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San Francisco 49ers Free Agency: Grading the 49ers' Moves on Day 1

Joe LevittContributor IIIMarch 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers Free Agency: Grading the 49ers' Moves on Day 1

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    The San Francisco 49ers didn’t make the proverbial big splash at the advent of the 2012 NFL free agency.

    But this should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the way general manager Trent Baalke operates this franchise during the offseason.

    Baalke does not fear or avoid pursuing the coveted prizes; rather, he assigns a particular value to a player and moves on if the asking price exceeds his value.

    Furthermore, if Baalke’s, Jim Harbaugh’s and the rest of the 49er organization’s evaluation of the player deem him incompatible with the identity and goals of the team, then they move on just the same.

    It is a calm, measured and judicious approach to an aspect of team management not often witnessed among NFL franchises. Ensure the long-term efficacy of the team through shrewd drafting while supplementing via fiscally responsible, sensible free-agent signings. It really isn’t so difficult to comprehend.

    Baalke and the 49er front office also make locking up their own players a priority (usually).

    With that in mind, let’s review my grades for the 49ers’ re-signings, free-agent acquisitions and the ones for players they neglected to sign on the first day of this year’s free-agency period.

Perrish Cox, Cornerback, Signed Unrestricted Free Agent

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    I imagine Perrish Cox was not on many 49er enthusiasts’ radar—or analysts’ for that matter—as a possible roster addition.

    The 49ers signed Cox to a two-year, $1.17 million contract on Tuesday morning. 

    Cox played cornerback and returned kicks for the Denver Broncos as a rookie in 2010. He did not suit up for the Broncos in 2011 as they cut him prior to the start of the season.

    The former member of the Oklahoma State Cowboys experienced some off-field legal issues stemming from sexual assault charges in Colorado in 2010. However, the courts acquitted Cox of all charges on March 2.

    Baalke conduced the appropriate "due diligence" and I believe him.

    Cox sounded contrite, self-reflective and expressed his hard-working ways while he regrouped in the presence of family in 2011. 

    Cox will also be reunited with Ed Donatell, his former defensive backs coach in Denver. That continuity factor should aid Cox’s development and production on the field.

    During his brief stint in with the Broncos, he recorded 54 tackles, 14 deflected passes, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also managed a 19.1-yard average per kickoff return.

    The talented CB has decent size at 6’0’’ and 198 pounds. He’ll be able to contribute on special teams, in the return game (crucial, as it seems that Ted Ginn will seek opportunities elsewhere) and provide depth at the cornerback position behind the incumbent 49er starters.

    Grade: B (a relative unknown to many/year away from football, but endorsed by Baalke and comes at a cheap price—$540,000 cap hit—and is a useful commodity in multiple areas)

Tavares Gooden, Linebacker, Re-Signed

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    This was an unglamorous, but significant re-signing for Baalke and the 49ers (one-year, financial terms unknown).

    One of the strongest areas on this squad was the special teams unit. Gooden was an important component as the third-leading tackler (12).

    He’ll also back up inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, depending on what happens with tendered restricted free-agent Larry Grant.

    Gooden is a tough, durable and hard-working player that meshes well with teammates both on the field and in the locker room.

    Grade: B+ (considering the loss of Blake Costanzo—which I will get to later—this easily could have been an A-rated move)

Carlos Rogers, Cornerback, Re-Signed

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    And the Rogers saga finally came to an end.

    During the evening hours on Tuesday, the 49ers re-signed Carlos Rogers to a four-year, $30 million deal (an additional $1.3 million with incentives). 

    When the team elected not to sign him before the start of free agency, it was an ominous sign of the end of his short tenure in San Francisco.

    On Tuesday, reports swirled throughout the day regarding Baalke’s “huge push” for Detroit’s CB Eric Wright. This did nothing but compound Rogers’ seemingly inevitable departure.

    There also is a huge demand among NFL teams for a No. 1 corner. It seemed as though he would be gobbled up by day’s end.

    Well, it looks like the 49ers were the ones doing the gobbling.

    The Rams’ signing of Cortland Finnegan to a massive five-year, $50 million contract (potentially $33 million in the first three years) was one of the initial dominoes to fall that helped pave the way for Rogers' return to SF. 

    Moreover, many of the other cornerback-needy franchises doling out exorbitant salaries to address other position deficiencies helped complete that process.

    The Redskins signed Pierre Garcon (five years, $42.5 million), Josh Morgan (more on this later) and were negotiating with Eddie Royal. The Bucs gave Vincent Jackson $55 million, while the Cowboys were in hot pursuit of CB Brandon Carr.

    Baalke let Rogers test the market while performing his necessary managerial duties of pursuing all available options.

    In the end, he decided to re-sign his corner who set career highs in 2011, aided in part by Rogers’ expressed desire to remain with the team, and in part by his willingness to accept a reasonable contract.

    Add to this the fact that the feeling was mutual all along.

    The 49ers now return all 11 defensive starters from last season. The ball-hawking corner looks to play a big part in Vic Fangio’s defense once again. He sure enjoyed doing so in 2011. 

    Grade: A- (perhaps Carr was the younger/better option, but he’ll command a financially untenable deal; Rogers’ familiarity and success in Fangio’s system seals this grade)

Josh Morgan, Wide Receiver, Signed with Washington Redskins

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    Losing Josh Morgan was rather disappointing.

    Despite missing the majority of 2011, he was on pace for having a very productive year as the team’s solid No. 2 WR.

    He had increased his production annually since being drafted in 2008 until his injury in Week 5 against Tampa Bay stifled that progression.

    Morgan also developed great rapport throughout his time with Alex Smith and the rest of the 49er organization.

    Jim Harbaugh himself stated that locking up Morgan was a priority.

    All of that is a thing of the past as Morgan decided to take more money (presumably) to return home to Washington and play for the Redskins. Perhaps the allure of potentially catching passes from Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III attracted him as well.

    In any case, Baalke assigned his customary monetary value and Morgan was evidently incommensurate with it.

    Grade: A- (much of the league views Morgan as underutilized, while Coach Shanahan sees him as a “hidden gem”; irrelevant—two years, $7.5 million guaranteed simply not worth it; responsible move by Trent Baalke)

Blake Costanzo, Linebacker, Signed by Chicago Bears

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    While not necessarily reflected in the stat sheet, this loss may have been even more disappointing.

    No player embodied Harbaugh’s blue-collar, no-nonsense disposition to the degree that Costanzo did last season.

    While only playing on the special teams squad directed by Brad Seely, he contributed in stellar fashion by making 17 tackles (second-most on the team) and earning a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate.

    Fellow players and coaches alike held Costanzo in high regard.

    Unfortunately, the 49ers didn't make an offer and supposedly didn’t envision him as a viable backup inside linebacker. 

    Hope you survive the miserable conditions at Soldier Field, Costanzo, You’ll be missed.

    Grade: C+ (an assuredly scrupulous/unemotional business move by Baalke, but it’s hard to imagine Costanzo representing a seriously dangerous cap hit; reduces special teams depth and leadership)

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