The 49ers will head into free agency $25 million under the salary cap, and they could have even more wiggle room if, as expected, the team releases tackle Jonas Jennings and restructures Alex Smith's contract. But both general manager Scot McCloughan and owner/president Jed York cautioned Monday that the team would not make as big a splash has it has in recent years when it reeled in Jennings, Nate Clements and Justin Smith early in free agency. McCloughan said that the team's philosophy is to build through the draft and re-sign its own players.
York echoed that position: "When you look at the guys that are out there - there are not a lot of big names that are out there. I think when you look at the philosophy coach has or Scot has, you do want to build through the draft. We were pretty active in free agency the last two years. As Scot said, you're always over-paying when you go into free agency and getting that first-day guy. So I think what we want to try to do is make sure we are building through the draft. And if we're going to spend a lot of money, it's going to be on re-signing our own players and getting the right guys to come in as opposed to the big flashy names." Asked if the 49ers had begun to extend any of its marquee players, York said, "We're working on a couple, but nothing yet."
So which 49ers will the team try to re-sign? Parys Haralson, whose contract will run out next season, immediately comes to mind. This also would seem to be an excellent time to extend Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis. You also have to wonder if the Justin Smiley situation from a couple of years ago might prompt the 49ers to work a deal with David Baas, who becomes a free agent in 2010.
As for Jennings, the 49ers plan to release the oft-injured offensive tackle but will wait until he his healthy before they do so. Jennings suffered a dislocated shoulder in Week Two this past season, the third time he has suffered the injury since joining the 49ers.
Are the 49ers a team that builds through the draft? Not yet. In the Dec. 28 finale against the Redskins, seven of the team's defensive starters were free-agent acquisitions. For the last two seasons, the 49ers haven't had a single starter in the secondary who was drafted by the team. There's a better ratio on offense where just four starters - quarterback Shaun Hill, receivers Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson and tackle Barry Sims -- were free agents. Two of the team's special teams skill players - long-snapper Brian Jennings and punter Andy Lee - are draft picks, but neither was drafted by the current front office.
-- Matt Barrows