Who should stay & who should go: RFAs & ERFAs

Coach Mike Nolan will meet individually with the 49ers' impending free agents Monday to let them know where they and their contract situations stand in the team's plans. Here, SFI looks individually at the Niners' nine young veterans who are scheduled to become restricted free agents or exclusive rights free agents in March, and gives our take and verdict on what the team's approach should be regarding tendering these players offers and securing the future services of each of them.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

These players are free to negotiate and sign with any NFL team, but are restricted under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. In order to receive right of first refusal and/or draft choice compensation, the 49ers must tender these players a qualifying offer on or before the beginning of March:

BRANDON LLOYD

Position: Wide receiver

The skinny: The third-year veteran has become the top play-maker on offense in 2005, even though he often faces double-team coverage because the 49ers have no other steady receiving threats when Arnaz Battle is out of the lineup. Lloyd's spectacular leaping ability and showy one-handed catches are attention-grabbing and make him something special, but he also is a player with certain limitations because of his size and strength. Lloyd has plenty of talent, but he has rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way and maybe some of his coaches, too. He's the best receiver on the team, but with the Niners looking to seriously upgrade at the position, they may not be willing to invest too heavily here.

The verdict: The 49ers definitely should tender Lloyd an offer, and they should seriously consider working out a multi-year deal that will keep him around and allow him to further develop his skills as the team gets better. The 49ers should do everything they can to keep this guy.

ARNAZ BATTLE

Position: Wide receiver

The skinny: Given a starting opportunity this year, Battle has been impressive when healthy, going over the middle to snag passes and displaying good power and burst getting off his routes. The problem is, he has had difficulty staying healthy, and that has been a problem throughout his career. But he's a good fit at flanker in San Francisco's system and, even if the 49ers get a whole lot better at receiver and he's no longer a starter there, he's a versatile player who can provide several different dimensions on offense and also is a Pro Bowl-level performer on special teams.

The verdict: The 49ers already have begun negotiations with Battle and say they will sign him, which is exactly what they should do and need to do.

KEN DORSEY

Position: Quarterback

The skinny: After Tim Rattay was traded, Dorsey became the most effective quarterback on the San Francisco roster. He probably will never be the front-line starting QB every NFL team craves, but he continues to develop at the position and has the skills to be a solid backup. He's a good insurance policy to have around while the 49ers go through the growing process with Alex Smith. Even if the team goes after a veteran backup in the offseason, Dorsey can help the Niners at the game's most important position.

The verdict: The 49ers should definitely tender him an offer, and consider working out a multi-year deal to keep him in the fold.

COREY SMITH

Position: Linebacker

The skinny: Smith has some good edge rush skills and has been a steady, quality performer on special teams. He still is a developing player in the 3-4 defensive scheme, but has shown enough promise to be brought back in 2006 to fight for a job.

The verdict: The 49ers should tender him a one-year offer.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players may negotiate or sign contracts only with the 49ers, as long as San Francisco tenders the player at least a one-year contract at or above the minimum salary applicable to that player. If the 49ers do not make or withdraw the required tender by the beginning of March, these players are free to negotiate and sign a contract with any NFL team:

MAURICE HICKS

Position: Running back/Kick returner

The skinny: Hicks showed his value as a third-string running back by ripping off a 50-yard gain on his first carry of this season. He also is a quality kick returner and special teams gunner who gets the maximum out of his ability. He can help this team in several ways, and has in his two seasons since joining the 49ers.

The verdict: He definitely should be tendered an offer. The team might consider a two-year deal because it probably can get Hicks on the cheap under those kind of terms.

MIKE ADAMS

Position: Safety

The skinny: Adams has been one of the pleasant surprises of a dismal season for the 49ers, winning the job as the nickel back coming out of training camp and then taking over a starting job in the regular lineup at free safety in September. By then, Adams had asserted himself as one of the best four defensive backs on the team. He still must develop further to be a solid starter, but he has speed and talent and is good enough to at least be the nickel back even if the team upgrades significantly in the secondary.

The verdict: He definitely should be tendered an offer, and the 49ers might want to think about a multi-year deal.

OTIS AMEY

Position: Receiver/kick returner

The skinny: The only undrafted rookie free agent to make the team this year, Amey was one of the young stars of training camp before returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown the first time he touched the football in a regular-season NFL game. He had worked his way up to No. 4 on the depth chart at receiver before injuries slowed his progress and allowed others an opportunity to assume his receiving and returning duties. But he's a young player with promise, and the 49ers know it.

The verdict: He should be tendered an offer.

BEN EMANUEL

Position: Safety

The skinny: Emanuel, a fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers this year, joined the 49ers after being released by the Panthers in September and found himself in San Francisco's starting lineup two months later. He's a player with good size and raw skills who also can contribute on special teams, and the 49ers like what they've seen from his potential. He could be a player who provides quality depth as the team improves its front-line talent.

The verdict: The 49ers could go either way with Emanuel, but the feeling here is they should tender him an offer to at least come back and compete for a roster berth.

JIM MAXWELL

Position: Linebacker

The skinny: Maxwell has been a constant presence on special teams since joining the team in October, and he also has stepped in and made a few plays at linebacker. He's not starting talent, but is an aggressive player who makes plays in the kicking game. He's young and promising, so the 49ers no doubt would like to take a further look at him in their system.

The verdict: He should be tendered an offer.


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