NFC West: Donte Whitner

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.
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
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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
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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.
The San Francisco 49ers’ second veteran free-agent re-signing was another 2013 acquisition who shined.

Kicker Phil Dawson tweeted Tuesday he is returning to the 49ers. He was minutes from becoming a free agent. Dawson joins receiver Anquan Boldin, who signed last week, as key veterans who are coming back.

Dawson
The 49ers traded for Boldin and signed Dawson last year. Both were smashing successes in San Francisco.

Dawson, 39, made a team-record 27 straight field goals during the regular season. He also made several in critical situations and was a fit in the locker room.

Dawson was always coming back. Both sides wanted to make it happen. In fact, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said "pay the man" when referring to Dawson's impending free agency in a news conference.

The front office listened, and the 49ers will continue to have reliability at the kicker position.

The team’s other two free-agent priorities are safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown. There have been reports that Whitner will sign with his hometown Cleveland Browns when free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET. Brown will also get interest.
Free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) Tuesday.

It is clear the San Francisco 49ers' plan of attack will be to sign their own top free agents. They secured their top free-agent priority, receiver Anquan Boldin, last week. Their other targets are safety Donte Whitner, cornerback Tarell Brown and kicker Phil Dawson. Dawson and Brown both may get quick action on the open market.

If any of these players leave, the 49ers will likely have to go find a replacement in some form. Let’s take a look at who they may be:

Safety

Possible free-agent options: Mike Mitchell (Panthers), Malcolm Jenkins (Saints), James Ihedigbo (Ravens).

Summary: The free-agent market is thin, and, in my opinion, signing Whitner is, by far, the best option. If not, one of the above-mentioned players could be a suitable, but not equal signing. If Whitner’s market doesn’t get crazy, the 49ers need to try to keep him. In-house potential replacements are C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl, but neither are considered top options.

Cornerback

Possible free-agent options: Nolan Carroll (Dolphins), Antonio Cromartie (released by Jets), Champ Bailey (released by Broncos), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Asante Samuel (released by Falcons), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Charles Tillman (Bears), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers).

Summary: Replacing Brown may be easier than replacing Whitner. There are a ton of decent cornerbacks. Carroll is one of the players the 49ers have checked in on. If the 49ers lose Brown, they could wait out the market and get a decent player or two here. A wild card could be Darrelle Revis, who reportedly either is going to be traded or released, as soon as this week, by Tampa Bay. He will likely be pricey but if something crazy happens, perhaps the 49ers could get involved.

Kicker

Possible free-agent options: Steven Hauschka (Seahawks), Adam Vinatieri (Colts), Josh Brown (Giants), Dan Carpenter (Bills).

Summary: There are some decent kickers available, but I think Dawson is the best fit and I expect him to be back. If not, any of these kickers could be the fix. Just a guess, but I don’t think it gets to that point.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com offers a tidy, thumbnail plan for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency.

Below is Barnwell’s plan and my thoughts on it:

Estimated Cap Space: $10,021,111

Likely Cuts: CB Carlos Rogers

Who They Should Keep: CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Rogers
Rodgers-Cromartie
Who They Should Sign: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Asante Samuel, S Louis Delmas

Did you know the largest cap hit on the 2014 San Francisco 49ers belongs to, of all people, Rogers? The 49ers would clear $5 million off their cap by releasing Rogers, a move likely to occur despite San Francisco’s relative lack of depth in the secondary. Signing the younger, more talented Rodgers-Cromartie makes more sense, with Samuel filling in as depth and Delmas replacing the departing Donte Whitner. The Niners are sufficiently deep elsewhere to stay out of free agency, although they will certainly sneak in after a couple of weeks if they see a bargain lurking unsigned.

My take: What sticks out to me is the Rodgers-Cromartie thought. If the 49ers can get him, they should jump at it. He would be an upgrade and a fine fit for the defense. But I think he could get a big deal somewhere. I think Whitner is a better player than Delmas, and the 49ers should concentrate on keeping him. But if Whitner’s market is too high, then Delmas could be a solid replacement.

Free-agency primer: 49ers

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: S Donte Whitner, CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Where they stand: The 49ers are already off to a productive start to free agency. They re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin to a team-friendly two-year, $12 million extension earlier this week. Boldin was the team's top free-agency priority. No matter what happens once free agency starts Tuesday, the 49ers already accomplished Task 1. But that doesn't mean their work is over. The 49ers love their roster and they want to keep their talent. Whitner, Brown and Dawson are all players the 49ers want back.

What to expect: The 49ers have been in contact with all of their top priorities. But it won't be a surprise if they have to wait out Whitner, Brown and Dawson. All three may want to test the market. I wouldn't be surprised if both Brown and Whitner get heavy interest, but the 49ers may be willing to do what it takes to keep both, within reason. Dawson may be easier to get done. If Whitner and/or Brown leave, the 49ers may have to dip into the outside free-agent market. I think that's the only way the 49ers become big players in the outside market. They may sign a few pieces here and there, but for the most part the 49ers like their roster and want to keep it in place as much as possible.
The NFL deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players expired Monday without the San Francisco 49ers applying it.

That’s no surprise. It would have been a surprise if the 49ers did apply the tag.

The team’s top free-agent priorities, after re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin on Monday, are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown. It simply did not make any financial sense to tag any of these players. Still, the 49ers want these players back and will continue to work toward deals with them before free agency starts on March 11.

Next year, perhaps, will be a different story. They have big-name free agents looming in the form of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, pass-rusher Aldon Smith and receiver Michael Crabtree. All three are priorities. Kaepernick could get a new deal this offseason. However it shakes out, I could see one of these players getting tagged this time next year.

49ers' odds and ends

February, 28, 2014
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Emptying the notebook on a rainy Friday afternoon:
    McFadden
  • If the 49ers were in the market for a veteran running back, I'd count Oakland free agent Darren McFadden as a real possibility. San Francisco running backs coach Tom Rathman was in Oakland when the Raiders drafted McFadden in 2008. While I'm sure the 49ers are studying McFadden, the need there just isn't strong. It would have to be the perfect, cheap situation for him to land with the 49ers, although, they could use him on screen passes.
  • Denver is in the market for a hard-hitting safety and are said to be willing to spend. You have to wonder if the Broncos will make a play for 49ers safety Donte Whitner. But they may have others in mind first.
  • The salary cap is projected to be set at $133 million. The 49ers should be at least $15 million under the cap. That should allow them to accomplish everything they want to get done. The word is the cap will reach up to $150 million in two years. That will benefit the 49ers as they have some big-ticket deals to get done.
  • Center Daniel Kilgore received a $1.35 million signing bonus for the three-year extension he signed Thursday. He will get first crack at taking over for the free-agent Jonathan Goodwin. But if Kilgore fails, the 49ers could look elsewhere because of his inexpensive deal.
  • There are reports Miami is putting speedy receiver Mike Wallace on the market. He'd fit what the 49ers do, But his deal is too pricey and the draft class is stacked. Thus, I don't see a deal happening with the 49ers unless he took a big pay cut.

49ers contract status update

February, 28, 2014
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Free agency starts in 11 days. Along with every other team, the San Francisco 49ers are putting together their final plans. The 49ers are in pretty nice shape. They are poised to be $15-16 million under the salary cap.

The team has gained cap room by reducing deals for backup safety Craig Dahl and backup receiver Jon Baldwin. They want cornerback Carlos Rogers back at a much reduced salary from the $6 million he is due. If he doesn't accept a pay cut, he will likely be cut. General manager Trent Baalke has said he doesn't think the team needs to reduce the salary of running back Frank Gore, who is set to make $6.4 million.

The deadline giving a player the franchise tag is Monday. The 49ers are not expected to use the tag. They have been close to a deal with receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, 33, is likely looking at a two- or three-year deal. He could be paid up to $17 million if it is a three-year deal. The team's other priority free agents are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The 49ers extended the deal of Daniel Kilgore on Thursday. He was set to be a free agent next year. That means he is in line to start next year and that the 49ers likely won't re-sign Jonathan Goodwin, who started at center the past three years.

The team is not expected to give the restricted free-agent tender to backup defensive lineman DeMarcus Dobbs and cornerback Perrish Cox. That would make them unrestricted free agents.
Echoing what coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Thursday and keeping to the mantra of the organization, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke predictably had this message when speaking to the media Friday: the team’s free-agent plan will be to keep its own.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep our own guys,” Baalke said.

Whitner
The 49ers' top priorities in the coming weeks (free agency starts March 11) are to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson, and perhaps cornerback Tarell Brown. Whitner might be the most difficult to sign. If I had to guess, I’d say Boldin has the best chance of being signed before free agency.

In other topics Baalke addressed:
  • Baalke praised running back Frank Gore for another productive season in 2013 and told reporters the 49ers don’t necessarily have to approach Gore to take a pay cut. He is to make $6.4 million this season.
  • Baalke said he expects Michael Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody to fill in for linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the first half of the season as Bowman recovers from torn ACL. Baalke also indicated the team could bring in some competition. He said Bowman will not be rushed.
  • As he did in October, Baalke said the team has no intentions of trading running back/kick returner LaMicheal James. Baalke said he believes James, a second-round pick in 2012, will get more opportunities to run the ball moving forward.
  • Baalke said pass-rushing star Aldon Smith is going well and said the team has “a great support system for him." Smith missed five games in 2013 when he voluntarily entered a substance abuse center. He finished the season strong.
  • Baalke spoke glowingly of 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. The receiver finished the season strong after missing 10 games with a broken foot. Patton impressed the team with his zeal for the game.

49ers combine primer

February, 19, 2014
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The NFL scouing combine is underway and lasts until early next week in Indianapolis. Let's take a look at what the San Francisco 49ers' front office staff, coaches and scouts will be doing as they watch drills and interview prospects in preparation for the May 8-10 draft.

First-round pick: No. 30.

Total picks: The 49ers have 11 picks, but are expected to get either a third or fourth-round compensatory pick. They are usually allotted in Mach.

Top needs: The 49ers want to add a play-making receiver to deepen the team's aerial weaponry. Developing a young cornerback is also key for this deep roster. 49ers have ammo to move up in draft as they did last year.

Players they could scout in first-round: Receivers Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Marqise Lee (USC), Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), Allen Robinson (Penn State), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State); cornerbacks: Jason Verrett (TCU), Bradley Roby (Ohio State).

Other business: Teams often talk to their own free agents at the combine to get a feel for the market and try to finalize deals before free agency. It begins March 11.The 49ers priority free agents include receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kick Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

Media time: Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke are expected to meet with the media in the next couple of days.

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