The 49ers’ approach to free agency, which begins next week, is twofold: First, concentrate on re-signing their own free agents. Second, try to make sure their young, talented players never get to free agency in the first place.
The 49ers did both in recent weeks. They signed the player they targeted as their top free agent, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, to a two-year deal Monday. Before that, they signed Daniel Kilgore to a three-year contract extension that locks him up through the 2017 season. Kilgore, a fifth-round pick in 2011, is the frontrunner to be the team’s starting center this season.
The 49ers also are working on a long-term deal for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scheduled to become a free agent a year from now. They also have considered an extension for guard Mike Iupati, another top player entering the final year of his first contract.
“They’re very, very good in making their in-house evaluations,” said former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, who now works for ESPN. “They know who they want to invest in, and I think that’s a very wise move.”
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NFL teams can begin negotiating with the representatives for pending free agents Saturday. On Tuesday at 1 p.m., free agents can start signing with other teams.
Here’s where things stand for the 49ers’ free agents:
S Donte Whitner – The team’s starting safety for the last three years is expected to test his value on the open market. Whitner’s leverage is that the 49ers’ secondary is young and needs a veteran like him. The 49ers are unlikely to pair a rookie safety alongside last year’s first-round selection, Eric Reid. The team is more optimistic it can bring Whitner back than it was three weeks ago.
CB Tarell Brown – The 49ers have been in talks with Brown’s representatives, but he also is likely to test the market before re-signing. Like Whitner, Brown would add a veteran element to an otherwise young unit. And he could take over nickel cornerback duties if Carlos Rogers, due to have a team-high salary-cap figure, is released. The team’s offer to Brown likely will be similar to the four-year, $16 million deal Tramaine Brock signed during the season. Brown will see if there are any teams willing to pay more.
K Phil Dawson – Dawson set a franchise record with 27 consecutive field goals in 2013 and made back-to-back game winners against Arizona and Green Bay. Still, he’s 39 and there are few teams without kickers in the NFL right now. Dawson could be waiting to see whether any team – Houston, for example – would prefer a steady veteran to the young kicker already on its roster.
C Jonathan Goodwin –The team’s starting center for the last three seasons has said he’d like to play another season. The 49ers, however, have not been in contact and they recently signed Goodwin’s understudy, Kilgore, to a long-term extension. The 49ers could sign Goodwin, 35, or another veteran center to a team-friendly deal, but they are likely to go with the younger option at the position.
WR Mario Manningham – Thin-framed Manningham proved to be a poor fit for the 49ers in the rough-and-tumble NFC West. A knee injury ended his 2012 season early and washed away most of 2013 as well. He is unlikely to be back.
Other pending free agents, such as quarterback Colt McCoy, running back Anthony Dixon, receiver Kassim Osgood and cornerback Eric Wright, also are expected to reach free agency. And cornerback Perrish Cox, fullback Will Tukuafu and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs are restricted free agents. The team is unlikely to tender any of them, however, which would make them unrestricted free agents. The 49ers could bring back any of that group on minimum-salary deals.
The 49ers also have one so-called “exclusive-rights” free agent, linebacker Michael Wilhoite. He filled in for Patrick Willis in 2013, and he will compete to be NaVorro Bowman’s replacement if Bowman, as expected, begins 2014 on the physically-unable-to-play list. In other words, look for the 49ers to re-sign Wilhoite in the coming weeks.