Five reasons Chip Kelly makes 49ers the most interesting team
The 49ers’ most prominent pending free agents, including their top receiver past three seasons, appear poised to hit the open market Wednesday.
The list includes guard Alex Boone, who has started 65 games since 2012; nose tackle Ian Williams, who is coming off his best season; kicker Phil Dawson, the team’s reigning MVP; and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who last month won the NFL’s prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Boldin, who was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons with the 49ers and has been their leading receiver every year since his arrival. Coaches named him the team MVP after the 2013 season.
In 2013, Boldin caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards, the highest total by a 49er since Terrell Owens had 1,300 yards in 2002.
The NFL Network reported Sunday that Boldin, 35, prefers to play for a team “that can compete at the highest level.” That condition would appear to eliminate the 49ers, who won five games last season and face a murky quarterback situation and a tattered roster.
Without Boldin, the 49ers’ most experienced receiver would be Torrey Smith, a free-agent acquisition last season. The returning roster also includes a number of young wideouts – Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and DeAndre Smelter among them – and the team also could pluck a pass catcher in free agency for the second consecutive season.
Williams, meanwhile, fits the mold of someone the 49ers would try to re-sign.
Despite being young at 26, he was voted a team captain last season and is one of the few healthy veterans along a suddenly thin defensive line. Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the top run-stopping interior linemen in the league last season.
Still, the nose tackle heads to the sideline in nickel situations, and Williams played only 57.8 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season. The 49ers might be unwilling to pay top dollar for a part-time player. Williams’ agent likely wants to see what the market, primed by a nearly $12 million bump in the salary cap from last year, does to his client’s value.
If Williams leaves, the 49ers could look to 2015 preseason standout Mike Purcell, who played 288 defensive snaps in the regular season. Quinton Dial also has played nose tackle, although his more natural spot is defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.
Boone, 28, also is poised to test the open market. He has started at both guard spots for the 49ers and last year was Joe Staley’s emergency backup at left tackle.
The 49ers historically have not spent heavily on interior linemen, allowing everyone from Justin Smiley to David Baas to Mike Iupati to sign richer deals elsewhere in free agency.
Last season, however, the 49ers allowed an NFC-worst 53 sacks and, aside from a Week 1 win against the Minnesota Vikings, never established their running game. They are believed to be looking for a veteran guard in free agency who could line up next to Staley and mesh well with coach Chip Kelly’s zone-blocking approach.
The 49ers probably will have Andrew Tiller, Marcus Martin, Erik Pears, Ian Silberman, Jordan Devey and Brandon Thomas compete for interior line spots this offseason. Of that group, only Tiller offered some semblance of stability last year.
Dawson missed only three field-goal attempts last season, and two of those were blocked. However, he turned 41 in January and the 49ers might feel now is the time – when expectations of a playoff run are low – to break in a younger, less-expensive kicker. Dawson had the team’s fifth-highest cap number, $4.1 million, last season.
The free-agency period begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. A two-day window opened Monday for teams to begin dealing with the agents of pending free agents.
The 49ers recently took two of their unrestricted free agents, tight end Garrett Celek and running back Shaun Draughn, off the market through contract extensions. Running back Reggie Bush, whose 2015 season was limited to eight carries because of injuries, also is due to be a free agent but is not expected back.
If none of the team’s pending free agents is re-signed before Wednesday, the 49ers will open the league year with roughly $60 million in salary cap space.