We've already detailed the cases for and against center David Baas, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive lineman Ray McDonald, offensive tackle Barry Sims and linebackers Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy, skipping only the unique situation of quarterback Alex Smith, since it became well established in June that Smith will be re-signing with the 49ers once the lockout ends.
When that day comes, the 49ers are expected to have a three-day window to negotiate with their free agents before the doors swing wide open on full-scale free agency. Along with the key veterans listed above, the team must then consider its options on these six players:
Frank Gore went down with a season-ending injury in late November, Westbrook still has what it takes to produce as a lead back. He rushed for 136 yards in three quarters of action after Gore fractured his hip at Arizona in Week 12, then capped his five-game stint as the starter with two TD runs in the season finale against the Cardinals. Westbrook finished the season with 340 yards rushing and his 4.4 average was the best of any San Francisco running back. He also had a 62-yard scoring reception and generally displayed the skills and versatility that made him one of the NFL's top running backs just a few seasons ago with Philadelphia.
Why he should go: Westbrook turns 31 before the 2011 seasons begins, and that's usually an age by which a running back with the kind of NFL wear-and-tear that he's absorbed has entered irreversible decline. Westbrook couldn't have been happy about the way the 49ers used him last year – he had only five carries in San Francisco's first 10 games – and he probably is still looking for an opportunity with a team that will make him a regular part of the offense. That's unlikely to happen with the 49ers, who will continue to feature Gore as the undisputed lead back and have two young players behind him.
The verdict: Westbrook certainly is the kind of experienced and capable veteran the 49ers would like to keep around – particularly with a new coaching staff coming in with an offensive system in which Westbrook has previously thrived – but he's not a fit with this team, which has promising Anthony Dixon prepared to take on a larger role in his second season and fourth-round draft pick Kendall Hunter capable of coming in and making an immediate contribution as a rookie.
Why he should go: There are a lot of players like Wragge out there, and the 49ers in April spent a fifth-round draft pick on Daniel Kilgore and a seventh-rounder on Michael Person, two college tackles whom the 49ers plan to groom at the same interior line positions Wragge plays. Wragge immediately became expendable when the 49ers selected those two players.
The verdict: Wragge still has value to the 49ers, particularly with Eric Heitmann likely to miss a second consecutive season to injury, and his experience could be key with the two rookies missing out on three months of offseason development due to the lockout. Wragge should be brought back on a short-term deal to at least compete for a backup role along the line, where his versatility could again come in handy.
Why he should go: Evans doesn't offer San Francisco anything spectacular and he clearly fits in as nothing more than a reserve at defensive end, and probably would be the final player in the rotation at the position if he makes the team. The 49ers have some developing young players who can fill that role, and they also could find another veteran in free agency.
The verdict: Retaining Evans is not a high priority, but the team needs to keep him in mind as it waits to see how things shake out along its defensive front once the lockout ends. If Evans goes, the Niners probably would need to find a similar veteran free agent to take his place in the training-camp competition, so offering Evans a short-term deal at a reasonable price is something the team should, and probably will, consider.
QB Troy SmithWhy he should stay: Smith breathed some life into the San Francisco offense after jumping from No. 3 on the depth chart into the starting role in October, leading the 49ers to consecutive victories for the only time in 2010 and throwing for a career-high 356 yards to spark a close win against St. Louis. His mobility offers a dimension that many quarterbacks don't have.
Why he should go: Smith's weaknesses were exposed after a few games as the starter, and his inability to make plays in the pocket limit his game. With the 49ers looking to mold second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick and win now with incumbent veteran Alex Smith, it is difficult to see where Troy Smith fits in with the team short term or long term.
The verdict: The 49ers did not tender Smith, a four-year veteran, before the lockout, signaling they have no intention to pursue his return to the team. The 49ers have relinquished his rights, making Smith an unrestricted free agent, and there really is no reason to bring him back to the roster considering the team's current situation at quarterback.
CB Will JamesWhy he should stay: The 49ers need another veteran in the mix at cornerback this summer, and James is a proven performer with 10 years of NFL experience, though he missed most of that 10th year last season with an ankle injury. James has 60 career NFL starts, including 14 with Detroit just two seasons ago.
Why he should go: The 49ers drafted two cornerbacks in April, including third-round pick Chris Culliver, and two rookies from last year also return at the position, meaning San Francisco has plenty of promising young talent to develop at the position. With James unlikely to beat out veteran Tarell Brown for the No. 3 CB role, the Niners would be spending money on an aging veteran whose role would appear minimized at best.
The verdict: With the 49ers likely to pursue a veteran cornerback in free agency, whether starter Nate Clements remains with the team or not, there simply is no room for James, and not much need for him either, since the team can look toward other avenues to find depth at the position.
K Jeff ReedWhy he should stay: The nine-year veteran is a proven, experienced and productive specialist who has made big kicks in big games and has two Super Bowl rings to his credit. After being released by Pittsburgh last November and joining the 49ers two weeks later to replace injured Joe Nedney, Reed performed admirably, scoring 36 points and making 9 of 10 field-goal attempts, including four in a Week 14 victory over Seattle. At 32, Reed is also six years younger than Nedney.
Why he should go: The 49ers already have a proven veteran performer in Nedney, who has made at least 80 percent of his field-goal attempts in eight consecutive seasons. The Niners owe Nedney $1.87 million this season in the final year of his contract with the team, and Reed probably would be looking for a similar deal on the open market. The 49ers also have a young prospect, strong-legged Fabrizio Scaccia, on the roster whom they can consider grooming behind Nedney.
The verdict: There has not been a lot of talk amongst the 49ers about Reed returning to the team, but there are several reasons the Niners should give that prospect some consideration, particularly the fact that Nedney has finished the last two seasons on injured reserve and he appears to be losing distance on his kickoffs. But it's not like Nedney is on his last legs, so to speak, and he has a strong portfolio with the team, so it doesn't make much since for the 49ers to bring both proven veterans to training camp.