Moves the San Francisco 49ers Will Not Regret Making This Offseason
This offseason, the San Francisco 49ers front office management unloaded more players—particularly ones with name value—than it added. To the cursory fan or analyst, this may make it seem as if the club had made bad decisions or is behind the eight ball somehow.
Rest assured, the moves they made were calculated, and some were even three years in the making.
The Niners had stopgaps who finally exited the franchise, while extending other players who were impact players from Day 1. They also resisted temptation, which was at an all-time high this offseason with several blue-chip players being handed their walking papers around the league. The 49ers stayed clear for the most part.
In the following, we’ll breakdown the team’s offseason moves and general direction, and why they won’t be regretting any of it.
Letting Donte Whitner Go
The 49ers are not going to regret letting strong safety Donte Whitner go any more than they regret letting free safety Dashon Goldson go.
Let’s be frank, both became All-Pros in this defense because of the system, the sage advice of secondary coach Ed Donatell and this fly-around front seven. Goldson and Whitner were quick fixes, rather than long-term investments. They played well, but a good safety is often a product of coaching and pressure in the box.
Now three years in, the Niners are just beginning to handpick their safeties of the future, having upgraded tremendously by switching from Goldson to first-round pick Eric Reid of LSU. That should instill faith in that the front office knows what it's doing back there.
And once the clock began on free agency this year, it did not take long for the 49ers to sign two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl-winning safety Antoine Bethea, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts. They were eager to get a deal done with the vet, believing he can step in right away without any drop off in production.
In fact, their fervor to bring him in—combined with Bethea’s track record and physical athleticism—may infer that the nine-year pro can even surpass Whitner as a rangy cover safety. And at the same time, he can do it for cheaper. There should be no panic in regard to what the team is doing at the position.
The Niners know full well they are competing for a world championship and would not skimp on the secondary, which they are working tirelessly to fix this offseason.
Re-Signing Bruce Miller
The 49ers love their power run game and they were fortunate to develop one of the best battering rams in the game in fullback Bruce Miller. This is a tough, disciplined and incredibly versatile player who has a firm grasp on the ins and outs of this complex rushing attack. All the while, Miller has also grown into a trusty receiving outlet for the quarterback.
San Francisco elected to extend his deal this year, making him one of the highest-paid fullbacks in the game. This made a lot of sense, given the fact that the 49ers are one of the few teams that not only carry a true fullback (and need a versatile backup), but use one on 60-plus percent of the snaps.
Given his youth, character and role within the offense—not to mention the fact that he contributes on special teams—this was a great value signing for the Niners. By all intents and purposes, Bruce Miller will be with this club for the long haul. The front office probably didn’t think twice before offering him this contract.
Letting Carlos Rogers Go
Despite earning a Pro Bowl selection in his first year with the 49ers, cornerback Carlos Rogers slowly but surely revealed himself to be the weakest link in San Francisco’s secondary. He stood up to an array of talent and put forth okay numbers in the slot, but when the game was on the line, Rogers was the one who got picked on by opposing quarterbacks.
On top of which, his price tag and what Rogers thought he should be taking home did not align with the value the 49ers put on him.
His $8-plus-million figure that he was set to earn in 2014, and refused to renegotiate, would end up being the reason the team cut ties. This breaking point would ultimately result in a newfound opportunity for the 49ers to get better at the cornerback position, particularly in the slot.
This is not necessarily a bad thing and the 49ers likely knew it when they asked him to cut his salary in half, backing Rogers into a corner.
Now they can get younger, cheaper and better at the cornerback position, while having extra cash to spend on other players. It’s a win, win, win, win. The draft will be where they do this, too. Players like Florida’s Jaylen Watkins, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner and Texas Christian’s Jason Verrett are all explorable options.
Trading for Jonathan Martin
The 49ers got good value when they traded for Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, getting a former starter to be their sixth man on the offensive line. This was a solid addition considering they won’t have to address the tackle position in the draft. They didn’t want to take an offensive lineman too early with other needs but still wanted to get a reliable one.
Adding Martin for a conditional seventh-round pick was as good as they could’ve done.
They didn’t spend much in terms of draft capital or cap space. And Martin, a former high second-round pick out of Stanford in 2012, will have a chance to hit the reset button on his career. He also hasn’t developed any bad habits in the NFL yet, so offensive line coach Mike Solari will have a solid piece of marble to chip away at.
And expectations aren’t high.
The 49ers really can’t lose on this deal.
Passing on Champ Bailey
The New Orleans Saints announced that they signed 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey to a two-year deal. According to many, he was the best player at his position left on the open market.
After the legal incident with 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle inferred that the team might explore the opportunity of signing Bailey. Now, it made sense (for about a minute), considering the team might need a veteran presence and some sort of safety net in case things went tips up with Culliver.
But this isn’t 2005 Champ Bailey anymore. That was nearly a decade ago. This has shades of Nnamdi Asomugha all over it.
Bailey is one of the all-timers at the position, but besides his recent injury history, he’s been as hot and cold as ever. Most have actually pointed to the Denver secondary for the reason why the Broncos haven’t been able to get over the hump the past two years, even with quarterback Peyton Manning.
Why on earth would the 49ers take their leftovers? They were already head and shoulders above Denver in the secondary, which released Bailey, and they’re also trying to get better. This would be a step back.
If Bailey was the fix that the 49ers felt they could’ve benefitted from, then they would’ve tried to lure him to the Bay Area with promise of one last shot at a Super Bowl. But according to Bill Williamson of ESPN, the team didn’t even reach out. They weren’t interested at all.
In all likelihood, San Francisco is preparing to settle the position in the draft, bringing in somebody who has a promising career ahead of him, rather than one whose career is winding down.
Avoiding Bidding Wars for Darrelle Revis and DeSean Jackson
Once again, like they were with Darrelle Revis and Peyton Manning in offseasons before, the 49ers were connected to two of the higher profile players, which also happened to come at the top-two needs positions for San Francisco. But once again, it was likely due diligence and nothing more.
The players? Cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver DeSean Jackson: two multi-time Pro Bowlers who were released from their respective teams, looking for new homes.
They also had their pick of any type of team—any type of situation.
Just to provide a quick overview, Revis and Jackson could’ve followed the money, going to the highest bidder. Or they could’ve taken a one- or two-year deal with a serious contender, like the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks or even, yes, the San Francisco 49ers.
Revis found something in the middle with the New England Patriots, who paid him well and are close to winning but really don’t have all the components anymore. It’ll be interesting to see how far they go with him, considering they weren’t just a lockdown corner away. After all, Aqib Talib was a solid player for them.
Jackson stayed in the NFC East division, went to a rival and got a handsome payday in the process.
The common factor for both Revis and Jackson is they’re both earning an attractive sum of money for their services in 2014. And at their respective salaries, there is absolutely no way the 49ers would have been able to afford them. This is why it was likely rumors and due diligence over anything else.
San Francisco, while perhaps interested, never even got a visit with either player.
Now, could the 49ers have benefitted from these players? Absolutely, yes. Did they need to acquire either? No. In fact, it’s a far better thing that they didn’t make a hard push for either one. Simply put, they couldn’t afford either one. They’ve got their own players to pay, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Blindly bringing in Darrelle Revis or DeSean Jackson would’ve greatly endangered the team’s ability to sign its own.