The most wide spread speculation is that the 49ers are looking for Wide Receiver help as they appear to have about $3 million to work with, assuming they release G Ray Brown and DT Junior Bryant. While they may choose to add WR help lets take a look at some other areas that I feel could be addressed as well.
Lets start with WR where the team is reportedly interested in Willie Jackson and Antonio Freeman. If they can land either at a reasonable price it would give the 49ers a more productive quartet of receivers. I think Michael Westbrook would be a nice fit as far as talent but I have really disliked him since he sucker punched RB Stephen Davis at a Redskins practice a few years ago. WR Derrick Alexander could be a nice addition as well and he provides something the other's dont, breakaway speed. However, Alexander is expected to receive alot of attention and thus a big contract.
Jeremy Newberry went to the Pro Bowl last season, thank you Matt Birk, and he has developed into an elite Center but the depth behind him is very questionable. Ben Lynch did an admirable job of stepping in during the 2000 season but battled injuries in 2001. The 49ers dont appear interested in having him back, though I wish they would reconsider. Perhaps they have been pleased with Jeff McCurley and feel he will be ready to contribute after missing 2001 with an injury. Kevin Long is an unrestricted free agent who may be worth a look.
If the 49ers sign Tackle Blake Brockermeyer its my belief that the team will release Matt Willig and Brockermeyer will compete with Deese for the starting Left Tackle spot with the loser moving over to compete with Dave Fiore at Left Guard. Even without Brockermeyer I like the depth the 49ers have on the offensive line as Willig proved valuable last season and I feel that Eric Heitmann will prove to be a find while Chad Ward appears to be a nice sleeper as well. Other than center the depth looks pretty good.
At Tight End, Eric Johnson emerged as a promising receiving threat last season but the 49ers may consider a veteran pass catching TE as insurance. Mark Anelli and Justin Swift should battle it out for the second tight end spot but adding someone like Jackie Harris could be a valuable addition for a team primed to make a run deep into the playoffs. The 49ers wasted a roster spot carrying Greg Clark all of last season so having Anelli and Swift battle it out as the "blocking" TE and then finding a pass receiving TE as the 3rd guy would make me feel better about the situation at Tight End.
On the defensive side of the ball the 49ers could still use some tweaking. I feel the team could still consider a big Defensive End to come in and compete with Sean Moran and Bobby Setzer for the fourth DE spot. Someone like Cedric Jones who could likely be signed at the minimum with no signing bonus could come in and compete for playing time as part of the 8-man rotation.
Moran could see some snaps inside but my hope is that Josh Shaw will be ready to see some snaps in 2002 though I feel the 49ers are likely targeting him for 2003, similar to when they drafted Tai Streets a few years ago. I would love to see the 49ers get a pass rushing DT who can come in on obvious passing downs and give Stubblefield a breather. Jim Flanigan could fit that role as could Santana Dotson. The 49ers have already had Flanigan in for a workout so it appears they are searching for a pass rushing DT. Ryan Fletcher, an undrafted rookie from Hofstra, showed solid penetration skills in college but appears a longshot to make a significant contribution in 2002.
At Linebacker I'd like to see the 49ers move Ulbrich to backup MLB and have Winborn and Rasheed compete for the Weakside LB spot. Both could give the 49ers defense a tremendous boost with their speed and athleticism. I feel the 49ers could still use more competition for the backup strongside spot behind Julian Peterson. Currently they have Frank Strong, Quincy Stewart, and Brandon Moore as candidates but adding someone like Lee Woodall could make sense as a short-term solution. Woodall is a solid coverage LB who could be a nice alternate for Peterson but Woodall would likely need to make an impact on special teams as well. The 49ers need to find more help for the coverage units so adding a grizzly veteran may not be in the plans. Ideally one of the earlier mentioned trio will step up and show some coverage ability, both in passing situations and in special teams coverage.
The 49ers dont really need him but if they could bring CB Eric Davis back for the 2002 season to work with the young Cornerbacks, Mike Rumph and Rashad Holman in particular, and serve as the 5th CB I feel that could be a nice addition as well. He is beyond his prime and cant be counted upon to make a major impact on the field but can help the team with leadership in the secondary. Right now it appears Anthony Parker and Jimmy Williams will compete for the fifth CB spot and while both have their good points its highly likely that neither youngster has much of a future in the San Francisco, as the top four CB's all have less than three years experience. Even Anthony Parker, the elder statesman heading into his fourth season, is inexperienced as he has spent much of his three seasons in the infirmary. Secondary coach, Brett Maxie, is a former Safety so the youngsters arent getting alot of expertise on technique, other than watching film.
Lastly the 49ers may want to bring in some competition for Vinny Sutherland on returns, particularly on punts. The list isnt real impressive as players such as Wane McGarity, Eric Metcalf, Darrien Gordon, and Glyn Milburn are out there but perhaps one of them has another solid season in them. All four have had some solid success as punt returners in the past.
None of these players may end up as 49ers but if the team is looking to tweak the roster these could be some of the guys the team takes a look at. We already know that the team has shown interest in Blake Brockermeyer, Jim Flanigan, and Willie Jackson but over the next few weeks we will see if the 49ers make any more adjustments to their roster in hopes of pushing them over the top. None are likely to come in and play significant roles but each of these players could serve a role as a minor complement to the team to help give the 2002 49ers a more complete roster. A roster capable of contending.
Story written by Pete Toole of NinerFanatic.com