A year ago at this time, Dashon Goldson, Randy Moss, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean-Francois and Ted Ginn, Jr. were gearing up for their last regular-season game in a 49ers uniform. All were pending unrestricted free agents at the time. Which notable names are in the same category as the 49ers head into their finale in Arizona? Here's the list along with the rationale for why they might - or might not - be back in 2014.
WR Anquan Boldin: He has been, by far, Colin Kaepernick's favorite target this year and his professionalism, his hunger and his aggressive playing style are perfect fits for the 49ers. The team is expected to draft at least one young receiver next season, and Boldin would appear to be an ideal mentor. However, he's 33 years old, has been resolute in his contract demands in the past and the 49ers have a host of younger plays to re-sign. Will he be back? This one is too close to call.
CB Tarell Brown: The 49ers and Brown's representatives have had all season to work on a contract extension. Instead, the extension went to fellow cornerback Tramaine Brock. Brown is an excellent tactician and has been very good at his job the last two and a half seasons. However, it seems as if the team is prepared to move on. Look for Brown to test his worth on the free-agent market in March.
K Phil Dawson. "Pay the man," Jim Harbaugh said of the team's record-breaking kicker. This type of support from the head coach has been the kiss of death for players in recent years (See: Morgan, Josh; Moss, Randy, et alia). But in this case, Dawson, 38, seems like someone who will return. He's struck a great chemistry with longsnapper Kevin McDermott and holder Andy Lee, and it's not as if the 49ers have a young kicker in the pipeline (though they probably should). The caveat, however, is that on a team with plenty of young players to sign long-term, the 49ers will look for savings anywhere they can. They may conclude that the wisest move is to sign another veteran kicker to a one-year deal.
RB Anthony Dixon. He fills multiple roles for the 49ers, including, most recently, fullback. This is exactly what a bottom-of-the-roster player must do, and Dixon has done so while becoming a favorite in the locker room. However, the 49ers are about to get crowded at running back with Marcus Lattimore poised to join the ranks next season. Unless Dixon proves to be excellent as Frank Gore's lead blocker in the coming weeks, my guess is that a free-agent suitor will offer him more than the 49ers will.
C Jonathan Goodwin: The 49ers told Goodwin, 35, they were prepared to release him before this season if he didn't take a pay cut. He took the cut, signaling that he and his agent didn't think the team was bluffing. Goodwin is the wise, calm, veteran of the group, and he is a very nice fit in the huddle and in the locker room. However, the 49ers have several young linemen, including Daniel Kilgore, laying fallow. It's hard to see Goodwin returning next season.
WR Mario Manningham: Manningham has been in the end zone only once since signing with the 49ers before the 2012 season. That's largely due to the serious knee injury he suffered a year ago. However, he does not seem to be a great fit in the rough-and-tumble NFC West, and his best attribute when he was with the Giants - big, down-field catches - was missing in San Francisco. He's very likely to hit the free-agent market.
QB Colt McCoy: The 49ers manipulated him into renegotiating his salary before the season, a signal that they won't break open their wallet for their No. 2 quarterback. McCoy could be back on a minimum deal. But he'll probably have to compete against McLeod Bethel-Thompson and a draft pick and whomever else impulsive Jim Harbaugh wants to bring in.
WR Kassim Osgood: He and Ray Ventrone have been the veteran leaders of the team's revamped and revitalized coverage crew. Apart from an oddball penalty on a punt return in New Orleans, Osgood has played very well. But he'll also be in his 12th season next year, meaning even the veteran minimum salary is high. If the team is pinching pennies and wanting to develop young, wide receiver talent, Osgood might not be back.
S Donte Whitner. Consider him the Anquan Boldin of the defense. The 49ers promise to have a very young secondary in coming seasons, especially if they part ways with cornerback Carlos Rogers and especially if they use one of their draft picks on a cornerback. In my mind, they must keep either Rogers or Whitner for stability's sake. (Rogers is not a pending free agent, but his salary is such that the 49ers are unlikely to keep him at his current rate). The argument for Whitner is that he's younger, 28, than Rogers, 32, is very smart, has excellent leadership skills and gives the defensive backfield an element of toughness. At just over 5-9, Whitner isn't ideal in coverage, but he has improved in that regard. As Harbaugh would say, pay the man.
ILB Michael Wilhoite. He filled in well for Patrick Willis earlier this year and is a stalwart on special teams. Wilhoite even dabbled at fullback in the offseason. The obstacle for players like him is that the 49ers have an abundance of draft picks. He will have to compete with those late-round rookies for a spot on the team. Still, it seems likely that he will be brought back and given a chance to do so.
CB Eric Wright. He's likely to be back because, considering his checkered history (DUI arrests, 2012 PED suspension), no other team will want him more than the 49ers. The 49ers are hoping that Wright, who is from San Francisco, has conquered his issues. If so, they have a talented cornerback who can play both outside and in the nickel and who can take over Rogers' critical job if need be.
-- Matt Barrows