Detroit has 20. So does Cincinnati and the New York Giants. The Rams have 21. All told, 479 players are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins March 13.
Some of these players are likely to sign new deals with their current teams before March 13. Most will not. They will get to free agency and let the market determine their worth. Last year, in what was a lockout-abbreviated free agency period, the 49ers took a wait-and-see approach to free agency. With so many free agents on the market and little time to sign them, the 49ers bet that there would be bargains after the initial wave of free agency passed.
For the most part, they were right. Safety Dashon Goldson failed to get the big-money deal he was seeking and signed a one-year contract with San Francisco. Cornerback Carlos Rogers also signed for what turned out to be a bargain-basement one-year deal for $4.25 million. The 49ers decided not to outbid the Giants for center David Baas' services, and they ended up getting Jonathan Goodwin instead. Baas signed a five-year deal for $27.5 million; Goodwin's deal is three years for $10.9 million.
The one maneuver that failed was wide receiver. The 49ers signed Braylon Edwards for what seemed like a pittance -- $1 million in base salary -- at the time. Edwards, however, was cut late in the season without ever scoring a touchdown, and the 49ers must sign multiple players at that position this offseason. (More on that below).
The team is likely to take a similarly cautious approach this season. The 49ers will concentrate on re-signing many of their own 15 unrestricted free agents - Alex Smith, Goldson, Rogers, Ahmad Brooks and Joshua Morgan chief among them - while figuring that most teams in the league also will be preoccupied doing the same. If there's an impasse, like there was with Baas last year? There are nearly 500 free agents from which to find a replacement.
The exception is receiver. As you'll recall last year, the 49ers were one of the teams gunning for Plaxico Burress before he signed with the Jets. San Francisco, with its incoming coach (a college guy no less) and its recent history of losing seasons, was not a desirable destination for A-list free agents in 2011. This year promises to be a bit different.
The following are some UFA wide receivers who, in my judgment at least, fit the 49ers' profile for receivers. I've ranked them and broken them down by how expensive they'd likely be to sign.
The 49ers signed two offensive linemen who went undrafted last year to reserve/future contracts. Guard Garrett Chisolm (6-6, 299) was originally signed by the Dolphins, and later spent time on Miami's, Carolina's and Baltimore's practice squads. Chisolm, 23, played at South Carolina where he earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2010.
Tackle Kenny Wiggins (6-6, 314) was signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent and was released following training camp. He was signed to the Ravens' practice squad on Nov. 28 and spent the remainder of the season there. Wiggins, 23, is from Elk Grove and played at Fresno State where he earned All-Western Athletic Conference first-team honors as a senior in 2010 and All-WAC second-team in 2009.
-- Matt Barrows