Defensive end Ray McDonald, who appears on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent, said he wants to play for a team that will make him a starter. McDonald started nine games for the 49ers in 2008, but none the last two seasons. He mostly has been paired with Justin Smith as a third-down pass rusher while also working as a backup at right and left defensive end.
"I know I'm an every-down player, a starter," McDonald said following a workout Tuesday at San Jose State. "And that's what I'm looking to do this year. I'm not looking to back up anybody. I'm looking to start this year."
That's a possibility in San Francisco, especially if another unrestricted free agent, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, is not re-signed. If that's the case, left defensive end Isaac Sopoaga likely would slide inside to nose tackle, creating an opening on the left side.
The 49ers would have a few other options at left defensive end under that scenario. They could start third-year player Ricky Jean Francois there or perhaps give youngster Will Tukuafu a shot at the position. Or they could re-sign Demetric Evans, who also is an unrestricted free agent. McDonald, however, has seen more playing time at the position than the others, and he said he would want to compete for the job if Sopoaga ends up playing nose tackle.
"I mean, that's where I'd be looking to start at," McDonald said. "Like I said, I've been waiting for this all of my career. ... If they move Ice inside, I'd be looking to start over there on the left side." McDonald was playing left defensive end last season when he intercepted a pass against Carolina and scored a 31-yard touchdown.
According to ESPN, the free-agent rules under the proposed collective-bargaining agreement will be like the pre-2010 rules. That is, players with four or more years of service will be unrestricted free agents. That means that four-year veterans like McDonald and Dashon Goldson, as well as five-year veteran Manny Lawson, will be able to test their worth on the free-agent market.
McDonald fell to the third round of the 2007 draft in part because of concerns over an ACL injury. McDonald had surgery following the 2008 season to correct the issue and played in every game the last two seasons. At 6-3, 290 pounds, McDonald's best position appears to be as a 3-4 defensive end or as a penetrating defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. McDonald lives in the San Jose area and has been part of the group of a dozen or so 49ers who have worked out regularly at San Jose State during the lockout.
As you might expect, he was more than pleased when told he likely would be an unrestricted free agent.
"That's great news. I've been waiting four years for this," he said. "That would make my life. That would change everything as far as me going ahead with my future in my NFL career. ... So that's some good news - no, excellent news - for me."
-- Matt Barrows