We talk a lot about this on the 49ers message board. We have different posts for draft and free agents so I thought I would kind of roll them into one. Much of my insight is based on what I've been hearing locally and then try to formulate an opinion based on that. I posted this to the group board as well. Feel free to comment and most importantly, have fun with this.
The obvious needs are RT and Safety. Singletary has mentioned that pass rush will be upgraded and that there will be competition at QB. Let's break this down further. The following is based on current knowledge of pending free agents. When free agency begins and teams make their cuts, there may be other prospects as well. Given Coach Sing's current push for physicality, you can probably expect to see physical prospects at RT and RB.
Needs - what the team is most likely to address
RT - Jonas Jennings can't stay healthy. He will be in the final year of his deal and I think the Niners will probably just cut him. Backup Barry Sims was a revolving door and most likely won't be back. Adam Snyder played well, but was not dominant. Snyder is most valuable as the swingman that can backup every postion on the line except center. Free agency will be deep with linemen. Jordan Gross, Stacy Andrews, Vernon Carey, Marvel Smith, Mark Tauscher are some of free agent Tackles that will be available. This is by far the deepest postion in free agency. There will most likely be a top 5 tackle available whne we draft too. But other team needs will be hard to address in free agency. So my hope is that the Niners take advantage of the availability of free agent tackles and use their 1st round pick to address another need. Depth could be addressed in later rounds.
S - Mark Roman is the weakest link in the secondary. I haven't heard Sing mention any upgrades here but it's clearly obvious that Roman did not play well. There will be no quality safeties in this year's crop of free agents. My suggestion would be to draft Taylor Mays with the 10th overall pick. At this time, he is slated to fall to 10. After the combine, that may change.
Pass rusher/OLB - This could be a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 DE. Singletary was very vocal about upgrading this area. He may actually perceive this as the team's greatest need. There are only a couple of big names out there but Terrell Suggs would be the best fit. Suggs plays in a similar read and react hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense in Baltimore. Sing's connections with the Ravens makes this a real possibility that we may make a hard run for Suggs. If we fail to connect with Suggs, Brian Orapko would be a possibility with the 10th pick too. But Orapko most likely will be drafted before then.
QB - This is really anyone's guess. Singletary went out of his way to say that Hill is NOT guaranteed the starting job. Sing wants competition at the QB position. We do not know if this means that competition will be brought in, or if Alex Smith is still in the picture. The team has not been very specific about this. IMO, Hill should be starter and make it his job to lose.
RB - Nobody has really talked about this. But last year's signing of DeShaun Foster was a sign that the team wants quality depth to share carries with Gore. Foster didn't play well, so he will most likely be gone. There will be some second tier free agents out there. This year's RB draft class will not be very deep. But it is a possibility that the Niners take someone in the 2nd or 3rd round. LaMont Jordan, Derrick Ward, Rudi Johnson are some of the "bigger" RBs in free agency.
Debunking the myths - what the team is least likely to pursue
ILB - There are rumors of Manuluaga, Laurinitis or even Ray Lewis. I am doubting these scenarios. Takeo Spikes has indicated that he wants to resign with the Niners and I think he will make it easy for the team to do so. Spikes is not the gamechanger he once was but still plays at an above average level. He showed this after Singletary became coach and I think Spikes enjoys playing for him.
NT - I personally think that this area should be upgraded. But I don't think the team feels the same way. Singletary did not address the D-line in any way. I think he is happy with Ray McDonald, Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith and rotating Isaac Sopoaga & Kentwan Balmer into the fold. Plus, the NT postion will be very weak in free agency and the draft. There are people out there that talk about Albert Haynesworth, but I don't think the Niners will go after him. I think the Niners will spend the money on Suggs. Supposedly, the Titans have currently resumed talks with Haynesworth about an extension.
WR - T.J. Houshmanzadeh is probably the biggest name out there. But the team feels that the combo of Bruce, Battle, Morgan and Hill will carry them through next season. So a top free agent or draftee is unlikely.
CB - There has been a lot of talk about finding Walt Harris' future replacement. Some are saying Malcolm Jenkins. It's not entirely out of the question. But Tarell Brown played well filling in for Nate Clements and the truth is, Walt Harris didn't play that bad. The Niners have done well targeting CBs in the middle rounds of the draft (Spencer and Brown). They also still have Reggie Smith from last year who could be converted to safety.
What I would like to see is the Niners target RT and Suggs in free agency. I hope they draft Taylor Mays in the draft. They also use the later rounds of the draft to address depth for O-line, RB, CB and/or even WR.
Cut/Sign - list of guys that probably will or will not be brought back. I excluded lesser known guys.
TE Billy Bajema - Valuable blocker. Provides depth. Veteran special teams player. Would not cost and arm and a leg to resign. I hope the team resigns him.
DL Ronald Fields - Didn't do anything to distinguish himself from Sopoaga, Franklin or even Balmer. Let him walk.
RB DeShaun Foster - Didn't do enough. He only rushed for 3 y/a. We need better production from someone who is going to split carries with Gore. Let him walk.
LB Roderick Green - Situational pass rusher. Not an every down player. Show up in a few games, disappeared in most for 2008. Sing wants an upgrade making Green expendable. Let him walk.
WR Bryant Johnson - Hobbled by injury. But one of the biggest receivers we have on the team. When healthy, he can be productive. May lack free agent draw after this year and could come back at a bargain. I hope the team resigns him.
QB - J.T. O'Sullivan - The JTO experiment is over. Martz is gone. Turnover prone. JTO never had the type of respect from his teammates as much as Shaun Hill did. Nevertheless, Sing wants competition so JTO is out. Let him walk.
RS Allen Rossum - Return extraordinaire. Missed a couple of games but when was the last time the Niners had such an explosive return game? I hope the team brings him back.
TE Sean Ryan - Like Bajema, more of a blocking specialist. Likely to be gone when Keasey returns. Let him walk.
LB Takeo Spikes - Picked up play after Sing took over as coach. I am buying more into his veteran leadership in the locker room. he wants to stay So he could come with good value. I hope the team resigns him.
CB Donald Strickland - I was never impressed with him. I think he was burned too many times. But he was not used correctly either. Sing likes him. He may get another shot with the Niners. I say let him walk.
List of free agents pulled from the Niners website.