Both Head Coach Mike Singletary and General Manager Scot McCloughan made it clear that the team's highest priority will be to keep and reward their own free agents before seeking reinforcements from elsewhere.
There are teams out there (coughRedskinscough) who throw big money at past-their-prime free agents year after year, and more often than not, the production doesn't match the salary.
Successful teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts have shown time and again that the best way to build a team is through the draft and by developing your own players, but every now and then, a free agent signing does work out. The New Orleans Saints aren't exactly complaining about the money they doled out for quarterback Drew Brees or safety Darren Sharper, now are they?
Without further ado, here's a look at the 49ers free agents.
G David Baas (RFA): Baas suffered a foot injury early in training camp and consequently missed most of pre-season. He struggled mightily during the first half of the season, particularly with run blocking, but picked it up in the second half of the season. The team tendered him at the 2nd round level at a salary of $1.226 million, and while a guard with 38 games of starting experience at only 28 years of age does have some value, it's extremely unlikely that anyone will give up a 2nd round draft pick for his services.
WR Arnaz Battle (UFA): Battle has had a decent run as a reserve wideout and valuable special teamer, but he's 30 now and he seemed to lose some nerve as a return man last season. The 49ers are obviously going with a youth movement here, and Battle will have to find work elsewhere.
CB Dre' Bly (UFA): Except for the occasional brain cramp, Bly had a surprisingly good season as the team's nickel corner, and came up with three picks and two forced fumbles. His numbers would've looked even better but he dropped a couple of interceptions that would've been game-changers against the Vikings and Colts.
Bly is 32 now and obviously he has to be protected against certain speed mismatches, but he has been pretty effective in the slot and the 49ers might very well bring him back with a short contract at a fair price.
LB Ahmad Brooks (RFA): After receiving scant playing time his first year and a half with the team, Brooks got his chance in the second half of 2009 and played like a demon, finishing with six sacks and five forced fumbles as a nickel pass rusher.
The 49ers are taking a big risk by tendering him at the 2nd-round level at $1.759 million. Guys who can consistently put heat on the quarterback are such a rarity in the NFL that some team out there might decide a 2nd round pick is well worth a 25-year old on the come. The 49ers may just have decided to let other teams establish the market for Brooks, but it's a dangerous game they're playing.
NT Aubrayo Franklin (Franchised): Franklin was given the non-exclusive franchise tag and thus will make the average of the top five salaries at his position next year ($7.003 million) unless a long term contract can be worked out between he and the team. Any team interested in prying Franklin away from the team will have to give up two first round picks, though rumor has it that the 49ers' brass might settle for just one.
Franklin is as much of a key to the 49ers run defense as Patrick Willis is and while it's a given he'll be back for 2010, the hope is that the team will find a way to keep him around for years to come.
CB Walt Harris (UFA): Harris has had a good career, but he's 35 now and he missed all of last year with a torn ACL that he suffered in minicamp. It would be shocking if the Niners - or anyone else, frankly - offered him a contract.
CB Marcus Hudson (RFA): Unlike Baas and Brooks, he was not tendered by the team, meaning that anyone who wants him is free to make him an offer, without having to give up any draft choices. Hudson is a good special teams player, but has little value as a defensive back for the 49ers. He might seek greener pastures.
T Tony Pashos (UFA): Pashos was lured by the 49ers last season mainly due to the close relationship he had with offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Now Foerster has moved on and it remains to be seen if Pashos will follow suit. He only started one game last year before going on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury, but Pashos provided uncommon leadership in the locker room for a journeyman tackle and would serve as a good mentor for any rookie lineman the team would bring in. Similar to Bly's situation, the 49ers will keep him - if his agent's demands are reasonable.
S Mark Roman (UFA): He had a better season as a reserve in 2009 than he did as a starter in 2008. Roman is another defensive back on the wrong side of 30 and team might look to move on with youngsters Reggie Smith and Curtis Taylor in the backup spots, and they could bolster the safety corps in the draft as well.
T Barry Sims (UFA): After Joe Staley went down with a knee injury at Indianapolis, Sims was a godsend at left tackle, starting seven games and playing very well, especially in pass protection. He's not likely to get any big offers at 35 years of age, so hopefully the two sides can work something out for a year or two.
ILB Matt Wilhelm (UFA): Wilhelm signed on during the middle of the year once Jeff Ulbrich went on IR with a concussion and he was the team's top backup for Willis and Takeo Spikes, even starting one game when Spikes was hurt. The team is hoping that Scott McKillop, a rookie last year, has developed to the point that he can play from scrimmage in addition to his role as a special teams wedge-buster. Wilhelm was okay last year, but it's doubtful the team will go out of its way to bring him back.