There’s been a lot of early season jitters as the blogorama shakes off the rust of the long offseason and gets its tonsils game ready. But one week into the new season, the collective nerves seem to be settling down a bit.
The early reactions focused not only on the lack of FA acquistions by the 49ers, but also the fellows vacating the team, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. To the national media, this seemed like a mass exodus. In reality, the guys who left the team were on their way out the door last year. And let’s face it, they didn’t do too well last year, either. To recap:
Manny Lawson: wanted a contract extension last year and the team declined. It’s not that Manny isn’t a good player, but he did not give the team what it wants from the OLB position he played. Namely, any pass rushing ability. His replacement did not need to be gathered in FA because it occurred on the first day of the 2011 NFL Draft, when the team selected Aldon Smith. Net gain, Niners.
Abrayo Franklin: badly overplayed his value and nearly slunk back to the team with lowered demands. The Niners never expected Franklin to return this year and planned all offseason to move Isaac Sopoagna to the nose instead. Whether the Niners were correct in their assessment of Sopoagna or not, won’t be known till we play some games.
Nate Clements: Nate’s play has slipped the last two years, but the team would have brought him back if his salary demands were reasonable (to the team). They were not. He’s now a Bengal, along with Lawson. The team has four young CBs on the team, plus the recently signed Carlos Rogers. One of them will take Nate’s spot and it’s hard to see how their young legs will fare much worse than his old ones.
Takeo Spikes: Spikes’ replacement was drafted in the third round in 2010 — NaVorro Bowman. Bowman is as fast as Patrick Willis, or nearly so, giving the 49ers probably the fastest ILBs in the league. Speed over age, again. Spikes realized he might spend most, or even all, of the 2011 season on the bench, so he took his chance to leave town for a starter’s spot in San Diego.
Dashon Goldson: the team wanted him back, but he is overplaying his hand in FA and has yet to be signed by anyone. As a precaution, the team signed an eight year veteran who had virtually identical stats to Goldson’s last year. The team also has four young safeties already on the team. Goldson might return, but if not, his loss would not be all that harmful, if at all.
David Baas: the Giants overpaid for this guy and Adam Snyder, the player many blognosticators felt should replace Chilo Rachal at RG, now moves to center instead. Snyder was a poor RT, but not as poor as Baas was at LG. I don’t see much of a dropoff, if any, with him taking over the center spot now, although the team might still sign a FA veteran.
Of the players who thought they would be in demand on the FA market, none were.
The new 49er coaching regime had all offseason to evaluate the team, more so because of the lockout than would usually be the case. Clearly, they did not feel the above players were all that valuable. Nor did the team evidently feel there was a player or two at the top of the FA market that would put the team into a new stratosphere. Nnamdi Asomugha was the only player that would have given the team a real jolt of improvement, but he clearly wanted to play for the Eagles. The team does have a lot of young players (17 from this year’s draft + last year’s) that will be given a chance to prove themselves, before the team starts replacing them with FAs. Why draft players, if you are not going to play them? Ask Mike Nolan. He would know.
As has been pointed out by our esteemed commentators, teams have to be cap-compliant by the end of today, because the new league year begins tomorrow. We could see a lot of veterans released today and in the next few days. The good news is that both of the team’s top two draft choices from this year are already impressing the hell out of the veterans on the team. Since those two represent pass rush and QB play, the future looks close and much brighter.
We will know more about this year beginning in less than two weeks, when the exhibition games begin. And we get to see what the biggest FA acquisition of the offseason can do — Jim Harbaugh.