SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The free-agent market is scheduled to open March 9 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 7. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the San Francisco 49ers have in place, who is set to hit the market, what the team needs and who might fit the bill.
Position: Tight End
Pending free agents: Jim Dray
What’s needed: Had the 49ers not struck an agreement on a new deal with McDonald near the end of last season, this would undoubtedly be near the top of their list of needs. But they did manage to keep McDonald, an important move on the heels of his best NFL season. Although he missed five games because of injury, he had 391 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 16.29 yards per catch. Had he played all 16 games, those numbers would have been more impressive, but it was at least a step in the right direction.
Behind McDonald, the Niners have a solid if unspectacular backup in Celek, who had 350 yards and three touchdowns while offering solid blocking on the edge. Bell and Hamm didn't provide much in the offense, combining for six catches for 98 yards. Hamm did offer some value on special teams, though, which could earn him another look.
By no means are the 49ers set at this position, and if they were able to land another solid target in the receiving game, it would be more than welcome. In looking at the market, New England's Martellus Bennett is clearly the best option available. He can do a little bit of everything, and he'd instantly be the best target the Niners have, regardless of position. But Bennett figures to command big money on the open market, and the Niners might be more inclined to spend that money elsewhere, especially since Bennett is 30 and unlikely to be in his prime by the time the Niners could be competitive again.
A more likely possibility is that coach Kyle Shanahan would want to reunite with Jacob Tamme. Tamme was solid for Shanahan in Atlanta, and though he's 32, he could be quite helpful in a leadership role, helping his teammates learn the ins and outs of Shanahan's offense. The Niners could also look to the draft for help and begin developing options in what is considered to be a strong draft for the position.