NFC West: Antoine Bethea

Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.

49ers offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the San Francisco 49ers' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe 49ers added depth to their receiving corps by acquiring Stevie Johnson.
Best move: Making offense a priority. The 49ers' re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin and kicker Phil Dawson in a free agency in which they signed only two outside veterans. During the draft, they added veteran receiver Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Buffalo Bills, then drafted a tumbling Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round. This offense now has a lot of firepower. These moves really solidified the unit.

Riskiest move: Change in the secondary. The 49ers will have three new starters in the secondary after seeing safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown leave in free agency and after cutting Carlos Rogers. Whitner was the only one the 49ers had interest in keeping, but he was too pricey. The 49ers made a nice move of bringing in a comparable player -- safety Antoine Bethea from the Colts. Chris Culliver, who was injured in 2013, and first-round pick Jimmie Ward will play in the nickel. I think these changes should work well, especially since the meat of the 49ers' defense is the front seven. But when there are such wholesale changes, it's a question mark.

Most surprising move: Making 12 draft picks. The 49ers entered the draft with 11 picks, but with few needs. Yet the 49ers ended up with 12, which was tied for most in the NFL. I don't think more than seven or eight of the draft picks have a chance to make this stacked roster. Of course, the 49ers took a few injured players to stash, which only helps the entire program. It's difficult to imagine a deeper team than San Francisco in the league.

Receiver depth: I cannot emphasize this enough -- it's stunning how much depth the 49ers now have at receiver when compared to last season. With Michael Crabtree hurt for much of the year, the 49ers received virtually no production from the position other than from Boldin. Now, the 49ers are loaded at with Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, second-year player Quinton Patton (who missed much of the season with a broken foot) and speedy fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington. This is the biggest difference on the team.
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be powerbrokers of the first round.

Everyone was expecting them to go make the big move for a top-end receiver in an effort to compete with Super Bowl champion -- and heated NFC West rival -- Seattle.

Instead, the 49ers ended up addressing their one true need -- albeit in an unexpected way.

Instead of trading up for stud LSU receiver Odell Beckham or taking one of the glamour cornerbacks, the 49ers grabbed Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.

At first glance, it smacked of a curious reach. Yes, Ward was a scout's favorite, but he was considered more of a second-round pick. And he played a position the 49ers made their biggest offseason investment at -- by signing veteran Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal.

With receivers Cody Latimer and Marqise Lee still on the board, picking Ward did not initially appear to make much sense. But after digesting the pick, I could see why the 49ers made this pick.

The 49ers' benchmark is defense. With star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman out until about midseason with a torn ACL and star linebacker Aldon Smith's future clouded by a potential NFL suspension, the 49ers need to keep their edge in the early season.

This move should ensure they stay stout in the secondary. In addition to safety Donte Whitner (who Bethea replaces), the 49ers parted ways with their second and third cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers -- this offseason. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start.

The 49ers want to see Ward become the nickel. He played there often at Northern Illinois. Some teams are using safeties as a nickel and it seems the 49ers are going that route.

There were rumblings the 49ers didn't like any of the four cornerbacks that went in the first round -- Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett. They had the means to trade up and pick any of them and didn't.

Instead, they eyed the hard-hitting, competitive and smart Ward.

This may be out of the box, but it seems like a 49ers move. Having Reid, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, the steady Bethea and Ward on the field together makes this a strong secondary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Ward's competitive nature. Coach Jim Harbaugh simply said: "He loves football."

Baalke, who saw Ward play live once, said it was telling that when he asked scouts which games of Ward's he should watch, multiple scouts said, "Pick one." It was Ward's consistency that stood out to the 49ers.

Ward, who had the second most interceptions in the country last season with seven, led his team in tackles and interceptions the past two seasons. Baalke doesn't think coming from a smaller conference will be too much for Ward.

"The stage isn't too big for him," Baalke said.

Ward showed he had the mental toughness for the NFL when he ran for scouts with a broken foot, which is expected to be completely healed by training camp. Ward posted a 4.48 40-time on a bad wheel. That made Baalke smile.

The 49ers may not have stolen headlines with this pick, but they did add a key component to what makes them the 49ers -- an ornery defense.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The pick: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois.

My take: Stunned. Ward is a fine player, but considered by some as a second-round pick. The 49ers have now taken safeties in the first round of the past two drafts. They traded up to take Eric Reid last year. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. The 49ers signed Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal in March after Donte Whitner left to join the Cleveland Browns. Ward could see some time in nickel packages as the 49ers are somewhat weak at cornerback.

No trade up: There was speculation the 49ers would trade up for a receiver such as LSU's Odell Beckham or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks. But those deals never developed and the 49ers will have five of the 68 selections Friday.

What’s next: The 49ers have more picks than anyone in the second and third rounds. Expect the 49ers to make some trades Friday. They can grab a receiver and a cornerback in the second round. Those spots remain the 49ers’ biggest needs.
Some fans of the San Francisco 49ers are a bit apprehensive that the team has not been overly busy in bringing in new talent this offseason.

While concentrating on keeping their own free agents, the 49ers added just four veterans. They signed safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Chris Cook and traded for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and tackle Jonathan Martin.

The small incoming veteran class is keeping in step with many of the winning teams in the NFL. Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, the chart includes the teams that added the fewest players this offseason and their 2013 record.

It's clear that many winning teams -- like the 49ers -- liked their roster and made some tweaks instead of wholesale changes.
It's probably not accurate to believe the San Francisco 49ers are going all in with Chris Cook and the one-high safety scheme.

Cook
After all, Cook signed a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum with no guaranteed money. If he was going to be the centerpiece of a new scheme, he’d get paid like it.

However, the addition of Cook is a sign the 49ers would like to do more press coverage and work in some one-high safety coverage, which Seattle Seahawks have executed so well. Cook is 6-foot-2, which makes him a nice fit for the scheme.

Cook, a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2010, made it clear in his introductory conference call what the 49ers want him to do.

"They want me to be the press guy," Cook said. "And that's what I like to do. I feel like I'll fit in well with the one-high scheme that they like to run. I came from a two-high scheme. And I feel like a one-high scheme and a man-to-man scheme fits me well."

ESPN scout Matt Williamson doesn’t believe the 49ers will adopt the one-high safety attack full time and instead thinks it will be a “wrinkle.” Despite the fact he doesn’t have an interception in four NFL seasons, Cook could help the 49ers.

“They want him to be their Richard Sherman with (safety Eric) Reid over the top. Cook is big and physical in press and does have a lot of ability,” Williamson said. “Not saying he is Sherman, but I do think that best uses Cook's skill set.”

Williamson said if the 49ers use Cook in press coverage, they can move new starting strong safety Antoine Bethea closer to the line of scrimmage than they played former starter Donte Whitner. Williamson said that can help compensate for playing without injured inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman early in the season. Bowman could miss up to half the season as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered at Seattle in the NFC title game Jan. 19.

So, perhaps, the acquisition of Cook could have multiple benefits.

Free-agency review: 49ers

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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Boldin
Most significant signing: Receiver Anquan Boldin. Fans may not like it when a team's most significant move is keeping one of its current players, but imagine if Boldin had walked. In his first season with the 49ers, Boldin became a critical part of the offense. Receiver was one of the team's biggest need areas. Re-signing Boldin helps keep this offense dangerous. The team's plan was to try to keep its best players, and Boldin was the top priority. That alone makes free agency a success.

Most significant loss: Cornerback Tarell Brown. I think safety Donte Whitner is a better player than Brown. But unlike Whitner, the 49ers have yet to replace Brown, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the crosstown Oakland Raiders. Brown is a solid player. His departure leaves a hole at the position.

Biggest surprise: The signing of former Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea. About four hours before the start of free agency, word filtered out that Whitner was going to agree to a deal with his hometown Cleveland Browns. Shortly after free agency officially began, the 49ers had a deal done with Bethea. It was surprising in both swiftness and quality. The thought was that if Whitner were to leave, the 49ers would have to scramble to find a replacement. But Bethea is a comparable player to Whitner and a good fit for the defense.

What’s next? The 49ers are concentrating on adding players at cornerback and receiver. They took some looks at both spots in recent days, but nothing materialized. There are some pieces remaining on the market at both spots, but fit and price could be issues. The 49ers are fully expected to use early-round picks to address both positions in the draft.
Free agency is entering its fifth day (it only seems like 43) and the San Francisco 49ers have been busy making roster changes. Let's take a look at what has gone on so far:

Returning free agents: Receiver Anquan Boldin, kicker Phil Dawson, cornerback Eric Wright.

Departed free agents: Safety Donte Whitner (Cleveland), cornerback Tarell Brown (Oakland), running back Anthony Dixon (tweeted he is signing with Buffalo on Saturday).

Released: Cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Free-agent addition: Safety Antoine Bethea (Colts), Cornerback Chris Cook (Vikings).

Acquired in trade: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert from Jaguars; tackle Jonathan Martin from Miami.

Who are they interested in? Cornerback Walter Thurmond (Seattle),receivers Julian Edelman (New England) and Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh).

Remaining 49ers free agents: Center Jonathan Goodwin, receiver Mario Manningham, quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Kassim Osgood, cornerback Perrish Cox.

Starting lineup changes: Bethea for Whitner; likely Daniel Kilgore for Goodwin.

49ers' offseason scorecard

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Free agency isn’t 24 hours old and the San Francisco 49ers have been busy making roster changes. Let’s take a look at what has gone on so far:

Returning free agents: receiver Anquan Boldin, kicker Phil Dawson, cornerback Eric Wright.

Departed free agents: Safety Donte Whitner (Browns).

Released: Cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Free=agent addition: Safety Antoine Bethea (Colts).

Acquired in trade: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert from Jaguars; tackle Jonathan Martin from Miami.

Remaining free-agent priority: Cornerback Tarell Brown.

Other remaining free agents: Center Jonathan Goodwin, receiver Mario Manningham, quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Kassim Osgood, running back Anthony Dixon, cornerback Perrish Cox.

Starting lineup changes: Bethea for Whitner; likely Daniel Kilgore for Goodwin.

What Pro Bowlers command as RFAs

March, 4, 2010
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NFL teams have or will be announcing tender levels for their restricted free agents.

I've put together an unofficial early list of Pro Bowl players and their known tender levels.

All but the Jets' Leon Washington would command at least a first-round choice if their current teams declined to match offers or negotiate a lower price via trade.

I think the price tags are mostly prohibitive, particularly given that each would require a long-term contract to justify the investment.

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