When the San Francisco 49ers’ braintrust huddles behind closed doors to discuss its moves and strategies this offseason, one of the first topics is sure to be the impending free agency of players who were on the roster this just-completed season.
With 19 free agents, there will be much to discuss between now and March 13, when the next league year begins and free agency becomes official.
Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson likely are at the top of the list, two keys to a secondary that helped make San Francisco one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2011.
Rogers, in his first season in San Francisco, and Goldson may each be seeking a four- or five-year deal to stay with the Niners, reports Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Up front, there are fewer free-agent concerns. Of the front seven on defense, only outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks is an unrestricted free agent, and he may very well be expendable if the Niners believe Aldon Smith – just coming off a sensational rookie season in which he had 14 sacks – is able to evolve from pure pass rusher to full-time outside linebacker.
But sometimes the best of plans can go sideways.
The question now is, will Smith’s arrest this past weekend in Miami Beach, Fla. – he was charged with driving under the influence, according to multiple news reports – have any impact on the Niners’ plans?
Will that team braintrust question Smith’s long-term capabilities and retain Brooks, or go forward in thinking Smith, 22, showed enough growth and maturity in his first season to contribute even more in the 2012 regular season?
Smith, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, would be subject to a possible fine or suspension if it is determined that he violated the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. But that determination will take some time.
The team released a statement this weekend, saying, “The 49ers are aware of the recent matter involving Aldon Smith. We take these issues very seriously, but will reserve further comment at this time as this is an ongoing legal matter. The 49ers will continue to gather the facts and monitor the developments closely.”
By all accounts, Aldon Smith was an exemplary player in his rookie season, after being the seventh overall selection out of Missouri. He made an immediate impact defensively and did everything he was asked to do by the coaching staff, and more.
Brooks, meanwhile, is only 27, just completed his sixth NFL season and fourth in San Francisco, and contributed seven sacks and 35 tackles in 16 games.
This weekend’s incident in Florida just throws one more wrinkle into the offseason planning of a 49ers team that was remarkably devoid of offseason incidents and controversy in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach.
The full list of 49ers free agents, reports Branch, consists of:
Unrestricted: Brooks; linebacker and special teams standout Blake Costanzo; receiver Ted Ginn Jr; Goldson; linebacker Tavares Gooden; receiver Joshua Morgan; tight end Justin Peele; guard Chilo Rachal; Rogers; fullback Moran Norris; quarterback Alex Smith; safety Reggie Smith; offensive lineman Adam Snyder; and safety Madieu Williams.
Restricted free agents: linebacker Larry Grant, defensive back C.J. Spillman; receiver Brett Swain.
Exclusive-rights free agents: cornerback Tramaine Brock and defensive tackle Will Tukuafu.
The 49ers can match any offer made to a restricted free agent; exclusive-rights free agents must accept a salary offer from the 49ers that meets NFL minimum contract requirements.