San Francisco 49ers: Mike Mitchell

Don't blink, free agency moves fast -- and it hasn't even started yet.

Tuesday morning we looked at potential replacements for the San Francisco 49ers' top options. In the meantime, the alternatives should kicker Phil Dawson go elsewhere have begun to dry up. The Colts agreed to bring back Adam Vinatieri, there have been reports Josh Brown is close to re-signing with the Giants and Dan Carpenter is about to head back to Buffalo.

That means there may not be many good options left for the 49ers if Dawson leaves. I’ve long thought Dawson will return to the 49ers. There is mutual love there and he had a great 2013 season.

As for safety Donte Whitner, NFL Network is reporting the Cleveland native is close to a deal with the Browns. He cannot sign until 1 p.m. PT. If Whitner leaves, the 49ers could make a play for Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. He’s not as good as Whitner, but he’s better than what the team has in-house as a potential replacement for Whitner.

Meanwhile, ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks the 49ers are among the teams that could consider pursuing recently released receivers Sidney Rice and Santonio Holmes. In my opinion, I’d think the team could have more interest in Rice.
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.

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