Setting Expectations for Each San Francisco 49ers Acquisition
The San Francisco 49ers finished the 2013 season one game away from a return trip to the Super Bowl. General manager Trent Baalke is tasked with fortifying the roster, while also navigating a very tight salary-cap situation.
The 49ers will continue to build through the draft, as has been their strategy in the Baalke era. With five picks in the top 94 selections in the upcoming draft, Baalke and the 49ers must hit on some gems.
Even with the focus on the draft, the 49ers must not ignore the the trade route or the free-agent market.
Several players have already departed the 49ers, or will likely be signing elsewhere very soon. These include Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Donte Whitner, Mario Manningham, Jonathan Goodwin, Kassim Osgood, Anthony Dixon, Perrish Cox and Colt McCoy.
The 49ers' recent acquisitions do not offset these losses, which leaves the team very thin, especially in the defensive backfield.
The 49ers have signed or traded for six players, but that is not enough. A lot more must be done in order to rebuild the 49ers roster into one that can again challenge for a championship.
Let's take a look at the players the 49ers have acquired for the upcoming 2014 season and project their roles on the team.
All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.
All contract data courtesy of spotrac.com.
There is no question that Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. However, if anything were to happen to him, the 49ers made a rather bold move to bolster their backup situation.
Not enthralled with the 2013 backup, Colt McCoy, the 49ers made a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars and acquired Blaine Gabbert. The price was only a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft. This is a small price to pay for a quarterback who is still young and has a decent upside.
Gabbert entered the NFL in 2011, the same year as Kaepernick. He was the tenth overall pick in the draft that year, whereas Kaepernick was chosen in the second round, number 36 overall.
In three less than stellar seasons with Jacksonville, Gabbert completed just 53.3 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,357 yards. He threw 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
Gabbert started 27 games for the Jaguars and compiled a record of 5-22. Things were not going well for him in Jacksonville, so a change of scenery with San Francisco should be a positive move for him.
The Jaguars poor record was not all Gabbert's fault, as the team has been down for quite a while. The last time the Jaguars had a winning record was back in 2007.
Gabbert should learn and improve under 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh. Some of the quarterbacks who have played for Harbaugh and have improved under his tutelage include Josh Johnson, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Kaepernick.
Truth be told, nobody on the 49ers' staff wants to see Gabbert play any meaningful football this upcoming season. If Gabbert is in the game, that means Kaepernick, the 49ers' franchise quarterback, is injured.
Eric Wright, 49ers
Eric Wright will return to the 49ers, after agreeing to a one-year deal for just under $900,000.
In 2013, Wright appeared in seven games for the 49ers, playing mostly as a nickel or dime back.
Wright will again compete for playing time at those spots and has something to prove. We could also see him get extensive playing time in 2014 as a slot defender, a position that Carlos Rogers filled in 2013.
At best, Wright will win a starting job or play as the fifth defensive back. At worst, Wright provides veteran depth at a very thin position for the 49ers.
Phil Dawson had an outstanding year for the 49ers in 2013. He returns after signing a two-year deal for just over $6 million, with a $2 million signing bonus and $3.5 million in total guaranteed money.
In 2013, Dawson was extremely reliable, converting 32 of his 36 field-goal attempts. This is even more impressive when one considers that Dawson played half of his games at the often windy Candlestick Park.
Now, as the 49ers get set to move to their new home in Santa Clara, it should be easier than kicking at Candlestick. Look for Dawson to have another solid year for the 49ers.
This was a good investment by the 49ers, as a reliable kicker like Dawson will win the team some games.
The story of Jonathan Martin has been reviewed so many times that there is no need to go into it again here.
However, his trade to the 49ers is quite interesting. Martin played his college football at Stanford, under Jim Harbaugh, so there is already a relationship there. Harbaugh knows Martin and would not have allowed this deal to happen unless he felt confident in the young man's character, work ethic and ability.
The Miami Dolphins traded Martin to the 49ers for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2015. The Dolphins receive the pick only if Martin makes the 49ers roster.
The 49ers are perhaps the team best equipped to handle the addition of Martin. They have outstanding veteran leadership and a coaching staff that is focused solely on winning.
Martin has started at both tackle positions and will provide quality depth for the 49ers offensive line.
The 49ers gave up very little to acquire Martin, and he could prove to be an extremely important player should anything happen to Joe Staley or Anthony Davis.
San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backfield coach Ed Donatell have their work cut out for them this year. The 49ers have lost three starters with the departures of Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner.
One of the biggest tasks facing Fangio and Donatell will be to accelerate the improvement of Chris Cook.
Cook will compete for playing time at cornerback with the 49ers, but must improve his overall skill set if he hopes to win a job. He allowed a league-high nine touchdowns this past season. More likely, we will primarily see Cook on special teams.
In his four years with the Vikings, Cook started 29 games and failed to record an interception. The 6'2", 200-pound corner has good size to go along with decent speed. He was a second-round pick by Minnesota in the 2010 draft. Unfortunately, he just hasn't produced up to that level as of yet.
For a team that just lost two of their top three cornerbacks, the signing of Cook does not come close to filling even one of those holes—unless Cook improves dramatically.
In addition, Cook has faced off-field, legal troubles. He was arrested for domestic assault a couple years ago, but he was acquitted. His character is in question and so is his ability.
Although the deal is only for one year, this is a very curious signing by Trent Baalke.
Anquan Boldin had an outstanding 2013 season for the 49ers. He led the team with 85 receptions for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. Boldin became invaluable to quarterback Colin Kaepernick when top receiver Michael Crabtree went down with an injury prior to the start of the season.
Boldin will team with Crabtree, second-year receiver Quinton Patton and quite likely a first-round selection in the 2014 draft to make up the nucleus of the 49ers wide receiver corps.
The 49ers inked Boldin to a two-year, $12 million deal. He earned this contract with the outstanding season he delivered in 2013.
This was an essential signing, given the very thin crop of proven receivers on the 49ers roster. If Boldin can come anywhere close to his production from last year, this will have been a good deal for both parties.
When Donte Whitner moved on to the Cleveland Browns, the 49ers moved quickly to sign free-agent safety Antoine Bethea. He is projected to start alongside Eric Reid.
Whitner agreed to a four-year, $28 million deal with the Browns, while Bethea completed his deal, also for four years, but at $23 million. Bethea, who will turn 30 years of age in July, is one year older than Whitner.
Bethea had played his entire career with the Indianapolis Colts. He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009.
Bethea is a steady player and good tackler. Unlike Whitner, Bethea is not known for being a devastating hitter, although his tackling technique is better than that of the man he's replacing, who often went for the big hit and failed to wrap up the ball-carrier.
Bethea is adequate but not great in pass coverage, and he will not be penalized as often as Whitner for personal fouls.
In 2013, Bethea made 89 tackles, compared to 63 for Whitner. Each player had two interceptions. Time will tell if the 49ers are better off with Bethea.