to be done here either. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith should anchor both sides, although Aldon’s also known as an OLB. With Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga clogging up the middle, stuffing the A and B gaps shouldn’t be a problem. With Ricky-Jean Francois and Ian Williams also in the mix, the 49ers should be well-equipped to handle opposing offensive lines next season.
Special Teams – David Akers and Andy Lee are back, which means the 49ers remain strong in the legs. Always-trusty Brian Jennings should still be the team’s long snapper, but recently signed Ryan Pontbriand and Kyle Nelson will provide competition. Most of the special teams crew from 2011 is back, sans Costanzo. Without him the #TonyMontanaSquad is probably retired forever. Perhaps Boobie Dixon has something up his sleeve?
Quarterback – Smith re-signed, Kaepernick’s still learning and Tolzein’s around in case of emergency. Will the 49ers sign Johnson? That option seemed a lot more tempting a year ago.
Running Back – Frank Gore looks like the man going forward, with Kendall Hunter giving him a break as a true change-of-pace back. I like Hunter as a role player, but I don’t envision him as the every down halfback that Gore has been for so long. Bruce Miller has turned out to be an incredible pick up by Trent Baalke, so fullback is set as long as he stays healthy. Anthony Dixon is the Flava Flav of the 49ers – one hell of a hype man, but not much else. It would be wise to find a reinforcement at this position, as Gore’s nearing the end.
Wide Receiver – This is a chicken and egg situation – do just-okay wide receivers make Alex Smith just-okay, or vice versa? With the 49ers adding Moss and Manningham to complement Crabtree and Williams, adding Mike Wallace is unlikely. However, drafting a wide receiver isn’t.
Tight ends – If Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker aren’t good enough for you, you’ve got some mighty high standards. On the other hand, many would love to see Coby Fleener in red and gold.
Offensive Line – Here’s the only spot left on the roster that truly needs help. Geoff Schwartz showed up in Santa Clara on Tuesday to have a a meet and greet with the 49ers. Schwartz, 25, grew up a 49ers fan. Originally drafted in the seventh round in 2008, Schwartz started all 16 for the Panthers in 2010 before missing 2011 due to a hip injury. Veteran Leonard Davis is also an option.
The rest of the offensive line looks solid. Anthony Davis is young and filter-less (at least when it comes to Twitter) but he seems to be progressing at right tackle. Joe Staley comes off a year where he was named 2nd-team All-Pro, Mike Iupati didn’t get the same recognition but was just as effective, and Jonathan Goodwin was a nice addition. The other guard spot remains the wild card, with Daniel Kilgore and a yet-to-be-signed player probably competing for the job.
After taking a step back, the amount of time it took Harbaugh and Baalke to solidify this team is stunning. Once the pieces are in place, the real fun begins: resuming the ever-entertaining chemistry experiment that is coaching up Alex Smith.
OK, Great summary & analysis. I believe there is a reason for the non-emergency in filling the RG position through free agency. I think the Niners are accessing the draft. They see that trading their first and second picks (904 value points) to Chicago for their first pick (875 value points) to grab the 19th pick in the first round. Why would Chicago do this? It would give them 5 picks in the first 3 rounds, a 1st, 2 2nds and 2 3rds and this would/could set them up for a "killer" draft. Then, this would put the Niners in position to grab Stanford/Harbaugh guy RG David De Castro. This would be contingent on Dallas not picking him up at 14. Which would be a bit of a reach for a Guard. However, De Castro in an anchor type player, he will anchor the position for the next 10 years for any team that picks him - hopefully the Niners! BTW, this is also contingent on the Niners not throwing a TON of cash at WR Mike Wallace (which would cost them their first round choice as well.) If this happens, I'm guessing it will be Kilgore and prayers.
After this wild Free Agency, I'd say the Niners' biggest remaining needs for the draft (or more free agents) are... 1. O-Line: A starter at RG. Either someone like Zeitler or Silatolu to plug in. Or a guy like Konz who can start at RG and then move over to Center to take over for Goodwin in a year or two. 2. A Red-Zone Threat. A big guy who can get in the end zone and fight for the ball. Either a big TE like Fleener. Or a WR like Hill, Sanu, Toon... the list goes on. This draft is pretty doggone deep for WRs. The Niners could pick up a guy like Criner, Marvin Jones or Marvin McNutt in the 3rd (even 4th) round and not have that big of a dropoff from what would be available at #30. 3. A Safety: Depth at Safety is a concern. Whether they pick a guy in the 2nd round or the 5th depends on who's available and whether or not they're looking for a depth/ST guy or someone who can take over for Dashon long-term. 4. A Punt Returner: Unless Ginn comes back (which is still a possibility) the Niners need a guy who can field punts. Joe Adams, Devon Wylie, even Stephon Gilmore. Or a guy from a smaller school in the later rounds. 5. Frank Gore's successor: The inevitable is fast approaching. Unless Anthony Dixon embraces his destiny as the heir to Earl Campbell and Jerome Bettis' power running style, there's no answer to what happens post-Frank. A guy like Turbin in the 3rd or Doug Martin in the 2nd round would give the team a clear path. 6. Pass Rusher: Because, well, you can always use an extra OLB pass rusher to bring the heat to opposing QBs. The good news is that the Niners are well-positioned in this draft. They can focus on drafting for depth and "the future" -- as in they can draft NOW for who's taking over after Gore, Goldson, Delanie, Moss or whoever moves on. The only immediate need that I see for the team is Right Guard. And they are in a good place to pick up a quality starter in the 1st or 2nd round. Compare that to where the Niners were even last year when they needed a pass rusher, a QB to groom and massive help in the secondary. Or the year before when they needed to overhaul the O-Line.
They Definitely need to look at Running Back, I'm afraid Frank's Days might be coming to an end real soon. Like you said Kendall Hunter is a nice change of pace during the game, but he is a role player. Dixon seems to get tired to easily, we have all heard the rumors about his conditioning, or lack of. It seems historically the drop off for the Running Back position happens quick...one day your Head Coach wants a statue of you constructed...the next day your packing up your Locker.