Should he stay or should he go? Bryan Gilmore

NFL free agency begins at the end of next week, and SFI editor-in-chief Craig Massei takes a one-by-one look at some of the 49ers who are scheduled to become free agents when the new NFL season begins in March, analyzing which players San Francisco should attempt to bring back and which players the team should let go. Today: The case of veteran wide receiver Bryan Gilmore.

You look at what the 49ers got out of their wide receivers corps last year, and their obvious need to get better at the position, and you wonder why the team would even consider keeping around an eighth-year veteran who contributed only eight receptions even though he spent the entire season playing the role of San Francisco's No. 3 receiver.

The 49ers need to make upgrades at the position - right here, right now - and where would that leave a journeyman such as Gilmore?

Well, where it should leave Gilmore is right back on the 49ers' roster this spring, competing for playing time and a role with the team again in 2007.

The 49ers should offer Gilmore a two-year deal worth in the range of $3 million, because that is what his speed, veteran experience and ability to contribute on special teams and in a variety of roles would mean to the team.

Sure, Gilmore isn't the most productive receiver around. He has speed to burn, but not the strength or moves to get open on a consistent basis against NFL defensive backs. But that fine speed allows Gilmore to stretch defenses, and he also has good hands. He'll catch the ball if he is open.

And he also can make things happen with the ball in his hands. Gilmore had a 75-yard reception last season, and he averaged 18.8 yards on his eight receptions. He also is a decent blocker downfield, and was dangerous on reverses, averaging 13.4 yards on his seven carries.

The rub is those eight receptions. That's a paltry total for a team's No. 3 receiver, and Gilmore even started three games during the season. The 49ers need their No. 3 receiver to be collecting about five times that amount of receptions over the course of a season.

Gilmore, in fact, never has had more than 17 receptions in a season, and has a total of just 46 receptions to show for his seven NFL seasons.

But the fact is, as the 49ers' roster is assembled today, Gilmore is the third-best receiver on it - and that includes Antonio Bryant, who might not even be with the team any longer when the 49ers get around to playing games again in 2007.

So the 49ers not only need Gilmore around to compete for a roster spot, they also need him around for veteran insurance if Bryant flames out before September, which certainly is possible.

To be sure, the 49ers will bring in at least one receiver - and probably more - who will be a better prospect and more likely contributor than Gilmore. But at the very least, that would leave Gilmore competing for a role as the team's fourth receiver, and he's a receiver who can help the team in other ways.

Such as on special teams. Gilmore is a solid contributor on those units, and he's also viewed by the Niners as a team guy who has good character.

THE VERDICT: The best-case scenario for the 49ers is that they get so much better at receiver in 2007 that Gilmore doesn't even make the team this summer. But they are far away from having that kind of receiver unit today. Gilmore knows the system, has some versatility, and is capable in the things that he is able to offer the team. As long as he doesn't get a better offer elsewhere - which is highly unlikely - the 49ers should bring back Gilmore this year to compete for a roster spot.

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