The yearly NFL free agent shopping spree has pretty much come and gone at this point. Most of the big name free agents now know where they will be playing next year. The 49ers made a few moves, most noteworthy would be signing kicker Phil Dawson, defensive end/tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety Craig Dahl. Nnamdi Asomugha is currently weighing his options of signing with either the New Orleans Saints or the 49ers.Now it is time to look at some of the more strategic, lower cost signings that Trent Baalke has become a master at. There will be some good players available that can contribute at a lower cost from now through the first OTAs after the draft. Here are some of the guys that the 49ers should consider:
Defensive Tackle: Alan Branch
Branch had 29 tackles and one sack for the Seahawks last year. This is a move that is not all about stats though. It is always good to take a good player from one of your division rivals. He is a massive man at 6’6″ 325 lbs and is only 28 years old. Branch would be a good rotation guy that can be brought in especially to stop the run. The 49ers lost a lot of size and strength when Isaac Sopoaga signed with the Eagles and Rickey Jean Francois signed with the Colts.
Cornerbacks: Mike Jenkins
Mike Jenkins has the ability to bump inside and cover the slot receiver. That is a big plus for an cornerback that the 49ers would consider. Mike Jenkins is the ultimate Trent Baalke kind of free agent. First off, he will not be expensive. Second, he is a veteran player that will have a chip on his shoulder. His exit from the Dallas Cowboys was not the best. At 28 years old he still has some time to get back on track and he will want to prove that letting him walk was not the right decision for the Cowboys. The Raiders are reportedly interested in signing Jenkins however. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell is looked upon as one of the better position coaches in the NFL and would do a great job of helping Jenkins get the best out of his athletic ability.
Running Back: Jackie Battle
Anthony Dixon is a fan favorite but even at 245 lbs, he is not the big back that the 49ers could use in short yardage situations. Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke made an attempt to go big last year with the signing of Brandon Jacobs. Jackie Battle is a very nice sized back at 6’2″ 238 lbs. He averaged four yards per carry with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2011. Battle is a free agent after having signed a one year deal with the Chargers before the 2012 season. Last year he scored four touchdowns in a limited role. He would be the perfect running back to bring in on short yardage situations and as a change of pace to the quick hitting style of Lamichael James or the cutback running style of Frank Gore. He can also play special teams.
Running Back: Felix Jones
Kendall Hunter is coming off of an achilles injury and it’s uncertain if he will be able to return to his pre injury explossiveness. Felix Jones is a similar kind of running back. He is an explossive back that can break off big chunks of yards in a limited role. Jones filled in for DeMarco Murray when he was out due to injury and averaged 3.6 yards per carry along with scoring five touchdowns. Jones averaged at least four yards per carry from 2008 – 2011. He brings value in that he is only 26 years old and can help out in the kick return game.
Quarterback: Tyler Thigpen
Tyler Thigpen is a deceptively athletic quarterback that could get his career back on track as a backup with Coach Harbaugh. He has bounced around the NFL a bit but has a good skill set that would work in Greg Roman’s offense. He would do a good job of competing with Scott Tolzien to become the backup quarterback. Thigpen has seven NFL seasons under his belt despite only being 28 years old. The veteran presence that he would bring to the quarterback meetings and when the offense comes off of the field would help Colin Kaepernick a lot.
There are some positions that the 49ers will look to fill in the draft as well. Wide receiver is one of them. I previously mentioned Ramses Barden as a receiver option but that was prior to the Anquan Boldin trade. The aforementioned players are purely supplemental players that would be wise to consider signing.