It’s no longer a secret that Trent Baalke loves to draft guys with long arms. Baalke and the 49ers also have a type when it comes to free agents.
They’re never in on the top guys, the players that get obscenely rich due to bidding wars between several desperate (and often foolish) teams. So you can remove guys like Jairus Byrd, Eugene Monroe, Michael Bennett, Brandon Albert and Aqib Talib from the list.
No, the 49ers like guys who were drafted in the first round — preferably in the first 100 minutes — who didn’t quite measure up to expectations. They’ve had a lot of success with guys like this, most notably Carlos Rogers (ninth overall – 2005), Donte Whitner (eighth overall – 2006) and Glenn Dorsey (fifth overall – 2008).
Taking that into account, here are some players the 49ers might look at when free agency starts next week, divided into a few groups. Also included: how each player ranked on NFL.com’s top-101 list and PFF’s top-75.
***Guys who don’t quite fit the mold due to age or other concerns***
The first two aren’t likely candidates to sign with the 49ers because they’re over 30, although the 49ers did sign Randy Moss (a guy who should’ve been a top-five pick who fell to No. 21 due to character concerns). As for the third guy … nah.
Kevin Williams, Defensive Tackle (ninth overall – 2003)
He’s a five-time first-team All-Pro (that’s a lot of hyphens) who has played pretty much everywhere on the line for the Minnesota Vikings. He may come relatively cheap due to age, but as a guy who performed up to draft day expectations and is now well over 30, Baalke probably won’t be interested.
Michael Vick, Quarterback (first overall – 2001)
The 49ers need a backup, and Vick still has the running ability to scare opposing defenses. But Vick’s going to want to join a team that’ll give him a shot at starting. Unless that team no longer exists, it’s hard to see him coming to San Francisco. Plus, he’ll want more than the veteran’s minimum. Plus, well, you know.
B.J. Raji, Defensive Tackle (ninth overall – 2009)
Raji is young, but he hasn’t had a sack in forever and he was the worst run defender among 3-4 defensive ends last year, according to PFF. He’d only get time as a nose tackle in San Francisco, and Dorsey’s better. If Ian Williams recovers from his broken ankle, he’ll be better as well. Raji’s still overrated despite underperforming compared to his draft position, and that’s not what the 49ers are looking for.
***Mid- or late-first round guys who’ve had some success***
This group is full of interesting names. Probably too interesting, because the 49ers usually go for the players who people have forgotten about after getting drafted in the top 10.
Michael Oher, Offensive Tackle (23rd overall – 2009)
If anything, Oher regressed during his time in Baltimore. The 49ers could use a swing tackle, but Oher will probably end up with a team that’s desperate for a starter at right tackle. His life made for a decent movie and a really good book, though.
Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver (29th overall – 2009)
The idea of signing an injury-prone wideout who used to play for the Giants doesn’t sound all that appealing, but when Nicks is right he’s a legit No. 2 receiver. But after two down years, one has to wonder if his best days are behind him.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback (16th overall – 2008)
Not to be confused with the Cromartie who can’t remember the names of his 50 trillion kids (that’s Antonio), DRC is a talented player. Motivation is the question, especially after some strange comments about possibly retiring in January. He maintains that retirement is not in his plans, so if the 49ers think they can harness his skills he could be an option if he doesn’t get too much interest.
Vontae Davis, Cornerback (25th overall – 2009)
Here’s an intriguing name, because the 49ers need corners and he’s Vernon’s brother. Davis looks great at times, but struggles with consistency (as we saw in the playoffs). Might some time around his hard-working brother be just the thing to help the 49ers tap into Vontae’s talent?
Josh Freeman, Quarterback (17th overall – 2009)
Something’s going on with Freeman. Whatever it is, the 49ers will probably shy away despite his size (6′ 6″, 240) and two good seasons (2010 and 2012).
Jon Beason, Linebacker (25th overall – 2007)
He went from a two-time All-Pro (first-team in 2008, second-team in 2009) to getting traded last season from the Panthers to the Giants. He’s a decent run defender these days, but his coverage skills are subpar. He’s representing himself, so if the 49ers can convince him to sign for almost nothing he might be an option as a backup middle linebacker to compete with Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody.
***Right in Baalke’s wheelhouse***
Here’s what the 49ers GM is looking for, guys who’ve driven their former teams absolutely bonkers after spending high picks and lots of money in hopes that they’d become stars. The 49ers love guys like these, although one of the names on this list will probably cause a few people to heave overripe tomatoes at yours truly via the comments section.
Malcolm Jenkins, Safety (14th overall – 2009)
Opinions vary quite a bit on Jenkins, but the comparisons between Jenkins and Whitner are eerie. Both safeties went to Ohio State. They both failed to really wow anyone in their first five years in the league. Whitner has been a strong safety throughout his career while Jenkins has played more at the other safety spot, but the 49ers could always move Eric Reid to strong safety and keep Jenkins at free if they chose.
Darren McFadden, Running Back (fourth overall – 2008)
Raiders fans are all like, “You can have him. Enjoy the nagging leg, toe and shoulder injuries!” 49ers fans are all like, “Dude, the last thing we need is another running back.” And both sets of fans are probably right. But McFadden sure fits the prototype in that he’s a ridiculously talented player who was drafted in the top 10, flashed some brilliance every now and then, but was an enormous disappointment overall. The injury history is ridiculous, but that’s why he’s a classic “buy low” guy.
The only running back Colin Kaepernick felt comfortable throwing to in 2013 was Bruce Miller. If McFadden’s role was mostly as a receiver, with Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore splitting the carries, that could be interesting. I’m also not sure whether the 49ers think there’s much of a future with LaMichael James (who almost certainly wants to leave anyway) or Kendall Hunter (who played fewer than 13 snaps per game last season).
In conclusion, this is a dumb idea I had today that I’ll brag about for years if the 49ers actually sign him. For now, feel free to mock me as you see fit.
Tyson Jackson, Defensive End (third overall – 2009)
The 49ers will probably stay away from Jackson, simply because signing him would be too obvious. Just look at all the qualities Jackson possesses that are oh-so-tempting for the 49ers:
- The draft position
- The ensuing disappointment
- Great at stopping the run
- Played for the Chiefs
This guy is so under-the-radar, PFF didn’t even put him in their top 75 … and in 2013 they graded him out as the 14th-best 3-4 defensive end in the game, two spots ahead of Justin Smith.
I’d expect the 49ers to at least talk to Jackson and his agent. If they decide Whitner’s asking price is too high, they might give Jenkins some consideration as well. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the 49ers speak with someone else I listed earlier as well — especially Davis, given the positional need and family connection.