San Francisco 49ers

Crystal ball: Which 49ers free agents will be back ...

Michael Crabtree is one of several prominent free agents who may not be back with the 49ers.
Michael Crabtree is one of several prominent free agents who may not be back with the 49ers. The Bee

These are the 49ers’ most prominent players who are poised to become unrestricted free agents on March 10. Will they be back for 2015? Best guesses to follow ...

WR Michael Crabtree

The 49ers won't be gunning to get him back, and it's questionable whether Crabtree wants to be back. The 49ers must get younger and faster at the position. Crabtree is only 27 but his speed doesn't make defensive coordinators and opposing safeties lose sleep at night. The sense is that Crabtree would love to stay in his native Texas -- he grew up just outside of Dallas and used to work at the Cowboys stadium on game days -- but ultimately will take the offer that allows him the maximum amount of playing time. Of course, it's not a given he'll go. There will be a number of quality receivers in free agency and the market may go flat very quickly. If Crabtree does not get any quality offers, he could return to the 49ers on a one-year deal just as safety Dashon Goldson did in 2011. It's also possible the 49ers part ways with Stevie Johnson over his 2015 salary. If that happens, it increases the odds of a Crabtree return.

Prediction: He's not coming back

Confidence level: Medium high

CB Chris Cook

Cook was an unmitigated failure in Minnesota, but the big-bodied former second-round pick played well for the 49ers in the offseason and free agency. He tore his hamstring in Week 7 and did not play again. Given his lack of exposure in 2014, it's hard to see a big market -- or any market -- for Cook. After all, the 49ers were able to sign him to a minimum-value contract last season. They'll look for something similar this year.

Prediction: Cook at least will be on the team's offseason roster

Confidence level: Medium

CB Perrish Cox

Last year was Cox's best in the NFL. He did a little of everything -- he started on the outside, he bumped inside to nickel cornerback, he led the 49ers in interceptions (5) and he was the team's backup punt returner. He also likely will be cheaper to re-sign than Chris Culliver. Still, it's no lock that he'll come back, especially since the man who has championed him in the past, secondary coach Ed Donatell, is now with the Bears. With former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also with the Bears, Chicago could be a new home for any of the 49ers' defensive free agents.

Prediction: Cox will be back

Confidence level: Low

CB Chris Culliver

His "brass knuckles" court case remains unresolved, and it's not as if Culliver has been a model citizen since the team drafted him in 2011. Still, his age (26), his size and his game tape -- especially at the end of the 2014 season -- promise to make him a coveted commodity in free agency. And that likely will usher Culliver out the door. Other 49ers free-agent cornerbacks like Cox and Cook will be easier to re-sign. The team also drafted three cornerbacks -- Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker -- last year and took a fourth player, Jimmie Ward, in the first round. Ward is listed as a safety but plays nickel cornerback. That is, they have a number of young players they expect to fill the gaps at the position.

Prediction: So long, Chris

Confidence level: Medium high

QB Blaine Gabbert

Remember last offseason? Fans couldn't stand Blaine Gabbert, who struggled in the preseason. He was the blaine of their existence. (wait for laughter to die down before continuing). The 49ers likely will at least try to bring in some passers who will put pressure on starter Colin Kaepernick. It's hard seeing Gabbert as the guy to do that. Still, the 49ers roster isn't exactly teeming with quarterbacks right now, and team officials also could conclude he's as good as any other guy they could get this offseason.

Prediction: Bye-bye, Blaine

Confidence level: Medium

RB Frank Gore

The 49ers want Gore back. The question is: How badly? If Gore gets wooed by a 2014 playoff team that assures him he'll be the starter in 2015, his career with San Francisco could be over. Still, Gore likely will give the 49ers the opportunity to match any deals he's offered and they also won't be as rigid, money-wise, as they would with most anyone else on the roster. For those reasons, there's a higher probability he'll be back. But it's close.

Prediction: One more for Gore

Confidence level: Medium low

G Mike Iupati

He's probably not going to get the blockbuster deal Carl Nicks received three years ago. But Iupati will be coveted by any team wanting to bulk up its running game, and there are many teams in that category. The 49ers, meanwhile, are dedicated to restablishing their pound-the-rock mentality in the running game, and that’s Iupati’s strength. They will keep a close watch on his market, and Iupati -- who loves the West Coast -- will hope they remain competitive with their offer. Still, the two sides have been in off-and-on negotiations over the past two years and nothing came of it. That points to Iupati leaving for a richer contract elsewhere. The 49ers drafted two interior linemen in the third round last year, and either Brandon Thomas or Marcus Martin could take over for Iupati in 2015.

Prediction: Vaya con Dios, Big Mike.

Confidence level: Medium

QB Josh Johnson

The 49ers played roster chicken with Johnson last year -- cutting him late in the week and re-signing him early the next -- and won every time. That is, no other team wanted him on its roster, and with Jim Harbaugh now at Michigan, he's unlikely to have any strong suitors this offseason.

Prediction: He'll at least be here in the spring and summer

Confidence level: Medium low

WR Brandon Lloyd

The 49ers' deep-threat wide receiver last year? It was 33-year-old Lloyd, who wasn't known for his deep speed when he was 22 years old. Still, Lloyd did a remarkable job in his limited role, using his quickness and savvy to haul in several memorable catches, including a game-changing one in St. Louis. Lloyd, however, seemed to get phased out toward the end of the season when youngsters like Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton started seeing more playing time. And that likely hints at the 49ers' plans with LLoyd this offseason.

Prediction: Lloyd is replaced by a draft pick

Confidence level: High

WR/ST Kassim Osgood

He's been a reliable special teamer, but the guy who appreciates him most, special teams coordinator Brad Seely, is now with the Raiders. The fact that Osgood is going into his 13th season means that even a league-minimum salary carries some heft. The Raiders have a lot more cap space than their Bay Area cousins.

Prediction: The 49ers say 'Os-good-bye' this offseason

Confidence level: Medium

OLB Dan Skuta

He's exactly the type of guy every team should want -- tough, smart and capable of filling multiple roles. Skuta has been an excellent role player over the last two seasons. However, he doesn't want to be paid like a role player and will be seeking a starting job. He also is a favorite of Fangio's, who is trying to change Chicago's 4-3 defense into a 3-4. The Bears may have a greater need for someone like Skuta and thus put a higher price on him.

Prediction: So long, Skuta.

Confidence level: Medium high

Bubba Ventrone

Sources say that Ventrone is in line to become assistant special teams coach in New England, which is where his NFL career began. That's a shame because he provided stability to the 49ers' coverage units after a wobbly start last year. *UPDATE* The Patriots indeed hired Ventrone on Tuesday.

Prediction: Bubba switches gears, becomes a coach

Confidence level: High

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