49ers Team Report
The 49ers convinced nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to bypass his chance for free agency.
Just two days before he was scheduled to hit the open market, Sopoaga signed a five-year contract extension with the 49ers, reportedly worth $20 million. Sopoaga would have likely been the most highly sought-after defensive tackles in free agency after Albert Haynesworth and Corey Williams were tagged as franchise players by the Titans and Packers, respectively.
The 49ers figure to lose both defensive ends. Bryant Young, who is retiring, and Marques Douglas, a free agent, both started 16 games last season. Sopoaga was a backup nose tackle to starter Aubrayo Franklin, but he also has the versatility to play defensive end in a 3-4.
It is also possible the 49ers could switch to a 4-3 scheme, in which case both Franklin and Sopoaga would start side-by-side at defensive tackle.
Sopoaga was the third player the 49ers signed to a contract extension before the start of free agency. Earlier this month, the 49ers signed quarterback Shaun Hill to a three-year, $6 million contract. Hill is scheduled to compete with Alex Smith for the starting job.
The 49ers also signed outside linebacker Roderick Green to a one-year, low-money contract. The 49ers cut Green during training camp last season, but he returned in November and recorded two sacks for the club in seven games.
The 49ers headed into free agency with more than $25 million in salary cap room. They quickly signed wide receiver Isaac Bruce away from division-rival St. Louis. The team was expected to make be aggressive during the first week of the free-agent signing period, and has agreed to a six-year, $45 million deal with Bengals defensive end Justin Smith that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.
“We’re lucky enough to have some money in free agency and hopefully we can use it in the best manner for us,” 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. “But we’re going to spend just to spend.”
• Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill are expected to be ready for the 49ers’ opening minicamp, which takes place the weekend after the draft. Smith underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in December, while Hill had his broken and dislocated right index finger repaired in January.
“They’re both going good,” 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. “With Alex and the shoulder, he’s been back at the complex. The rehab is going the way we want it to. He’s back throwing now, which is very good. But it’s the process we wanted.
“Nothing should hold them back once we get to our minicamp and OTAs. They’ll both be 100 percent and ready to go.”
• Coach Mike Nolan made an interesting move with the hiring of Chris Foerster as offensive line coach. Foerster will share the duties with incumbent George Warhop, whose unit Nolan said underachieved last season.
“We’ve got a good line, we didn’t perform up to our level last year—overall, offensively we didn’t either,” Nolan said. “But I would expect our offensive line to perform well, and we will continue to always try and build our offensive line.”
Nolan said he hired another offensive line coach because of the numbers of players at that position. He compared it to defensive back, where the 49ers also have two coaches.
“You’ve always got at least five offensive linemen on the field,” Nolan said. “It would only seem right to have both require two coaches. I think we’re very lucky to have a guy like Chris Foerster out there, and have the opportunity to hire Chris and have him on our staff. He’s an outstanding coach in this league.”
• New offensive coordinator Mike Martz will have an impact on which offensive players the 49ers pursue in free agency and the draft. He spoke at length last week to McCloughan about his preferences.
“The thing I respect about him and coach Nolan and coach (Greg) Manusky (defensive coordinator) is, they want football players,” McCloughan said. “If we have football players, they’ll find a way to get them on the football field.”
Quote To Note: “We’re going to identify who we think is a 49er, like what we did last year with Michael Lewis and Nate Clements and those guys. And go after them. We have names that we’ve already been through, restricted and unrestricted, we have our thoughts and we have our limit.”—49ers general manager Scot McCloughan.
Strategy And Personnel
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has never had a physical talent at tight end like Vernon Davis. So will Davis be lost in Martz’s system or will he thrive?
“After visiting with coach Martz, he’s really excited about having him as a weapon,” McCloughan said. “The one thing I don’t want to lose sight of, and people think of Vernon because of his size and speed that he’s an athletic receiving tight end. But he’s a dang good blocking tight end. He’s the whole package as far as we’re concerned.
“The one thing about coach Martz that really intrigues me is he has a vision. He can see what he wants to do with certain guys. And he’s excited about putting him into the offense. He’ll adjust to what our talent level is and what our personnel is.”
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
The 49ers didn’t use their franchise tag on any player this offseason, but that does not mean they are not interested in keeping any of their own free agents.
No. 1 on the list was nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who increased his level of consistency last season as part of the defensive line rotation. Sopoaga re-signed a few days before the start of free agency.
The 49ers expect to add at least two defensive linemen via free agency and the draft. It is uncertain whether they will retain veteran defensive end Marques Douglas. The 49ers have plenty of cap room, and used $plenty of it to sign defensive end Justin Smith to a six-year, $45 million deal that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.
1. Wide receiver: Most observers agree that the 49ers do not have a No. 1 receiver, and new signee Isaac Bruce no longer fits that mold. In order for the offense to work under new coordinator Mike Martz, the 49ers need one standout receiver.
2. Offensive line: The club gave up a franchise-high sack total, and they lost Justin Smiley and might lose Larry Allen (retirement) and Jonas Jennings (potential cap casualty). Help—and depth—is needed here.
3. Defensive line: Bryant Young is retiring. Douglas is a scheduled free agent. The defensive line wasn’t great last season, but it could be a whole lot worse early in free agency unless the 49ers act in a hurry. Bengals defensive end Justin Smith has signed a six-year deal with the 49ers, so that’s a solid start.
Medical Watch: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• G Larry Allen is expected to retire.
• DE Marques Douglas had a very good season, but the 49ers are concerned about his ability to continue to play at a high level.
• WR Bryan Gilmore came back to the team at mid-season, but gaining a roster spot this year should get even more difficult.
• T Kwame Harris lost his starting job last season and is looking for a place to play.
• RB Maurice Hicks carried just 21 times last season, so he’ll look for a chance for more playing time.
• WR/KR Michael Lewis did an acceptable job, so he might get another chance to compete for a job.
• DB Donald Strickland has the versatility and attitude, so he’ll probably re-sign.
• QB Chris Weinke does not figure to be back after club signed him late in the season due to injuries.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
• CB B.J. Tucker (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• TE Billy Bajema (tendered at $927,000 with 7th-round pick as compensation) is a blocking specialist that figures prominently in two-tight end formations.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
• WR Isaac Bruce: FA Rams; $6M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
• RB DeShaun Foster: FA Panthers; $1.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
• QB J.T. O’Sullivan: UFA Lions; $645,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB.
• CB/KR Allen Rossum: FA Steelers; $870,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB.
• DE Justin Smith: UFA Bengals; $45M/6 yrs, $20M guaranteed.
• LB Dontarrious Thomas: UFA Vikings; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
• OLB Roderick Green: Potential UFA; $605,000/1 yr.
• QB Shaun Hill: Potential UFA; $6M/3 yrs, $1.95M SB; 2008 cap: $1.65M.
• NT Isaac Sopoaga: Potential UFA; $20/M/5 yrs, SB unknown.
• G Justin Smiley: UFA Dolphins; $25M/5 yrs, $9M guaranteed.
• LB Derek Smith (released).
• DT Bryant Young (retired).