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Axe men: Who do the 49ers keep in free agency?

Donte Whitner
Donte Whitner
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The 49ers have about $10 million in cap space for the 2014 season. The new season and free agency will begin promptly at 1:00 p.m. PT on March 11.

San Francisco addressed what was their largest priority in signing re-signing Anquan Boldin, who was their top priority out of soon-to-be unrestricted free agents. However, there are several other question marks on other pending free agents and what the 49ers will do with each of them.

Here is a forecast on what could happen for each 49ers pending free agent with the starters from last year listed first:

CB Tarell Brown: It was reported that the 49ers were in serious discussions with Tarell Brown, but prior to this week, it seemed unlikely that the cornerback would return. Brown should be asking for a contract similar to Tramaine Brock's four-year contract that pays him $4 million per season. It would be a cheaper option for the 49ers to draft someone in the 2014 NFL Draft while Brown should be testing the market with this being his first time as a free agent.

SS Donte Whitner: Whitner is coming off an excellent season and should be demanding a top dollar salary for the safety position. While he doesn't necessarily want to be the highest paid safety in the league, he will earn more than the paltry $3.9 million he was making on his previous contract. There is no chance the 49ers could keep both Brown and Whitner with the limited cap space so if one signs, the other will walk.

OL Jonathan Goodwin: After finishing his three-year contract with the 49ers, it's unlikely that he will return to the team after the 49ers signed Daniel Kilgore to a contract extension last week. Goodwin was contemplating retirement and admitted there is uncertainty for the first time in his football career.

K Phil Dawson: Dawson took a reasonable discount of $2.3 million last season when signing a one-year contract with the 49ers. That number should increase after he had a tremendous season where he had a run of making 27 straight field goals before a bad snap in Week 17. His streak could have been longer if he wasn't asked to attempt a free kick against the St. Louis Rams.

CB Perrish Cox: After being released during the season, Cox returned to the team for the postseason and played well as the nickel CB when Carlos Rogers was ruled out. He would be a reasonably cheap option for competition in OTAs, minicamp and training camp who already knows Vic Fangio's system. Cox could also contribute on special teams.

RB/FB Anthony Dixon: He has made a case for himself on Twitter as a pending free agent, but it looks unlikely that he will be returning to the 49ers with Marcus Lattimore expected to contribute at running back. Dixon's special teams abilities would be the only reason the 49ers would bring him back.

DL Demarcus Dobbs (Restricted free agent): Dobbs could become expendable with the 49ers believing 2013 draft picks Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial could take over on the defensive line. He was a rotational defensive lineman last year after being a two-way player in 2012, but it appears he could only have significant contributions on special teams.

FB/DL Will Tukuafu: After spending majority of the 2013 season as a free agent, the 49ers signed Tukuafu when Bruce Miller was ruled out for the season with an injured scapula. He would be a cheap option heading into 2014 for competition.

LB Michael Wilhoite (Exclusive rights free agent): As an exclusive rights free agent, Wilhoite cannot negotiate with any other team and should be back with the 49ers in 2014. After being a practice squad member in 2012, he was promoted during that season and became a special teams contributor. With NaVorro Bowman expected to miss the first six weeks of next season, Wilhoite would currently be the other starting ILB alongside Patrick Willis. He had two career starts last season when Willis was out.

QB Colt McCoy: The odds are extremely slim that McCoy returns as they could find a cheaper option in free agency or in the 2014 NFL Draft to be the backup QB behind Colin Kaepernick. McCoy made $1.5 million in 2013 and the 49ers would only want him back at a lower price.

WR Kassim Osgood: Osgood proved to be an underrated pickup last offseason as he contributed on special teams. He was a great gunner and worked well on coverage units. The three-time Pro Bowler should garner interest elsewhere, but the 49ers should want him back for his special teams abilities.

CB Eric Wright: Trent Baalke made an effort to bring Wright to the team where he was signed to a specific contract above the minimum wage after a trade with Tampa Bay fell through. However, the 49ers coaching staff chose to play Perrish Cox in the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, which indicates that he is buried on the depth chart.

WR Mario Manningham: It was a good free agent signing on paper back in 2012, but unfortunately Manningham has torn two ligaments in his time with San Francisco. There are several WRs in the draft for the 49ers to take a look at as Manningham becomes expendable.

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