With the draft three weeks away, it’s time to look closer at team needs for every NFL club. (Translation: We’re desperate for new content.)
We’ll be rolling a few team needs posts per day in the rumor mill. Now up: The 49ers.
QB: The only 49ers quarterback under contract is David Carr, and even he isn’t assured of a roster spot because of a $2.375 million base salary. The Niners hope to re-sign free agent Alex Smith, but the former No. 1 pick would be no more than a bridge to — ideally — a more talented passer. Smith’s downfall has nothing to do with smarts or development, and everything to do with skill.
DT: The Niners opted against franchise tagging nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin for a second straight offseason, and he “has every expectation of cashing in” on the free agent market. Ricky Jean-Francois is next on the depth chart, but he’s undersized and a career backup type. The nose is an integral position in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense, even if it’s more “multiple” than old defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s scheme.
LB: San Francisco hasn’t had a defender hit double-digit sacks since 2002. The length of that drought alone might push this position above nose tackle on G.M. Trent Baalke’s list of needs, though the Niners probably could get by with Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker. But the 49ers need a disruptive edge rusher to become a dynamic defense. Manny Lawson is a free agent, and he probably isn’t coming back.
CB: Again, this isn’t a position of desperate need. But the 49ers probably have no intention of paying Nate Clements a $7.25 million salary in his age-32 season, and Tarell Brown is best suited as a nickel back. There’s a reason LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is commonly sent to San Francisco in mock drafts.
Overview: While the 49ers’ roster isn’t in all that bad of shape, teams don’t win in the NFL without consistent production at the quarterback position. First-year coach Jim Harbaugh knows it, and he’ll have to get creative in the draft and free agency to fill this most pressing need.
If Harbaugh does find a signal-calling solution for 2011, the 49ers will immediately become serious playoff contenders in the wide-open NFC West.