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Niners rocked by early free-agent departures

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

The Niners have been knocked back on their heels a bit in the early stages of free agency with the losses of veteran ILB Takeo Spikes, who agreed to terms Tuesday evening with the Chargers, and C David Baas, who reportedly has agreed to terms with the Giants. Entering his 14th season, Spikes, who had a surprisingly strong all-around campaign for the Niners last season starting alongside Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, will be reunited in San Diego with former Niners defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The front runners to replace Spikes in the starting lineup figure to be second-year pro Navorro Bowman and third-year pro Scott McKillop.

It's anybody's guess at this writing as to who has the edge at center following the departure of Baas, whose re-signing by the Niners was widely considered to be a top priority.

The PFW spin

Both these moves hurt the Niners, but Bass' exit particularly stings at a position that had already been weakened by the news that veteran Eric Heitmann would not be making it back this season from the neck and back injuries that shut him down last season. Considered to be among the brightest and strongest players on the team, Baas, a converted guard, seemingly found a home at center after replacing Heitmann in training camp last season. Despite not playing center since his college days at Michigan, the more cerebral challenge the position offered seemed to suit his considerable intelligence well.

With the Giants apparently giving Baas an offer to replace Shaun O'Hara as the starting center in the Big Apple that he could not refuse, it would appear the first players in line to replace him as the starting center would be versatile veteran Adam Snyder, who has logged extensive time at center in the Niners' player-only workouts this offseason and appears to be in the best shape of his life, and Tony Wragge, a free agent like Baas.

It's also conceivable late-round rookies Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person could compete for the center job, as well as newly signed undrafted rookie Chase Beeler, who played center under new Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and has made a strong impression while working out with the team at San Jose State. But the most likely plan of attack will probably be to sign a free-agent veteran center such as Seattle's Chris Spencer.   

Spikes, who revealed that he was also pursued by the Titans, Rams and Seahawks in addition to San Diego, will be missed both on the field and in the locker room, where he was considered a very popular and well-respected team leader. He greatly exceeded expectations last season, finishing second on the team in tackles with 109 and doing a surprisingly good job in coverage, tying two others for the team lead in interceptions with three. The odds are strong that his departure does not sit well with Willis, who couldn't sing Spikes' praises enough.

Bowman, the team's third-round pick last year, displayed flashes as a rookie. But his faulty footwork and lack of awareness were hard to ignore.

For the record, it's also worth noting how quickly free-agent QB Alex Smith agreed to terms on a new deal with the Niners — one move that had been considered a foregone conclusion for months.

 

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