Who should stay & who should go? The UFAs
These unrestricted free agents are free to negotiate and sign a player contract with any NFL team if they do not sign a new contract with the 49ers by the beginning of March: JULIAN PETERSON Position: Linebacker The skinny: The 49ers have dished out $13.36 million to Peterson over the past two seasons after tagging him each year as their franchise player, and it's fair to say they have not gotten their money's worth during that period. Peterson missed the final 11 games last year after tearing his left Achilles tendon, and he has not returned this year to the dominance he displayed during his first-team All-Pro season of 2003. He has displayed flashes of impact ability as this season has progressed, but is not making all the plays he used to before his injury and has not created the havoc that the 49ers expected in their new 3-4 defense. Peterson remains a team leader and supreme talent, but he now carries wear and tear and there's no guarantee he'll return all the way to his previous status as an elite defender. Nolan made no commitments to Peterson when briefly discussing his situation recently, so his future with the team remains uncertain as the offseason approaches. The verdict: Contrary to building popular opinion, the 49ers should make every effort to keep Peterson in the fold instead of letting arguably their best player walk in the offseason. He still is one of the purest talents on a team that's lacking in that area, and it's reasonable to expect Peterson will be better next year after further distancing himself from his debilitating 2004 injury. The 49ers need to offer Peterson a long-term deal that will pay him both fairly and handsomely. What they shouldn't do, however, is put the franchise tag on him again. That would cost the 49ers $8.75 million on a one-year deal in 2006 and, sorry to say, he's not worth that. No linebacker is. DEREK SMITH Position: Linebacker The skinny: In his ninth NFL season, Smith just keeps getting better. He's the 49ers' runaway leader in tackles and will finish as the team leader in that category for the fifth consecutive seasons since he came to San Francisco in 2001. He has improved his game in every area since joining the 49ers and has developed into a true team leader and durable defender. His streak of nine consecutive 100-tackle seasons ranks third among all active NFL players. The verdict: Smith turns 31 in January, but the 49ers need to keep him, and they know it. He was arguably their most productive player in 2005, and this team can't lose performers such as that. Smith will be looking for one final big payday, but he'll probably accept a reasonable two- or three-year deal to stick around and remain a key building block in the team's reconstruction. Nolan has indicated that bringing back Smith is a high priority, but he also said Smith will get some attractive offers from other teams and the 49ers expect strong competition in the bidding to retain his services. ANDRE CARTER Position: Linebacker/defensive end The skinny: Carter is the only player on this list that actually is signed in 2006 – another year was added to his deal when the original five-year rookie deal he signed in 2001 was restructured a few seasons ago. But Carter now can void that final year and is virtually certain to do so. Once one of the most promising young pass rushers in the NFL, Carter has failed to return to the 12.5-sack form of his 2002 sophomore season. While he displays an occasional flash of the ability that made him the No. 7 overall pick in the 2001 draft, he has not been an impact force in the 3-4 defense and probably never will be. Even if Carter doesn't void his 2006 contract with the team – which is unlikely – the 49ers may decide they don't want to pay him the $1,350,000 he is scheduled to receive anyway. The verdict: If the 49ers can get Carter to stay at a bargain rate, they should try to do it. Otherwise, he walks. BRANDON MOORE Position: Linebacker The skinny: A restricted free agent this year, the 49ers signed Moore to a one-year, $665,000 tender offer and that was a good buy since he has stepped in as a starter after the banishment of Jamie Winborn and the loss to injury of Jeff Ulbrich. Moore is strong against the run but struggles in passing situations. Moore, who led the 49ers in special teams tackles in 2004, has displayed some play-making ability with extended playing time, recording the first interception and two-sack game of his career since entering the regular starting lineup in October. The verdict: Moore fits on this team as a valuable reserve and special teams standout. As long as he doesn't expect to be paid for more than that, the 49ers should offer him a two-year deal to stay. SALEEM RASHEED Position: Linebacker The skinny: Rasheed also signed a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this year, but his fourth NFL season has followed the pattern of his career. Which is to say, his potential remains unfulfilled and he has missed significant time to injury. Rasheed was about to get his shot as a regular starter when Ulbrich went down in October, but he injured his knee in practice a few days later and missed the next six games. He definitely has talent, but it's looking more and more like it will never be realized. The verdict: Rasheed is a tough call for the 49ers. If healthy, he can help this team, which has a lot of decisions to make at the linebacker position. That's a big if. He stays only at minimum wage, and with a one-year deal at that until he proves himself. FRED BEASLEY Position: Fullback The skinny: It was only two seasons ago that Beasley was in the Pro Bowl and getting wide acclaim as the best blocking fullback in the NFL. But that seems like a long time ago now. Beasley has fallen so far out of favor with the new regime that he practically already has been written out of the team's future plans. It's something of a mystery why that's the case, because Beasley always has been a good soldier and ostensibly was one of the best veterans on the team when Nolan and Co. arrived. But now he has no future in San Francisco, and that became almost a certainty after his outburst earlier this week criticizing running backs coach Bishop Harris. The verdict: The 49ers should try to keep him, but they won't. Expect the team to be making other arrangements at fullback in 2006. ANTHONY CLEMENT Position: Offensive tackle The skinny: It looked like a good stopgap signing when the Niners picked this eighth-year veteran off the free-agent scrap heap in September after Jonas Jennings went down with a shoulder injury. It looked good, that is, until Clement started getting beaten regularly by opposing defensive linemen before losing his job to rookie Adam Snyder. Clement was out of position at left tackle – he has had success in his career on the right side – but he looked like a player whose best days are well behind him when he got his chance earlier this year. The verdict: The 49ers need to get significantly better on the offensive line, and that means there's no place for Clement in the future plans. JOE NEDNEY Position: Kicker The skinny: All Nedney has done this year – after missing the previous two seasons with injuries - is step in and make just about every field goal and PAT he has attempted while becoming the 49ers' most lethal offensive weapon and arguably the team MVP. Nedney scored all of San Francisco's points in six of the team's first 13 games this season, and he regularly places his kickoffs deep and even has had two successful on-side kicks this year. He has performed at a Pro Bowl level and has been the best kicker the team has had in at least the past eight seasons. The verdict: Nedney, a ninth-year veteran who turns 33 in March, will be looking for a sweet deal after his excellent comeback season. The 49ers should give it to him. He's one key veteran they don't want to lose. JASON MCADDLEY Position: Wide receiver The skinny: McAddley has done just about everything the team could have expected from him this season after joining the roster in October because of the injury problems the 49ers have had at receiver. He has contributed on special teams and has made some plays at receiver, even starting a game in December when both Arnaz Battle and Johnnie Morton were injured. That said, he is strictly a fringe player who wouldn't have a job on many NFL teams. The verdict: The 49ers are looking to get better at receiver, and that means McAddley must move on. STEVE BUSH Position: Fullback/tight end The skinny: Bush started a few games at tight end this season and appeared to be a versatile hybrid player who could help the team at two positions. But after showing some effectiveness last year, the ninth-year veteran has made little impact this season, even though he has seen some significant time on the field. The verdict: There's no reason to offer him a contract to return. TRAVIS HALL Position: Defensive end The skinny: The 11th-year player has given the 49ers what they expected and needed from him this season as a reliable veteran who can mix into the defensive line rotation. But his days as a top-notch performer in Atlanta are behind him. Hall might be a Mike Nolan kind of guy, and he still can play in this league, but he'll be 34 before the season begins next year and can easily be replaced by a younger player. The verdict: The only way Hall returns is in a scenario similar to this year, when the 49ers signed him a week before the season began to fill a defensive line void because they didn't have anybody better. CHRIS HETHERINGTON Position: Fullback The skinny: The 49ers quickly grabbed Hetherington when he showed up on the waiver wire before the season began, and he has become a contributor at both fullback and on special teams. He took over as the starting fullback when Beasley was injured and remained there even after Beasley was returning to health. He'll turn 34 next season, but his veteran presence seems to fit here. If the 49ers don't pursue Beasley as expected, Hetherington could begin next season as a starter while the team grooms his eventual replacement. The verdict: He should be offered a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, or perhaps a two-year pact with a small bonus. TERRY JONES Position: Tight end The skinny: It's not saying much, but Jones provided some improvement at a position that had been nearly invisible before he joined the 49ers in November and immediately ascended to the starting lineup in his first week with the team. He is a versatile performer who can play special teams, so that increases his value. The verdict: He may fit here as a backup after Eric Johnson returns at tight end in 2006. The 49ers should pursue a deal and see what he can contribute in training camp. COMING SUNDAY: A look at the team's impending restricted free agents and exlusive rights free agents.
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