Buying or Selling the Latest Buzz on the 49ers Free Agency Rumor Mill
NFL teams are built through the annual draft, but free agency remains a glamorous part of the offseason because it provides clubs with a chance to acquire that missing piece to the puzzle. It's high speed, and the right signing can make all the difference.
And unlike the draft, this is a team-building period that allows franchises to court and lure known commodities.
As patient, value shoppers, general manager Trent Baalke and the San Francisco 49ers have become increasingly proficient at perusing this marketplace.
They don't overpay and they always get the most bang for their buck. With the official start on Tuesday, March 11 at 4:00 p.m. ET, it seems this front office has plenty of work ahead of it. Plenty of players have been linked to the team already, several of which seem very realistic.
Not to mention, this is a team with its own players to sign to new contracts, so there's a broad scope of things on their plate.
In the following rundown, we've compiled all of the news out there about San Francisco's recent activity, including potential free-agent targets and general buzz on the rumor mill. This also includes definitive calls on what you may or may not want to believe going forward.
Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Worth $18-20 Million
Contract negotiations have begun with Colin Kaepernick, which has officially lifted the moratorium on what the 49ers quarterback is actually worth.
With his unique style, mere 29 games of experience and the perpetually inflating salary for franchise-caliber signal-callers, this is a debate folks can’t get enough of. Everyone is chiming in as the team tries to find an appropriate middle ground with its explosive, yet continually developing passer.
This was an interesting take from Super Bowl champion quarterback Kurt Warner on NFL Network:
"I don't know if he has proved he is an $18 million dollar QB yet." http://t.co/s60MHdXihS— NFL (@nfl) March 8, 2014
This was in the ballpark of where most of the argument lies (and sort of a slight to Kaepernick on two counts):
$8 million/leg & $2 million for his right arm? RT @PriscoCBS Colin Kaepernick wants $18 million a year. Wow.— Steve Gallo (@SteveGalloNFL) March 3, 2014
This might’ve been the best and most straightforward take:
If Colin Kaepernick's salary demands offend you, then what Andy Dalton eventually gets will make you go on a hunger strike— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) March 5, 2014
Clearly it’s a mixed bag.
The consensus seems to be, “Yeah, he’s good, but is that really what teams are paying quarterbacks nowadays?” Hey, it’s inflation. People also have a gripe with Kaepernick being paid so handsomely and still not being the finished product yet. And this is understandable.
Twenty million dollars is a lot of money.
Regardless, the only opinions that matter are the ones that emanate from his teammates, all of whom he’s helped thrive. Well, them and the front office, of course. Those are the ones that put in work for him and stick their necks out for him. They’re the ones Kap needs to believe in him when it’s third-and-long and they’re down in the fourth quarter.
And they do.
“[Kaepernick] is dynamic on the ground and in the air,” said Pro Bowl tight end and team captain Vernon Davis, via 95.7 The Game. “He’s the ultimate quarterback. He’s always working hard.” Davis is just one player but his opinion is as valid as any. He speaks for the team.
And that team has bought in completely to Kaepernick’s talent and his work ethic, and that’s an important intangible to have.
Moreover, like Sigmund Bloom of Football Guys alluded to, Kap is going to get what he’s going to get because that’s the market. He is totally entitled to ask for that much because that’s what guys are earning—many of which don’t even enter his realm when it comes to overall potential.
Outside of his two NFC title visits and near Super Bowl victory, the reason Kap’s briefly tagged $18 million figure jumped to $20 million is because everyone realizes there’s top-five talent in him. When quarterbacks Drew Brees (35), Tom Brady (36) and Peyton Manning (37) are done, he will be among the elites.
So it’s not as if Kaepernick’s representation, XAM Sports, is being totally unreasonable here. It’s also not as if the 49ers weren’t completely expecting to pony up the dough at some point. He’s a transcendent player at the position, and he can be great for a very long time.
They knew it when they drafted him.
It’s true he hasn’t yet distinguished himself as the clear-cut best, but the veteran version of Kaepernick may be one of the best of this era when it’s all said and done. Remember, though it seems like he’s been starting for a while since he was drafted in 2011, he’s started only one full NFL season.
His value is as low as it'll ever be and he's on the rise.
Free Agent: Champ Bailey, CB
Bill Williamson of ESPN.com first discussed the possibility of future Pro Football Hall of Famer Champ Bailey coming to San Francisco to finish out his career. This seems like a great idea...five years ago or maybe in 2011 when Bailey’s contract was last up. But this is a player on his last leg.
It's just name value at this point.
To be honest, the Denver Broncos released Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler, because they evidently felt they could get better for cheaper. His value should’ve been at its highest in Colorado, so this says something. Bailey is now staring down 36 years of age, which is like 60 for a cornerback in football years.
He’s older, slower and more fragile now, which is apparent in his hustle to the ball and aggressiveness at the point of contact. He’s just not a tackler, and his coverage skills have diminished. Continuing on with that theme, there are huge questions about his durability. Bailey hasn’t started a full season since 2009.
He missed 13 regular season starts last year alone.
Sadly, the once-great Champ Bailey is a shell of his former self. He might even be a candidate to retire if he can’t land a respectable deal in a place he wants to be. This could be the end of what was a sensational career.
Free Agent: Kenny Britt, WR
Aaron Nagler of Bleacher Report raised the idea of Kenny Britt joining the 49ers—an offense desperately in need of a size receiver. Not to mention, they have the reputation of acting as a safe haven for troubled players and the former first-rounder needs to rehabilitate his image.
It comes down to the positive environment they’ve cultivated. Egos are checked at the door; it’s about hard work and being a model citizen.
One can see that the 49ers need Britt, and Britt needs the 49ers. If they can come to an understanding, create a list of goals and make very clear what they want from one another, this could be a very positive signing. The 6'3", 223-pounder is still an awe-inspiring talent.
If there’s no market for Kenny Britt because teams don’t want the headache, look for 49ers general manager Trent Baalke to swoop in.
Free Agent: Michael Bennett, DE
Leading up to free agency, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that the 49ers may be interested in pursuing defensive end Michael Bennett.
The edge-rusher is coming off a one-year stint with the Seattle Seahawks—where he netted 8.5 sacks to follow up his 9.0 from the year before—and is now looking for a big-money contract on the open market. So much so that he’s turned his nose at the idea of returning to Seattle for a potential repeat.
The idea of the 49ers bringing in a talented former rival in Bennett is exciting for two seconds, until all the logistical holes begin to reveal themselves.
First of all, at 6’4”, 275 pounds, he plays 4-3 defensive end. He is not a bulky 3-4 end, nor is he a stand-up rush linebacker. Systematically, this doesn’t make sense one bit. Bennett plays a totally different technique and he's built for another scheme.
The 49ers wouldn’t force something just because he played for their rival a year ago.
Looking at all the variables, the more sensible destination for the sixth-year pro is in Chicago, playing for the Bears and with his brother, tight end Martellus Bennett. That is a club that is rebuilding the defense under new head coach Marc Trestman, and has a need for flagship-type players.
Defensive end Julius Peppers is getting up there in age (34), defensive tackle Henry Melton and linebacker Brian Urlacher is two years removed and now cornerback Charles Tillman looks to be the next one on his way out. Bennett can be the next building block for them, eventually helping them transition from Peppers.
After all, the 49ers cannot hoard all of the good players.
49ers Will Pass on a Backup Quarterback in Free Agency
According to Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports, 49ers coach and proclaimed quarterback whisperer Jim Harbaugh met with Eastern Illinois gunslinger Jimmy Garoppolo. This was a breaking development, seeing as how the team is very much in the market for a backup.
Colt McCoy is shaky, at best. And most of the NFL’s steady backups like Chad Henne, Shaun Hill and Josh McCown would prefer to go to a rocky situation where they have a chance to compete, either because the starter is young or fragile.
This may push the 49ers to find their No. 2 in the draft, and they know it. They’ve been proactive.
Per Edholm’s report, Harbaugh met with Garoppolo at the Northeastern Pro Day, worked him out and chatted with him privately. The 49ers head coach came away impressed, saying Garoppolo “has a natural skill.” There was definitely the impression that they clicked.
Harbaugh left things with some constructive criticism, as perhaps not to tip his hand too much:
Jim Harbaugh told me on Jimmy Garoppolo: "Quick release, yes, but sometimes too quick. You want to see him go through whole motion." #49ers— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 4, 2014
It looks as if the 49ers are seriously considering drafting a quarterback rather than signing a veteran backup in free agency. With 12 selections, it makes sense. They’ll have their pick of the litter. And said player will come far cheaper than anyone they could possibly sign in free agency.
Besides, the market for backups is already dwindling with Matt Cassel and Chad Henne re-signing with their respective teams. Unless they can get nine-year vet Shaun Hill for next to nothing, they might as well tap the draft. That way it’s settled, and it’s settled for a while.
Free Agent: Darren Sproles, RB
Cuts have picked up around the league. One of the most surprising was New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who is one of the most prolific all-purpose weapons in league history. His career has been incredible, especially when considering his tiny stature and revolutionary impact.
While the Saints can’t afford to retain his services, Sproles is not done yet. Even at 30, he’s got legs left.
And given the direction of this 49ers offense, namely the want for more speed and desire to become more explosive, many have linked Sproles to San Francisco. Right away, he would provide a phenomenal bailout for Colin Kaepernick, adding a whole new dimension.
Having that type of threat underneath would do also wonders of Kap’s opportunities down the field.
However, there are problems with this idea. The player talent and offensive system don’t seem compatible. With what Sproles does well, it should be noted that the 49ers ran only five screens all of last year, which was the second-fewest in the NFL, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area (h/t PFF).
They don’t throw to the running backs anymore. The last time the running backs were relevant in the passing attack was 2011, when Alex Smith was the starting quarterback in a more traditional West Coast approach where there were plenty of outlets built into the play designs.
Kaepernick keeps his eyes downfield and all Sproles does is pass-catch in the shallow part of the field.
The 49ers also have three workhorse running backs and a possible odd man out in LaMichael James, who is a younger Sproles. Whatever you think this offense may be able to do with Sproles, they should’ve with James. It wouldn’t make any sense to bring him in expecting anything different.
If there is one team in the league that Darren Sproles does not fit, it’s San Francisco.
Free Agent: Charles Tillman, CB
49ers beat writer Eric Branch detailed an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, nailing down the team’s identity in free agency.
To summarize, since they’re not big spenders, the new regime has been fond of signing aging stars with the hopes that they can mentor younger draftees and loosely supplement production. They’ve done this over the past three offseasons with different degrees of success, largely based on the investment.
For instance, wideout Anquan Boldin cost the most, but had the most profound impact.
That being the outline of everything, Branch projected free-agent fits based on the team’s philosophy. While he mentioned players like cornerback Asante Samuel, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, one seasoned vet he left off his list was Chicago Bears All-Pro corner Charles Tillman.
Tillman, 33, makes a ton of sense.
With his age and the availability of cornerbacks, both in free agency and the 2014 draft class, Tillman brings great value at a need position. Outside his accolades and ability to take off in San Francisco’s man-friendly scheme, the experience he would bring to a secondary that is in its early-to-mid 20s would be invaluable.
He can still perform and can teach several of these young players how to live, stay healthy and conditioned, as well as how to play the game.
It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if this were San Francisco’s first move of the free-agent period.
Trade: DeSean Jackson, WR
The 49ers even surfaced as a potential candidate, given all their draft picks and need for a game-hanging receiver with inordinate speed or size. Jackson is the former. But this is just another one of those rumors that looks much better at first glance. It really unravels once it gets to planning.
And it pretty much starts and ends with the money.
At $9 million in 2014, Jackson would arrive as the highest-paid player, and he’d be looking for even more in a new deal. That’s even though that figure blows up to $12.75 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016 and $10.5 million in 2017. Nobody on San Francisco’s roster averages this.
Simply put, this is not the 49ers way.
And if there were any doubts before, a move like this would certainly put an axe in Michael Crabtree’s prospects of returning as the No. 1 receiver. So, if the 49ers really desire this type of pass-catcher, they can trade up to secure Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, a homegrown talent with less mileage and a better attitude.
It makes infinitely more sense that trading for DeSean Jackson.
Phil Dawson Will Return at a Fair Price
One of the unsettling dilemmas the 49ers seem to have right now is with unsigned All-Pro placekicker Phil Dawson.
This is a player that is one of the best in the NFL at his position, carrying out an unheralded duty that this ballclub values more than most because if their particular shortcomings (i.e., the red zone). They’ve got to have a Grade-A leg and Dawson qualifies.
Now that his one-year deal is up, the 49ers figure to offer him a deal the same price range as last season, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, which was $2.35 million. If the 49ers offer him that, there’s a good chance he stays. But if that’s all it took, it seems something would’ve been done by now.
Perhaps since he outperformed that number, he’s fighting for a raise. And the team should consider bumping up his salary if that’s the case. He earned every penny—and then some. If Dawson wants to get paid like the top-10 kicker he is, it could cost the 49ers around $3 million.
But money aside, there is faith this gets done. Dawson moved to the Bay Area after 13 years in Cleveland, and its unlikely that he wants to pack up and go so soon. The 2013 season was a good experience for him.
He had a great year for a team that desperately needed his contributions and he played in his first ever playoff run, which ended in the NFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl winners. It’ll be hard to see Phil Dawson bolting after this season. He wants to stay and the Niners want to keep him.