Niners Expected to Release WR Stevie Johnson

San Francisco 49ers v Oakland Raiders

The 49ers are expected to release wide receiver Stevie Johnson on Wednesday, but both sides are keeping the door open for a possible return at a reduced salary, a source told Matt Maiocco of CSN BayArea.

With the release of Johnson, the 49ers will clear an immediate salary-cap savings of $6.025 million – the amount Johnson was scheduled to make in 2015. There is no “dead money” involved in the transaction because Johnson was acquired last year in a trade from the Buffalo Bills.

The 49ers have expressed an interest in re-signing Johnson at a lower salary. However, Johnson will become available to any team as a free agent once he is officially released.

The 49ers on Tuesday signed free-agent wide receiver Torrey Smith to a reported five-year, $40 million contract. Smith is expected to replace free-agent Michael Crabtree in the 49ers’ starting lineup and provide the offense with a needed deep threat.

The addition of Smith makes Johnson expendable at his scheduled salary.

Darnell Dockett signs with 49ers

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According to his agent Drew Rosenhaus, former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett has signed with the division rival San Francisco 49ers.

Dockett, who will turn 34 in May, signed a two-year contract with $7.5 million. He will receive $4 million of that in the first year, with $2 million guaranteed. Per reports, Arizona offered Docket a one-year contract that could have been worth up to $4 million with incentives.

In his first 10 seasons with the Cardinals, Docket recorded 459 tackles, 40.5 sacks and forced nine fumbles. He became expendable after sustaining a knee injury during training camp that cost him all of the 2014 season.

While the future of Justin Smith is still up in he air, this signing shouldn’t impact his decision either way. Dockett will slide into the left defensive end spot that was left vacated when Ray McDonald was released last December. If Smith returns, the 49ers will once again boast a formidable veteran defensive front that includes Smith, Dockett and Glenn Dorsey.

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49ers Free Agent Watch: Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox

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The odds of the 49ers bringing back both Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox would appear to be slim to none. It’s not that they wouldn’t love to have their two starting cornerbacks for most of 2014 back, it’s just that there’s no way to do that under the salary cap.

The early speculation around Culliver is that there could be a lot of interest in him on the open market, and he could end up getting a sizable offer from another club.

After missing all of 2013 with a knee injury, Culliver rebounded well and was solid for most of last year. Overall he started 14 games for San Francisco and intercepted four passes. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown.

While many expected Culliver’s strong play, the same can’t be said for Cox. An injury to Tramaine Brock forced Cox into the starting lineup early on, and he responded by having a career year.

Cox made 14 starts and led the 49ers with five interceptions. He came into the season with only nine starts and one pick in his entire career.

Some teams may be leery to throw a large some of money at Cox because of his small sample size, and that scenario would give the 49ers a better chance at re-signing him.

If Brock comes back healthy, and Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson build off of some the promise they showed during their rookie campaigns, the Niners will have a good base to build from at cornerback. The team also took a flyer on Keith Reaser in last years draft, and that pick could pay dividends in 2105.

While re-signing one of Culliver or Cox would be beneficial, San Francisco could always look to go in a different direction and sign an affordable veteran in free agency. One name to keep an eye on could be Brandon Flowers, who the 49ers showed some interest in last offseason.

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

 

49ers Free Agent Watch: Mike Iupati

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Following the 2009 season, the 49ers desperately needed help to fix their porous offensive line. The team had two picks in the first round of the 2010 draft and used them to select tackle Anthony Davis (11th overall) and guard Mike Iupati (17th overall).

The picks were a homerun and helped transform the San Francisco offensive line to one of the best run blocking units in the NFL. While the powers that be decided to lock Davis up with a long term deal, they have taken a chance by letting Iupati hit free agency this year.

Iupati may very well get north of $7 million per year on the open market, and when you consider that Alex Boone is scheduled to make $3.7 million next year, it’s highly unlikely the 49ers will invest that much cash into their guards.

Also working against Iupati returning is the fact that their are multiple players already on the roster who could replace him. Brandon Thomas is coming off an ACL injury but San Francisco selected him in the 2014 draft with the idea that he could slide into Iupati’s spot. There’s also Joe Looney who played decently enough at times, and the loser of the Daniel Kilgore/Marcus Martin battle at center will also be in the mix.

In a perfect world, it would be ideal to keep a player like Iupati around, but the NFL is a salary cap league and teams have to make choices. The 49ers will mostly likely choose to let Iupati move on.

Photo: Getty Images

49ers Free Agent Watch: Michael Crabtree

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When the 49ers selected Michael Crabtree with the 10th pick in the 2009 draft, they envisioned the Texas Tech product being their number one receiver for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for both parties, the marriage didn’t always work out as planned.

Overall, Crabtree’s career in red and gold was a disappointment. In his six seasons with the the 49ers, Crabtree only eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark once (2012) and scored 26 touchdowns in 79 games.

For his career, Crabtree averages 4.4 receptions and 54.8 yards per game. If you take those totals over a 16 game season, it would equate to about 70 catches and 877 yards. In today’s pass happy NFL, those numbers are a little above average at best.

Crabtree has also had issues with injuries, only playing in all 16 games in three seasons.

Based on what San Francisco has already seen of Crabtree, it would be difficult to imagine them breaking the bank to bring him back. They already have Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson under contract at hefty sums for next year, and also have youngsters Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton vying for playing time.

There’s also a strong possibility that the 49ers will eye a receiver early in this years draft, and could even move up to make a play for someone like Amari Cooper or Kevin White. If not, there were still be quality at the position when they pick at 15, and will have a shot at many other talented wide outs including Devante Parker.

If Crabtree is willing to come back on a team friendly deal, it’s possible the two sides could work something out. If not, all signs point to Crabtree playing elsewhere in 2015.

Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

49ers Free Agent Watch: Frank Gore

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At 31-years old, Frank Gore defied age once again in 2014, and bucked the trend of older running backs struggling to maintain a high level of play.

Despite an inconsistent workload, Gore still managed to gain 1,106 yards on the ground which was good for ninth best in the NFL. He saved his best for last, gaining 302 of that total in the final two games.

After 10 years and 11,073 yards, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers taking the field without their all-time leading rusher. That could be the case in 2015, however, as Gore is a free agent.

Although his contract status is still up in the air, general manager Trent Baalke made it clear recently that he has every intention of trying to bring Gore back to the team.

“We’re still working on it,” said Baalke. It’s not something that’s going to get done yesterday. It’ll take some time to resolve. It’s our intention to have Frank back.”

Whether or not the deal actually gets done remains to be seen. Gore will be 32 when the season starts, and any contract will need to be short term and for less than money than he is accustomed to making. It’s always possible another team could swoop in and offer Gore more money, and there were rumors that the Indianapolis Colts could be interested.

If Gore does not return to the 49ers, they are equipped to handle the loss. Carlos Hyde showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie year, and could step into the lead role. San Francisco will also be welcoming back Kendall Hunter, who missed 2014 with a knee injury. Hunter played well when spelling Gore from 2011-2013, gaining 1,202 yards on 262 carries.

The 49ers could also look to draft a running back at some point, or dip into the free agent pool. Early reports indicated that the team could be interested in Ryan Matthews if we Gore were to leave. When healthy, Matthews performed well for the San Diego Chargers, and is a solid option on an incentive laden deal.

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Jean-Francois set to visit 49ers

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The 49ers could be welcoming back a familiar face in the near future.

Ricky Jean-Francois, who played for San Francisco from 2009-2012, is set to visit the team after being released by the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the Week.

Jean-Francois started five games during his 49ers’ career and amassed 49 tackles and a forced fumble. He’s actually the last person to start in place of defensive line stalwart, Justin Smith.

The 49ers have a need up front, as they cut long time starter Ray McDonald in December, and Smith is still up in the air about whether or not to return to the team for a final season. The other defensive lineman currently on the roster are Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Tank Carradine, Kaleb Ramsey, Lawrence Okoye, and Mike Purcell.

At 6-3 and 300 pounds, Jean-Francois is capable of playing on the end or at nose tackle in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme. He is also scheduled to visit the Washington Redskins, who now employ former 49ers’ general manager Scott McCloughan at the same position. McCloughan was the man who drafted Jean-Francois in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.

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By Michael Andrews