The best of the rest that are left

Many of the prize plums on the open market already have been picked in the early days of free agency, but that doesn't exactly mean there are slim pickings remaining at several positions in which the 49ers may be interested. While various top FAs that San Francisco was considering have jumped off the board via big-money contracts, some conspicuously remain. Here, SFI runs down the list of top FAs at every position, analyzing each group and what the names still available might mean to the 49ers.

Quarterbacks: Josh McCown, Kerry Collins, Gus Frerotte

SFI analysis: McCown, who embarrassed the 49ers last year in Mexico, is looking for a job as a starter and visited on Wednesday with the Raiders, who already kicked Collins to the curb last week. Collins probably is going to languish on the open market for a while before he finds the right fit and/or a team that's willing to give him another shot as a starter. That will be one desperate team if he can find it. Frerotte, who became available when the Dolphins traded for Daunte Culpepper, is an intriguing possibility for the 49ers, who want to bring in an older veteran who can mentor Alex Smith but still has some kick left in his old legs if he's needed to be called upon. Frerotte, however, probably is looking for an opportunity to compete for playing time, and would like to be paid accordingly.

Running backs: Sammy Morris, Maurice Morris, Michael Bennett

SFI analysis: Nothing too intriguing for the 49ers here. Bennett is a speedster and home-run threat, but his stock has fallen around the league. Each of the Morrises probably are looking for a starting opportunity somewhere, but let's face it – neither of them fall into that category. But they would be nice complementary backs for a team that has a proven performer to pair with them. The 49ers already have their pair – make that trio – set for 2006.

Fullbacks: Fred Beasley, William Henderson, Tony Richardson, Mack Strong, Jerald Sowell

SFI analysis: We hear Beasley, the former 49ers outcast, is finally getting a few sniffs on the open market and has a visit with Miami. More power to you, Fred. The guy can still play and just needs a new home, even while some still wondering what exactly went wrong at his old home. Henderson, Richardson and Strong probably rate even with or above Beasley as quality, established, Pro Bowl-level fullbacks. The problem for them is, the position is a dying breed in today's NFL, and now they have each other to compete with on the open market. The Niners aren't interested after locking up their veteran, Chris Hetherington, last week.

Wide receivers: Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Rod Gardner, David Boston

SFI analysis: The 49ers already passed on Boston last year, and while Johnson's size and skills might be an upgrade to what San Francisco currently has, the Niners have no interest in bringing in that kind of a personality. Did you hear that, T.O.? There are some who still dream of Owens dropping so low that me might come back to the 49ers with his ego between his legs, but none of those dreamers work for the 49ers. Owens – or, perhaps more specifically, agent Drew Rosenhaus – blew it with the Eagles, and the all-world talent now is forever tarnished as he looks for a new home. There aren't many teams out there who will be willing to offer him more than an incentive-laden one-year deal as a trial period to prove he can be a good boy instead of a team-wrecker at his next home. Meanwhile, he's not getting any younger at age 32. Owens still is a great player – easily the best WR and offensive weapon available on the open market – but his antics last year after a track record of similar episodes will have cost him tens of millions of dollars by the time he finally lands with a new team, which might not be until this summer if he keeps waiting for that huge multi-year deal that is unlikely to come.

Tight ends: Jeb Putzier, Chris Baker

SFI analysis: Putzier still looks like a good fit for the 49ers, and he apparently is waiting it out for the best deal possible. Putzier's agent, Joe Linta, said Wednesday that the 49ers continue to show the most interest in his client along with the New York Jets, Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals. The 49ers already have demonstrated they won't get into any bidding wars, but they should drive hard for Putzier, even if it costs a little more than they'd like to spend. Linta said he expects to have a deal completed for Putzier by early next week at the latest, so time is running out. Baker also is a nice talent that would fill a role for the 49ers.

Kickers: Adam Vinatieri, Todd Peterson, Paul Edinger, Mike Vanderjagt

SFI analysis: The 49ers have no interest here after signing strong-legged veteran Joe Nedney to a well-deserved multi-year deal on Saturday, but other teams will be able to satisfy their need for a top-notch kicker with the likes of Vinatieri and Vanderjagt available. Those guys – particularly Vinatieri – will be looking for top dollar, however. And why not? They've been two of the best kickers in the league in recent seasons. Edinger also has a proven track record and shouldn't have trouble finding a new home. Time is running out for former 49er Peterson, who has a weak leg and isn't getting any younger.

Guards: Tutan Reyes, Ron Stone

SFI analysis: Reyes, who started 28 games with Carolina the past two years, probably will help some team not named the 49ers. But former 49er Stone is looking very much like an over-the-hill player. Like about a year ago.

Offensive tackles: Damion McIntosh, Tom Ashworth, Jon Runyan, Jason Fabini, Brad Hopkins

SFI analysis: There is plenty of established veteran starting talent here, but none of it really looks very exciting. Runyan, Fabini and Hopkins all have been effective players, but does anybody really think that any of their best days still are ahead of them? The answer, for those wondering: They're not. The Niners have no interest in any of these names.

Centers: Mike Flanigan, Jeff Mitchell, Trey Teague

SFI analysis: Somebody could use and will need one of these centers, but it won't be the 49ers.

Defensive tackles: Russell Davis, Brentson Buckner, Sam Adams, Jason Fisk, Ron Edwards, Grady Jackson, Lional Dalton

SFI analysis: We're getting to the bottom of the barrel here, as top defensive linemen usually find new homes early in free agency. Buckner has always been a solid player – why didn't the 49ers make a stronger play to keep him around earlier this decade? – but you've got to wonder how much he has left. Adams sort of falls into the same category, but his size and experience alone assure that he'll get one more contract, unless he is deemed to have already lost it completely. The 49ers could be one of the teams that will be interested in picking up Adams at the right price late in the free-agency process, should he still be around then.

Defensive ends: Lance Johnstone, Brady Smith, Duane Clemons, Kenard Lang, Carlos Hall

SFI analysis: Quality edge rushers are at a premium in the NFL, but none of these guys will command big money, which means they will present a viable option for somebody as the free-agent period drags on. But really, do any of these players look like they could make enough of an impact to help the 49ers? Most of them will have problems finding a starting job.

Insider linebackers: Ben Taylor, Rocky Calmus, Nick Griesen (WLB), Earl Holmes, Sam Cowart, Chris Claiborne

SFI analysis: The 49ers have displayed some interest in Calmus, but he wants to be a starter, and that won't happen in San Francisco. The rest of this bunch are strictly at-need players.

Outside linebackers: Julian Peterson, Na'il Diggs, Jamie Sharper, Warrick Holdman

SFI analysis: There have been rumors floating everywhere throughout the Internet regarding Peterson. One had him signing with the Cleveland Browns. Another had him close to a deal with the Detroit Lions. Another has him making nice with the Seattle Seahawks. The fact is, Peterson isn't finding anywhere near the attention that most would have expected for the two-time Pro Bowler on the open market, and a lot of that has to do with the ridiculous demands of his hard-line agents, the Poston brothers, and the Achilles tendon injury from 2004 that lessened his impact last season. Now that Carl Poston has been suspended for two years by the NFL Players Association's Committee on Agent Regulation & Discipline, Peterson finally may get some good advice and a good deal. It might come from the 49ers, who still are very interested in bringing him back to San Francisco. However, Peterson clearly is looking for a bigger deal than the 49ers are offering. It's difficult to believe he won't find a better offer somewhere else. The rest is up to him. The 49ers were looking at free agency as a possible place to find a replacement for Peterson after his expected departure, but now that other names are off the board, he clearly is at the top of their list at this position.

Cornerbacks: Charles Woodson, Eric Warfield, Duane Starks, Ty Law, Will Allen, Deshea Townsend, Andre Dyson

SFI analysis: Frankly, there are several players still available at this position that would look quite nice in a San Francisco uniform. But after the 49ers plucked 10-year veteran Walt Harris off the free-agent heap on Wednesday, the hard truth is that the team won't be immediately pursuing any of them. That's too bad, because some of these players could help the team at one of San Francisco's most needy positions. But the Niners aren't interested in overpaying for tempestuous talent (read: Law and Woodson) and, while Townsend and Dyson are nice-looking players who have upside as solid starters, the 49ers are putting their focus on developing their own, and probably will spend a high draft pick on this position. That said, if the price keeps going down on some of these guys as spring turns into summer, the 49ers could be interested again in striking a deal. To be sure, somebody will be.

Safeties: Lawyer Milloy, Idrees Bashir, Marcus Coleman, Tebucky Jones, Brent Alexander, Tank Williams

SFI analysis: Will Demps (signed with New York Giants) and Chris Hope (signed with Tennessee) both fell off this list in the last 24 hours, and both were players in which the 49ers had strong interest. Hope, in fact, was scheduled for a visit with the 49ers before signing a multi-year deal with the Titans on Wednesday. The 49ers don't have nearly the interest in the rest of the bunch that they had in those two, but there are some names remaining here that they will continue to consider. But San Francisco better target somebody quickly, because some of these players are speaking actively with several teams and may not be around much longer.

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