“My days are numbered.” Those words came out of Bryant Young’s mouth following yet another atrocious and uncompetitive loss on Sunday. Young is 35, in his 14th season and plays one of the most physically demanding positions in football. You knew he would hang up his cleats and take off his shoulder pads soon, but it was still jarring to hear his words. Who else may never don a 49ers uniform after this season? Here are my best guesses as to which potential free agents will walk and who will be back.
G Larry Allen – Allen says he hasn’t decided whether he wants to play another season. The decision, however, may not be his to make. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he simply can’t move like he used to. Chance of returning: 10 percent.
DE Marques Douglas – Douglas has played well in his contract year. The question is whether the 30-year-old lineman can continue to play at his current level. The 49ers have not discussed a contract extension and they seem poised to allow Douglas to test the market. If the offers he gets are reasonable, Douglas might be back. Chance of returning: 35 percent.
OT Kwame Harris – Harris went from most-loathed 49er to “maybe he wasn’t so bad after all” when the run game sputtered this year. The tall tackle also will hit the free agent market, and like Douglas, could be back if the price is right. However, a young former starter like Harris is likely to command a contract the 49ers aren’t willing to match. Chance of returning: 20 percent.
RB Maurice Hicks – Hicks finally busted a couple of big kickoff returns Sunday against the Vikings but you wonder whether a faster player would have finished those runs in the end zone. Hicks runs hard and is a coaches’ favorite. He’ll be back for camp, but can he hold off another challenge from younger, faster newcomers? Chance of returning: 45 percent.
QB Shaun Hill – Hill showed something Sunday that has escaped both Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer this season – a sense of rhythm. Was that legitimate or was it because the Vikings, ahead 27 points, didn’t care about giving up meaningless yards? Hill could get plenty more chances to prove his worth. Chance of returning: TBD.
G Justin Smiley – Early in the year it seemed as if the 49ers would never be able to re-sign Smiley, who figured to command top dollar on the free-agent market. However, a sub-par season and another shoulder injury likely lowered the guard’s value. The 49ers have a shot at Smiley, but they’ll still let him test the market. Chance of returning: 20 percent.
LB Derek Smith – No, he’s not a free agent. But he’s getting up there in years, he’s slowing down and he’ll have a very high base salary next season. If the 49ers sign another linebacker (See: Briggs, Lance) they may not have room for Smith. Chance of returning: 50 percent.
DL Isaac Sopoaga – The one free agent the 49ers really want back. Sopoaga is young, he’s versatile and he’s finally playing up to his potential. If Young retires, Sopoaga could be the left defensive end of the future. The 49ers will try not to let him hit the open market where the Samoan would find plenty of suitors. Chance of returning: 65 percent.
DE Bryant Young – He admitted that this season of high expectation and low yields has taken an emotional toll. Unlike other 30-somethings, he is still playing at a high level, which opens the door a crack that he could come back. But he also has said that he’d like to walk away from the game while he can still, well, walk. Chance of returning: 5 percent.
Trent Dilfer was released from the hospital Sunday night but is doubtful to play Saturday against Cincinnati. It looks as if Shaun Hill will get the start. Mike Nolan said the team was weighing whether to elevate Drew Olson from the practice squad or to sign a veteran quarterback this week. And no, Jeff George's name never came up.
As predicted, the NFL has found a more attractive game for its Dec. 23 prime time slot than 49ers-Buccaneers. The league replaced it with the Vikings-Redskins game. Both teams are fighting for a Wild Card spot in the NFC. The 49ers game, originally scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m., has been moved back to 1:15 p.m.
Remember earlier this year when Nolan said he couldn't put his finger exactly on what was ailing the 49ers? Well, he said there's far more clarity now. Nolan said there would be a time and place to discuss the root problems but that doing so now would be a distraction. "There will be a time and a place, and when that is, I will be very forthright," Nolan said. We can't wait ...
-- Matt Barrows