Still, it doesn't mean that a savvy general manager out there can't find some upgrades. There are a few gems to be had. Teams just have to decide who's right for them (and for what cost). The following is a list of 20 vets that would make sense for the 49ers for a variety of reasons. The odds are they won't chase the great majority of these guys, but maybe they kick the tires on a couple...
1. Dawan Landry, SS, Ravens
A four year starter at just 27 years of age, Landry is the rare strong safety with good ball skills (he had four picks) and is on the cusp of being a star in the league. A restricted free agent, the Ravens have tendered him at a second round level at $1.7 million. There aren't any safeties the 49ers can draft in round two who'll be the instant impact player Landry would be, and it'd be interesting to see if Baltimore, with so many high-salaried guys on their roster, could match a big offer.
2. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers
Let's face it, Peppers, the premiere player of this free agent class, will be too pricey for the Niners. Still, he's spoken in the past about his desire to play OLB in a 3-4 defense, and San Francisco can certainly give him that opportunity. The freakishly athletic Peppers would instantly be the best edge pass rusher the 49ers have had since Charles Haley, minus the crazy. Probably the best we can hope for is that some AFC team will sigh him...
3. Keydrick Vincent, G, Panthers
Vincent, 31, is a well-traveled 6'5 325lb. mauler who's already played for four clubs. He hasn't always been dominant, but the light seemed to go on for him in Carolina, where he was a bulldozer that paved the way for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Having him would be dream come true for Jimmy Raye.
4. Oshiomogho Atogwe, SS, Rams
Atogwe makes sense for the 49ers for a number of reasons. Like Landry he's already a four year starter (except he's 28), he played his college ball at Stanford, and he's in a relationship with one of Mike Singletary's daughters.
Connections aside, he's a ferocious hitter and something of a ballhawk, with 19 career interceptions and 14 forced fumbles. Atogwe is a restricted free agent, but curiously, the Rams have tendered him at only a "Right of First Refusal" level, meaning he wouldn't cost his new team any draft picks, but that anyone who wants him has to pony up a serious amount of money for the Rams not to match. Who knows, maybe the new regime there wants to go with a youth movement and will let anyone who doesn't want to be there leave. Atogwe did miss the last four games of 2009 with a shoulder injury.
5. Leigh Bodden, CB, Patriots
Bodden is another player who's had an up-and-down career but was fortunate enough to have a good season in a contract year (funny how that works, huh?). He was pretty much the only dependable corner in New England's ragged secondary in 2009 and with his 6'1, 193lb. frame, has the kind of size that lots of GMs will covet. Only 28 years old, Bodden is just now entering his prime.
6. Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings
Few people remember it, but Taylor, an eight-year veteran, has a 1,200-yard season on his resume to go with a career average of 4.3 yards per carry. He's been Adrian Peterson's backup the past three seasons, but has played a lot on 3rd downs, and had 44 receptions last year. He'd be perfect in a similar role with the 49ers, but might be holding out hope that somebody out there sees him as an every down back with relatively few miles on his odomoter. Taylor has the size (5'11, 213lbs.) that 49ers GM Scott McCloughan likes in his backs.
7. Karlos Dansby, LB, Cardinals
A gifted, rangy playmaker, Dansby can do a little bit of everything and would be a marked upgrade over the aging Takeo Spikes. It's fun to think about what a terrific tandem he and Patrick Willis would make quite for the 49ers, but it's just a fantasy. Dansby is set to cash in with some other squad that doesn't have already one stud middle linebacker on hand.
8. Dunta Robinson, CB, Texans
The 27-year old Robinson has been a solid performer for a number of years and while he's not on the level of the Jets' Darrelle Revis or the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, opposing QBs shied away from testing Robinson too much in 2009. At 5'10, 184lbs., he's not quite as big as Bodden, but has been more consistent throughout his career.
9. Kevin Faulk, RB, Patriots
More of a traditionally change-of-pace back than Taylor is, Faulk has shown excellent hands over the years, is a willing blocker, and is excellent at running the draw play out of shotgun. At 33, he's not the returner he used to be, but as someone who's spent his entire 12-year career with the Patriots, Faulk has that winning attitude that Singletary demands from his players.
10. Naufahu Tahi, FB, Vikings
Tahi has served as Peterson's personal caddy the past three years and while he's not much of a receiving or running threat, he's very good at what he does, which is delivering the initial pop on some poor 'backer at the line of scrimmage. Tendered by Minnesota at $1.1M, Tahi will cost potential suitors just some greenbacks, but no draft picks.
11. Charles Grant, DE, Saints
Grant had a decent enough season for the champion Saints with 5.5 sacks, but their roster is so stacked and they have so many free agents, that sacrifices had to be made somewhere, and he'll be released on Friday. A bit long in the tooth at 31, Grant does possess the size at 6'3 and 285lbs. to play end for either a 4-3 or 3-4 team, and that versatility will get his agent plenty of phone calls.
12. Courtney Roby, KR, Saints
Roby isn't much of a receiver, but did average 27.5 yards on 42 kick returns last year and added several more during the playoffs. As free agents go he doesn't figure to cost much and he will be an attractive option for teams looking to improve their starting field position, like, say, the 49ers for example.
13. Jeremi Johnson, FB, Bengals
Whatever payday Cedric Benson gets with his new contract, he should tithe 10% of it to Johnson, who made much of his career resurgence in 2009 possible. At 275lbs., he is an absolute load to deal with, essentially a sixth offensive lineman. Like Tahi, he's a bit one-dimensional for a fullback, but he is unresticted and only 29 years old.
14. Sean Jones, SS, Eagles
Jones was a promising in-the-box safety his first few seasons with the Browns, but for some reason Philadelhia had him playing more of a centerfield role, which doesn't suit his skills. A sturdy tackler at 6'1 and 220 lbs., Jones also has come up with 16 interceptions in his four years as a starter in the league.
15. Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles
Thanks to his well-publicized injury issues, Westbroook's career as a starting RB appears to be over. However, he's a prototypical third down
back who can run routes like a receiver and block like a tight end. Westbrook is a risk, but he's another player who would bring a lot of leadership and a winning mentality to the 49ers.
16. Justin Griffith, FB, Seahawks
Not as young as Tahi and not possessing the same "oomph" as Johnson, Griffith is a bit more athletic than those guys but is still mainly a blocker. He didn't have anyone all that good to escort through the line last season, but that would obviously change with the 49ers.
17. Casey Fitzsimmons, TE, Lions
The 49ers went the whole year with just two tight ends on the roster, and backup Delanie Walker really isn't much of a blocker. Fitzsimmons at 6'4, 260lbs., would give the team another masher to help with the run blocking and he was crafty enough last season to finish with 18 receptions as well. He did go on injured reserve last December with a concussion though.
18. Artis Hicks, G, Vikings
Hicks, 31, has started a few years in the league but at this stage of his career he's more of a solid backup who can play either guard spot and even right tackle in a pinch. He would be an upgrade over Tony Wragge.
19. John Kuhn, FB, Packers
Yet another fullback. I guess that shows what I think of the incumbent. Like Tahi, Kuhn was undrafted and tendered at the $1.1M level. The Packers would be unlikely to match any offer much higher than that. Kuhn has decent hands and is only 27.
20. Marlin Jackson, CB, Colts
At 6'1, 190lbs., Jackson has good size and has been solid for the Colts from day one. So why'd they let him go when he's only 26 years old? Season-ending knee injuries the past two years might have had something to do with it.
Like I said, it's a not a very good free agent class.
A reminder to all you 49ers fans, be sure to join me next Thursday at 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m. EST) for my first chat at SFI. We'll discuss free agency, the draft, and whatever else 49ers-related you're curious about.