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2011 NFL Free Agency: 49ers Prepare For Five Months Of Signings, Cuts, Trades In Five Days

The 2011 NFL lockout is coming to an end, and just in the nick of time. In this case, "in the nick of time" doesn't mean anything at all near "ideal," but more so along the lines of "one more day and there might have been rioting." It was a brutal work stoppage, a labor dispute that, if not for the fact that the NBA lockout is looking pretty nasty right about now, I'd say it's something that can't be topped in regards to ... well, how much it sucked. Owners were sneaky, players made offers that owners counter-offered; I think the owners may have even counter-offered one of their own offers at some point.

But that is a thing of the past, unless the media has been lied to once again. All of the analysis and half-wondering, half-hoping of the lockout is done and it's time to move on to actual, factual news about the league and its football clubs. Well, all we care about is the San Francisco 49ers and how they'll be conducting themselves over the next few weeks (that other Bay Area team probably has a stream as well). Free agency, rookie signings, the potential for trades, and not to mention anything and everything regarding the installation of new offensive and defensive systems are heaped upon San Francisco's rather full plate.

They do have a ton on their plate, but who doesn't? The portions vary across the league to be sure, it's all they can do to take each thing as they come. They've got a group of free agents that includes guys like Dashon Goldson and David Baas, and they're got their rookies like Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick - two guys who sorely need to get into camp and get learning. To recap, here's a look at their 2011 NFL Draft haul:

49ers 2011 NFL Draft Picks

Rd 1, Pick 7 Aldon Smith
Rd 2, Pick 4: Colin Kaepernick
Rd 3, Pick 16: Chris Culliver
Rd 4, Pick 18: Kendall Hunter 
Rd 5, Pick 32: Daniel Kilgore 
Rd 6, Pick 17: Ronald Johnson 
Rd 6, Pick 25: Colin Jones 
Rd 7, Pick 8: Bruce Miller 
Rd 7, Pick 36: Michael Person
Rd 7, Pick 47: Curtis Holcomb

Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh were excited about the entire draft haul, with guys stretching as far as Bruce Miller in the seventh round potentially playing a significant role in 2011 as he converts to fullback, a position of potential need. Kaepernick needs to get in and learn that offense and maybe even compete with Alex Smith (who we'll touch up on shortly). Aldon Smith has plenty of expectations and the sooner he can get some one-on-one time with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the better.

On top of guys like Nnamdi Asomugha and Jonathan Joseph, the 49ers will be looking towards their own free agents to take up some of that cap space. Some key guys from last season could be leaving, while others most certainly need to stay. Somebody like David Baas went from being potentially cut as a left guard to a must-sign center, while Manny Lawson may be wrapping up his career in San Francisco, as he's never quite lived up to his expectations in this 3-4 defense. Alex Smith is the big name the 49ers need to re-sign, and by all accounts, that's something that will be done almost immediately once they're able. A look at some of the 49ers own free agents below:

2011 49ers Free Agents

QB Alex Smith
QB Troy Smith
RB Brian Westbrook
C David Baas
OT Barry Sims
OG Tony Wragge
NT Aubrayo Franklin
DE Ray McDonald
DE Demetric Evans
OLB Manny Lawson
ILB Takeo Spikes
CB William James
FS Dashon Goldson
PK Jeff Reed

That's some big names, and at least seven of those should garner significant interest from the team. A lot of them will be looking to test the waters of free agency. As it stands, it looks like teams will be able to negotiate with their own free agents a few days before free agency actually begins, so it will be interesting to see how many of these guys the 49ers want to keep and how many they can get commitments from before it actually opens.

Beyond all of that, there's so much more to look forward to before the team kicks off on August 12th against the New Orleans Saints. Harbaug and Co. have to install their systems and get the bodies into camp. Undrafted rookies will need to be signed and any potential trade options will need to be pursued. For a head coach on his first go-round, this is going to be incredibly hectic and incredibly interesting. Follow along as we see what he can do.