Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that these are not rumors or speculation. These are merely hypothetical questions and scenarios I would like to discuss with my fellow San Francisco 49ers fans.
With two first round draft picks this year, the 49ers have more options than normal. They can keep them and draft practically back to back, and hope one or if they’re really lucky, both work out for them. Or, they can have some fun, entertain us fans, and trade one away for a player that wants off of his current team. The following three players are the most intriguing to me.
I think we can all agree the 49ers’ special teams was far from special this past season. With the release of return specialist Allen Rossum, the 49ers did not have a distinguished returner and tried to make due with what they had. Nate Clements occasionally returned punts, but with his broken arm, coach Mike Singletary turned to his receivers. Brandon Jones and Arnaz Battle shouldered most of the load. Jones was a disaster, and Battle simply appeared the lesser of two evils. They muffed punts and did not give the offense help in the field position game. Neither has the natural ability, or trained as a punt returner. In my opinion, Battle belongs in the slot, going up the middle making catches with his sure hands.
It would be asking a lot from the Browns to trade their best player, but when your best player is a punt returner, you need more help than he can provide. A first round pick would be a perfect remedy for that. Also, new executive Mike Holmgren still has a good relationship with the 49ers franchise. A mid-first round pick for a punt returner sounds more than fair to me.
Tight end Vernon Davis went to high school with Cribbs, giving the 49ers a perfect liaison between them and Cribbs.
Although Cribbs is the best return man in the NFL, paying him as such would be crippling to a team. There’s only so much money you should put towards a specialty player who can only help in on aspect. Sure, there’s the Wildcat, but it is still a specialty. Using a first rounder on a kick returner is a very steep price to pay. The Miami Dolphins selected Ted Ginn Jr. in the first round, passing over Brady Quinn when they needed a quarterback. Not that it would have been any better as Chad Henne has established himself as a better quarterback than Quinn. However, Ginn has not become the next Devin Hester, and has not even evolved into a reliable receiver. We already know Cribbs can return kicks, but how much should we want our team to invest in a one dimensional player?
The receivers are on the up-swing right now. The two starters will be a combined five years into the league when the season starts in September. After a solid 2009 campaign, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan hope to take the next step in their games. This young corps could use a veteran still in his prime to kick up the talent level.
What the 49ers would gain is only a fraction of what the Cardinals would lose. If Kurt Warner decides to retire, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet and Jerheme Urban will not be what Boldin is. The Cardinals recent pummeling of the Green Bay Packers will hopefully lull them into a false sense of security, making them think they’ll be fine without their second best receiver. Boldin would bring his physical play and extra motivation against the Cardinals two times a year. Having a new starting receiver would also free-up Josh Morgan so he can become the primary return man. He averaged 28 yards a return while taking back kick-offs. Returning punts is different, but I think Morgan can make the transition.
Boldin is upset with the Cardinals because of his contract. They paid Larry Fitzgerald big money, and promised Boldin another deal, but did not follow through. I’d be willing to give Boldin the contract he wants. Unlike Cribbs, paying an elite wide receiver like an elite wide receiver is manageable to payroll.
Even with a first round pick, the Cardinals might be weary about trading within the division. There should be other offers willing to trade a first round pick. They will probably want to trade him to the AFC, or at the very least, a non-NFC West team.
Giving an additional first round pick to a divisional rival is also dangerous. Arizona could draft the next great player with that pick, and San Francisco would have to compete against him for years.
Last offseason, Peppers held out of training camp and demanded a trade. He got exactly what he didn’t want. They Carolina Panthers franchise tagged him and did not move him. Peppers will be a free agent this year, but the Panthers could always tag him again, but this time with the intention of getting something in return for him. Is he worth it?
The 49ers would be getting the sack master they desperately need. Ahmad Brooks displayed he could become a force with regular playing time. But imagine the front seven with Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, and Julius Peppers. The pressure that was lacking in most games last season would be applied immensely, helping out the vulnerable secondary. Peppers finished the season with a broken hand. He was used sparingly in pass obvious situations only. He was still able to register 10.5 sacks. Manny Lawson led the team with 6.5. A sack threat is sorely needed.
The defensive end has stated he wants to try and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. I still haven’t forgiven Parys Haralson for his missed tackle on Chris Johnson at the goal line against the Tennessee Titans. Linebacker is already a deep position for San Francisco, but adding a player who has the ability to pressure quarterbacks is what the unit does not possess.
Giving up a first round pick for an aging player who could be declining is not smart. He will be 30 this year and his best days could be behind him. The Panthers already owe the 49ers a first round pick, is it good management to negate that by taking a player with three/four good years of football left? If they were willing accept a trade of a second or third round pick plus a player, (i.e. Haralson, or Lawson) I’d be all for it. But a first round pick seems to be too much for Peppers.
If he does become an unrestricted free agent, then by all means he should be pursued. However his age is somewhat of a concern. At 30, he does not have the long term value most teams like. He probably won’t be able to get the huge contract he wants, but if he wants to be on a defense that is just a pass rusher away from being dominant, look no further.
If any of these options were legitimate, I’d want to go with Boldin. Michael Crabtree made strides last season as a rookie and will only get better. Having a tutor like Boldin will help Crabtree along the way, and he can see how physical a receiver can be. He can witness first hand how to be a tough runner after the catch, and for heaven’s sake, tuck the ball away when you’re running with it. Losing that talent would hurt Arizona exponentially. Without Warner and Boldin, we could be looking at the Cardinals of old, when they were the joke of the NFL.
Before anyone says they need to draft a quarterback with one of their first round picks, let me remind you we want the 49ers to win now. There’s no time to groom a quarterback of the future in the middle of a division race. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule that rookie quarterbacks need time to develop, but it is not guaranteed. They were a few plays away from having not only a winning record, but the division. If Alex Smith is able to build on his most successful season, and the 49ers get help from Cribbs, Boldin, or Peppers, I believe they win those games they didn’t, and they don’t have to waste a high draft pick on a position that is notorious for being high risk/high reward. The offensive line should be the number one priority regardless if a big trade happens.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Did I fail to mention another disgruntled player begging for a trade? Discuss.