A lot has happened in the last seven days. First the legal tampering period started on Monday, then real free agency got underway and now it has finally quieted down a bit. Let’s recap.
The San Francisco 49ers did not make the splashy signings many fans had hoped for. John Lynch said as much at the NFL Scouting Combine that the team would be “aggressively prudent” and they stayed true to the word. While Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Malcolm Butler, Trumaine Johnson, Andrew Norwell et al cashed in big time around the league, the 49ers have stayed a bit under the radar.
They signed punter Jeff Locke as a camp leg to compete versus Bradley Pinion, they got special teams ace and backup running back Raheem Mostert to sign his exclusive rights one-year tender and re-signed LB Brock Coyle to a well-deserved three-year extension. Even though not splashy, those are moves that solidify teams. Brock Coyle will never be a superstar at his position, but he brings value to the special teams unit and plays his heart out on the field. The same applies to Raheem Mostert. With him, the 49ers had one of the premier punt and kickoff units in the game and his injury absence was sourly felt, especially in the first game he missed against the Chicago Bears.
These were not the only moves by the 49ers, though. They really did hand out the big bags, just not to big name type of guys. This does not mean that these moves were bad. On the contrary. Former Giants C Weston Richburg is a highly athletic and young player who was one of the few players on the Giants OL who was not in fact horrible. He provides big upside in this scheme and Shanahan hopes Richburg can be to Jimmy Garoppolo what Alex Mack was to Matt Ryan. He even received a similar contract (5-year, $47.5M) to Alex Mack (5-year, $45M). Richburg, of course, is not yet near that level of play, but the 49ers regime thinks he can be, so they made him the 2nd highest paid center in the NFL and subsequently traded C Daniel Kilgore to the Dolphins in exchange for 7th round draft pick swaps.
Another player getting top 5 position money from the 49ers is RB Jerick McKinnon. The former Viking is now the 4th highest paid RB in the league on a per year basis. He received a 4-year, $30M contract and is expected to be RB1 for the foreseeable future. He did not get this contract based on the box score stats he produced in his career thus far, though. McKinnon is an elite athlete at this position, posting a pSPARQ score almost identical to the one of top RB prospect Saquon Barkley or HOF RB LaDanian Tomlinson. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, bench pressed 225 lbs 32 times, posted a 40.5-inch vertical and 6.83s 3-cone drill. According to PFF he even was the 8th best running back in pass protection last year. He was also more elusive than Todd Gurley. The value he brings to the passing and outside zone running game is incredibly high. All this left Shanahan and Lynch comfortable paying him that much. And if for whatever reason this marriage doesn’t work, the 49ers have an easy out of the contract after just one year. Yes, this is a big contract, but only if it works out and if it works out, it will be worth it. Paraag Marathe strikes again.
McKinnon and Richburg were the only two big time signings. After that the 49ers have been quiet in free agency, signing only one more player, Jeremiah Attaochu. The pass rusher formerly of the San Diego Chargers signed a 1-year, $2.8M prove it deal, basically, and hopes to unleash his potential finally. The 2nd round pick out of Georgia Tech showed promise throughout his college career and according to Mike Mayock, his only knock was basically that he needed to get stronger but was otherwise very explosive and natural as a rusher. This is a signing that could prove to be a bargain in a few months. The upside is immense and there is only little risk for the 49ers.
Now Attaochu only needs to stay healthy, his biggest issue as a pro. If he can do that, the 49ers have addressed all the major needs they had before the draft. This gives them incredible flexibility once it is time to pick. They got an outside cornerback opposite to Ahkello Witherspoon in Richard Sherman, solidified the interior offensive line with Weston Richburg, replaced Carlos Hyde with a better scheme fit in Jerick McKinnon and even addressed the pass rush, a need since Aldon Smith started to get into trouble about 5 years ago. The 49ers are set up to draft the best player they have on their board when the time comes, whether that is Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb, Harold Landry, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Denzel Ward, Roquan Smith… It does not matter. With the New York Jets trading up, it is now likely that at least three quarterbacks will be selected before the 49ers pick, possibly four. With only four or five teams picking before the 49ers, one huge talent will fall to them and it won’t matter who it is because they can pick any of those players.
This is also the reason I did not understand the faithful raging about John lynch not signing the big names. Sure, I would have loved to get Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson, but it is not like a receiving group of Garçon, Goodwin, Taylor and Bourne is a bad one. We have seen the damage Garoppolo can do without Pierre Garçon, still a top 15 wide receiver in the NFL. Time to find out what he can do with him. If you look at the contracts Watkins and Robinson got, averaging $15+M per year; that is not who the 49ers are. They do not overspend to get the big names. They only back up the cash trucks for players they believe will make them better. And looking at the roster and how it is constructed now going into the draft… I must say I like it. No matter where the draft leads us, I have a feeling Lynch and Shanahan are prepared for it and have a plan. Competence can feel so good!
Enough of me now. Let me know what you guys think of the first wave of free agency. Which signings did you like? Which didn’t you like? Hit me up on Twitter @jav95_. Till next week!