It took roughly 5 long months and came close to threatening the preseason, but the Players Union and NFL owners finally agreed on a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement which will put the NFL back in business Tuesday.
So just like that, the NFL is back, and there is a lot to get done between now and kickoff 2011 in September, less than a month and a half away. Yahoo Sports came out with the top-100 NFL Free Agents who will be looking for new contracts between now and then, and there are quite a few big named players out there, and a few key players from last years 49ers team as well. Not only is expected starting QB Alex Smith free, but the 49ers starting nose tackle (Aubreyo Franklin), 2 of their key linebackers (Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson), and starting safety (Dashon Goldson) are all free to sign with whatever team they please. The 49ers will bring back Alex Smith as coach Jim Harbough has made public his endorsement of Smith on more than one occasion and there just aren't many better options out there. We talked a bit in our last post how the Niners may look to bring in a veteran stop-gap like Matt Hasselbeck, but it would be wiser on their part to focus on their defensive free agents and roll with Smith again. I would definitely like to see Lawson and Spikes return. Spikes is a leader and still valuable on the field and although Lawson didn't quite reach his potential in San Francisco the first go round, but I would hate to see him leave and become another Julian Peterson (25 sacks over 3 seasons in Seattle after he left the 49ers).
As far as other potential free agents who could interest the 49ers, I don't see a whole lot out there that the Niners will likely consider. There are a couple of other safeties out there that could provide an upgrade to Niners secondary, but their focus is likely going to be on Goldson who's had two strong seasons in the 49er secondary and is really coming into his own. I really like Charger safety Eric Waddle, who many believed was the backbone of that defense for the last couple of seasons. He's only 25 and is already a pro-bowl caliber player and would look pretty good lining up next to Dashon in "center field" for the 49ers. Other than that, I don't really see the 49ers doing a whole lot as far as player movement between now and the start of the season besides inking their rookies and retaining Franklin, Smith, Spikes, Lawson and Goldson. I don't see them letting Lawson go because of the lack of depth at outside linebacker, even though they have Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and #1 draft pick Aldon Smith figuring to get tons of playing time.
The two areas I'd like to see 49ers upgrade is their wideout and cornerback position. Wideout isn't a need, but it's an area where they can upgrade the squad big time, and we all know offense was an issue for this team last year. Michael Crabtree is locked into one starting spot, but I've never been overly impressed by Josh Morgan, and he's had plenty of time to prove his worth. He is coming off his best season, but neither him or Crabtree are considered deep ball threats and I think it would drastically open up the 49ers offense if they added someone who could stretch the field. The guy I'm looking at after reviewing the full free agent list is Braylon Edwards. He's had some off field issues and some inconsistency in his play, but had a nice finish to last season, is still just 27 years old and I think his best days are still ahead of him. Cornerback is a different story. The 49ers were highly considering grabbing a corner with their top pick in the draft which tells me they are indeed interested in upgrading there, and they have the money to do so. Perhaps the reason they decided against drafting one is because the FA market is so stocked with above average cornerbacks that they're bound to wind up with one if they so choose. The top dog is Nhamdi Asomghua, but he's out of 49er price range unless they cut loose Nate Clements. Jonathan Joseph, Antonio Cromartie and Ike Taylor would also provide nice options if the 49ers want a top-notch CB and cannot land Nhamdi.
BASJ Notes: With the NFL back in full swing, there's likely going to be tons and tons of things to talk about between now and Kickoff '11, so we'll be shifting back into football mode here at The BASJ. We'll still also mix in A's, Giants, Cal and Stanford sports coverage as well as other breaking news around the Bay Area and in the Sports World, but for most of the NBA Lockout talk, check out our Warriors Rundown, and for complete Giants daily coverage, check out The Giants Baseball Blog.