Franklin, Lawson join list of ex-49ers
The exodus of front-line 49ers starters reached its apex Tuesday when nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and outside linebacker Manny Lawson both signed one-year contracts with other teams.
The 49ers never really got serious in free agency about pursuing the two veterans who were key components in their defense the past four years. Franklin and Lawson both started all 16 games for San Francisco each of the past two seasons and were among the team's leading defensive performers during that stretch.
Neither player attracted the kind of interest on the open market that both they and others had expected. Lawson signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals and Franklin also received just a one-year contract, from the New Orleans Saints.
They join linebacker Takeo Spikes and cornerback Nate Clements as ex-49ers who started all 16 games for the team's defense last season. Another 16-game starter in 2010, safety Dashon Goldson, remains unsigned, with mutual interest still existing between the team and player.
Spikes signed a three-year deal with San Diego Chargers last week and Clements immediately signed a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals after he was released by San Francisco late last week due to his exorbitant salary. Clements got a sweet deal from the Bengals, who will pay him $10.5 million the next two years with $6 million guaranteed. The Niners also lost another defensive contributor to free agency, outside linebacker Travis LaBoy, who signed a two-year deal with San Diego.
The 49ers had been attempting to strike a multi-year deal with Franklin since making him their franchise player in 2010. But they weren't about to pay him franchise-tag money again this year, and late talks apparently went nowhere when Franklin met with team officials at 49ers headquarters on Monday.
When NinersDigest asked coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday why the 49ers couldn't convince Franklin to return to the team, or if they really even tried to convince him, Harbaugh responded: "We had a discussion… Not so much trying to convince people."
Then Harbaugh went on, pulling out a truckload of metaphors to frame the situation in general:
"The train has pulled into the station, it stopped," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot of momentum to it with the way the offseason was, but it pulled in, loaded up a bunch of guys, 80 something guys here when we first started, and it's moving out of the station now and steam is coming out of the sides and we are moving down the tracks. There are some guys that are sprinting to get on it, and our hands are out and ready to accept them, but that train is moving, can't wait for everybody."
And now it's waiting for Franklin and Lawson no longer. Or the other way around.
OUR VIEW: The surprisingly lukewarm interest Lawson and Franklin received on the open market – particularly Franklin, once considered among the top defensive tackles available this year in free agency – indicates the 49ers might not have been so far off in their decision to allow both players to test the market and let the chips fall where they may. Lawson – a mobile, rangy and athletic talent – still could have helped the 49ers, but he wasn't going to be an every-down player anymore in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's system, and he would likely be playing behind Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and first-round draft pick Aldon Smith on passing downs. While Franklin has been a key cog in San Francisco's elite rushing defense and was instrumental in clogging the middle and keeping blockers off tackle-machine linebacker Patrick Willis, he has probably reached his peak as a player and, considering his body makeup and condition, could be headed toward steep decline as soon as this season or next. The 49ers' contingency plan for the loss of both players suddenly looks a bit better, and while the departure of these two solid veterans definitely is a loss for the 49ers today, they could be forgotten quickly if younger players step up. We would have liked to see the 49ers go hard after one of these veterans, but the fact that nobody else went hard after them suggests the Niners might have had the right idea after all.
Niners get their CB: Carlos Rogers
The 49ers made a key move to strengthen the most glaring hole in their secondary late Tuesday when they signed free-agent cornerback Carlos Rogers to a one-year deal. Rogers visited with team officials earlier in the day before agreeing to become a Niner.
The last top-flight cornerback remaining on the open market, Rogers is expected to slide into the starting job occupied the past four seasons by Clements. He's an immediate upgrade in a secondary that was burned often in key sequences last year, when San Francisco ranked 24th in the NFL in passing defense.
Rogers comes to the 49ers with a classy pedigree. He was the ninth player selected overall in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, starting five games as a rookie and then moving into the starting lineup to stay in his second season. Rogers started 63 of the 66 games he played for Washington the past five years, recording 299 tackles, 73 passes defensed and eight interceptions in his stay with the Redskins.
OUR VIEW: Rogers isn't Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph, but he might very well be the next best thing. Since they were running out of options on the open market, the 49ers sorely needed to add a starting-quality cornerback before the team got much deeper into training camp, and Rogers isn't just starting quality – he might already be the best cornerback on the roster. This is a coup for the 49ers – and just in time after the team's slow-play approach in free agency – and you can be sure San Francisco won't be paying Rogers anything close to $15 million this season. That's the obnoxious salary the 49ers were on the hook for in 2010 with Clements, the man Rogers is replacing in the lineup. That's called paying less to get younger and better.
Cleaning house or not cleaning house?
Harbaugh was asked late Tuesday whether he feels that, with a new coaching staff, the 49ers need to clean house with players from the team's previous regime.
Harbaugh didn't like the question. Man, did he not like it.
"No, heck no," he responded. "I don't think that's even accurate or fair to say. We've said it right from the beginning: We've got experienced guys here, we've got good guys, we've got guys that have been there before. I came here excited to coach these guys. That's the way we're building the team is around those guys. I don't think that's a real accurate way you posed that question. Surely, you can't say we've cleaned house in any way."
OUR VIEW: Upon further review, Harbaugh is right. While the feeling here is that the team should have more aggressively targeted a few free agents and pursued them more fervently, the 49ers have only cleaned out three veterans from last year's roster, and they had sound reasoning for each move. Clements simply had a bloated contract that paid him way more than he's worth to the team, and there was no place on the 49ers for David Carr as a No. 3 quarterback, particularly at the salary he was scheduled to make in 2010. And, while it would have been a nice story to see Eric Heitmann come back from a serious neck injury, the reality is he was going to miss a second consecutive season this year and his career is probably over. Letting other boys leave home of their own accord? Yes. Cleaning house? Uh… no.
Becker joins team as personnel advisor
The 49ers announced Tuesday that they have added John Becker to their front office as the team's new Senior Personnel Advisor.
Becker has 28 years of NFL experience as a coach, scout and player personnel director. Becker, who has Super Bowl rings from his association with 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2006 Indianapolis Colts, will have both college and pro personnel responsibilities with the 49ers.
OUR VIEW: A NFL team can never have enough experienced minds in its front office, especially those that have worked for multiple Super Bowl winners and have developed a lot of savvy and personnel contacts in three decades working in the league. As Niners general manager Trent Baalke said of Becker, "His experience in both coaching and player personnel will be extremely valuable to our organization." That's kind of the way it looks from here, too.
Craig, Owens next to go in Hall
Last but not least during a busy day at 49erland, the team announced that former star players Roger Craig and R.C. Owens will the 2011 inductees into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame.
Craig and Owens will join 17 other legendary 49ers in the Hall, and each certainly belongs amongst that company.
Among his many other accomplishments, Craig became the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (1985), and he was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,502 yards and snagging 76 receptions in 1988. Owens was such a high-leaping phenom in his day that the term "Alley Oop" was created to describe his spectacular catches, a phrase that still resonates in the NFL today.
OUR VIEW: Craig and Owens both are all-time 49ers greats and their inclusion into the team's Hall of Fame is a given. Both have their niche in the team's rich and storied history, particularly Craig, who won three Super Bowl rings while revolutionizing the game with his dual-threat prowess in the backfield. This Hall induction should pave the way for another Hall induction for Craig – the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Craig was a finalist for induction to that Hall for the first time this year, hopefully an indication that he's on his way in the near future, because considering everything Craig accomplished in his career, he should be there already.