Free agency begins: News, views from 49erland

News and views from 49erland on a busy and wild first day of NFL free agency, including takes on Justin Smiley, Justin Smith, Isaac Bruce, Allen Rossum, Kwame Harris, 11 players given the franchise tag and an old stadium changing back to a new name that really is an old name.

News: The Miami Dolphins sign guard Justin Smiley to a five-year deal.
Views: Well, that didn't take long. Smiley got the big money he was looking for and many assumed he would get – a five-year, $25 million deal that includes a $9 million signing bonus. The 49ers have to be rolling their eyes about that deal. They wouldn't have offered Smiley nearly that kind of jack – not even in that ballpark. The long-standing philosophy of general manager Scot McCloughan is that offensive guards can be developed in-house and are not commodities that need to be acquired by overspending. Smiley had value to the team, no doubt, and he has been a good 49er since the day he arrived in 2004. But frankly, the team isn't that sorry to see him go – especially considering the money it would have taken to keep him around. The fact is, Smiley wasn't even playing very well last season until picking it up before his season-ending shoulder injury. That makes two surgery-requiring shoulder injuries for Smiley, which officially marks him as damaged goods at age 26. No, the 49ers did the right thing by taking a pass. And besides, not only will they get a compensatory pick in the 2009 draft for losing him, but David Baas is going to prove to be a better player in Smiley's place anyway.

News: The 49ers bring in free agent defensive end Justin Smith for a look-see.
Views: It says something that Smith, who surely is one of the most coveted players in free agency this year, made San Francisco his first stop on his free-agent tour. The problem is, he came and left the 49ers facility on Friday without signing a contract. The 49ers didn't want to let him get away with that happening, because you have to score when you can in this relatively weak free-agent crop. The 49ers struck quickly – and struck gold, for that matter – when they signed cornerback Nate Clements and safety Michael Lewis on the first day of free agency last year. It's going to be a case of if you snooze you loose on the open market this year, and now Smith is on his way for a visit in Minnesota. San Francisco's initial offer must have not been good enough.

News: The 49ers finally announce the signing of return specialist Allen Rossum.
Views: This deal has been in the works since the beginning of the week, and it's a good example of the Niners attempting to methodically upgrade every area of their roster. It's no secret San Francisco's return game has been a disappointment during the Mike Nolan/Scot McCloughan regime, even though the team has addressed it specifically in the draft by using a fifth-round choice on Rasheed Marshall in 2005 and a third-rounder on Brandon Williams in 2006. Neither player could handle the role and both were eventually dumped by the team as disappointing wasted draft picks in their second seasons. The 49ers went the veteran route with Pro Bowler Michael Lewis early last season, and while he was a marginal improvement over Williams, the team was looking for more. So in comes 10-year veteran Rossum, one of the most productive return men in NFL history. The numbers are what they are: Rossum ranks second in NFL history with 13,269 total return yards and 10,520 kickoff return yards. That means good-bye to Maurice Hicks, who already was out the door anyway. The 49ers will also ask Rossum to return punts, not exactly his specialty but the area where they need the most help. The problem with Rossum is he turns 33 in October, and there's nothing worse than an aging returner who has lost a step. But that sure didn't look to be Rossum when he was running back that kickoff for a touchdown last year against the 49ers, and the team wouldn't have signed him if that were the case. This guy is an upgrade at a position that needed it.

News: The 49ers have eyes for receiver Isaac Bruce.
Views: Bruce hasn't been in for a visit yet, but he … uh … sort of is familiar with the team's new offensive coordinator and the inner-workings of his scheme. The word is that Bruce – recently released by the Rams so that they wouldn't have to pay him a roster bonus – is the only receiver out there that the 49ers currently are considering in free agency. And, hey, that makes sense, considering the weak prospects available who surely will get overpaid, not one of them a true No. 1 wideout. Bruce's best days are behind him, but as he displayed last season, he still has something left, and he will immediately know the intricacies of Mike Martz's attack better than anyone else the 49ers will put on the field. All things considered, he makes perfect sense for the 49ers, who are looking for the now at receiver and can draft for the future at that position.

News: NFL teams use the franchise tag on a whopping 11 players and another gets the transition tag.
Views: Wow, that kind of takes some of the top free agent talent off the open market, doesn't it? And you know what that's going to mean: Some second-tier talents are going to command some incredulous salaries the next few weeks. With the available talent pool of star power considerably reduced – particularly after several impending free agents were re-signed by their teams before they could hit the open market – don't be surprised to see some nondescript veteran you've barely heard of get some eight-figure contract that makes the eyes bulge out of your head. That's the way of the world these days in the NFL, with a salary cap now standing at $116 million per team, and St. Louis Rams executive vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney put it succinctly when he said, "There were non-starters that got the franchise tender this year. That's because the pool is so small this year. There's going to be a small amount of players who are going to get ridiculous money and people are going to say, 'You've got to be kidding me.'" But it's no joke, so we'll say it here first.

News: The 49ers' home stadium in San Francisco will again go by the name of Candlestick Park beginning in June.
Views: This won't come as news to a lot of people out there who never have called the team's stadium anything BUT Candlestick Park. It was fun to watch several members of the media continue to refer to the old concrete yard as Candlestick in print even after it officially was renamed 3Com Park thanks to the dollars of corporate sponsorship in the mid 1990s. The change back to the original name comes at the conclusion of a four-year naming rights sponsorship deal between the 49ers and Monster Cable. Not a lot of people got too friendly with the concept of "Monster Park" over the past four years, so they chose simply to ignore the new name, like they did the new name before it. So, for many of the 49er Faithful, the newest new name is just the same as the old name.

News: Kwame Harris jumps across the Bay to visit with the Raiders.
Views: This makes perfect sense for gentleman Kwame, who made it clear how much he loves living in the San Francisco Bay Area even while he was being beaten out for his starting job – and future – with the 49ers. Harris can play in this league, there's no doubt, but the Raiders – or any other suitor – better be ready to occasionally give him a tight end or running back as support in pass protection. I have to question the authenticity of the news, but an early report says that Harris is entertaining a five-year, $27.5 million deal that includes a $10 million signing bonus from the Raiders. Excuse me for a moment while I double over in laughter. Harris is a great guy and a moderately decent offensive tackle, but no way is he worth that that kind of jack. And any team that gives it to him is a fool. Oh, did we say it was an offer from the Raiders?

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