San Francisco 49ers and NFL Free Agency: Quiet on the Western Front
There was once a time that when a free agent came to visit 49ers’ headquarters, more often than not he left a 49er.
Now I know that the team was not expected to make a huge splash in the free agent market this year.
However, I did expect just a little ripple in the pond.
To date the team has signed quarterback David Carr and cornerback Karl Paymah. Both were signed primarily to add depth to their respective positions as neither is expected to start.
But what seems odd are the free agents that the team has hosted and failed to sign—at least to this point for some.
To date the list includes tight end Anthony (“I’d bring a dominating attitude to the edge and get the running game sparked”) Becht, who promptly re-signed with the Arizona Cardinals in a sort of “deja vu” scenario to last year’s failed run at Kurt Warner.
Former Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele also made a free-agent visit last month. The team’s interest in Ayodele is to find a suitable backup (and eventual replacement) for Takeo Spikes, as they are not convinced Scott McKillop is the answer. As of this writing, Ayodele has yet to sign with any team.
Then there is the ongoing saga of free agent guard Chester Pitts. In addition to the 49ers, Pitts has several other suitors, including his old team, the Houston Texans, as well as the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
Since his visit over a month ago, there have been erroneous reports of Pitts signing with the team. Another report claims that Pitts wants to be a member of the 49ers and that negotiations are ongoing. The most recent report says that Pitts will now wait until after the draft to make a decision of where he is to play next season.
Is the front office really in a mess with the ouster of Scott McCloughan?
Does Jed York know what he is doing?
Well, I have to tell you, for those of you who say, “What would ‘Eddie’ do?”—this is a whole new ball game.
Chances are Eddie wouldn’t do things all that much different than what is being done now where free agency is concerned.
There are some that are convinced that if Edward John DeBartolo Jr. were still running the team we would have signed all these free agents by throwing piles and piles of money at them.
In addition, we would have already signed Julius Peppers, Antrel Rolle, and any other high-priced free agent the team could lay their hands on.
Eddie may have inherited his money from his dad, but he also inherited his father's business sense.
Contrary to popular belief, Eddie didn’t just bring in every high-priced free agent that was available just for the sake of bringing them in.
In 1994, during the second year of free agency, the teamed signed a banner crop of free agents that included Deion Sanders, Ken Norton Jr., Bart Oates, Gary Plummer, and Rickey Jackson, to name a few.
Prior to the season, DeBartolo and Carmen Policy targeted each of these players as being key components to achieving their goal of winning another Super Bowl.
Their success in landing almost every player they targeted and winning their fifth Super Bowl is now a matter of history.
But the (then-) unprecedented fifth Super Bowl ring didn’t come without an exorbitant cost.
With the advent of free agency also came the salary cap. The 49ers have only in recent years escaped the eventual ambuscade that lavish spending leads to.
Do I need remind you of the 2-14 season in 2004 that a stripped-down roster produced?
In order to sign all those free agents way back in '94, the team also had to let some players go. Among them were linebacker Bill Romanowski, promising young tackle Ted Washington, backup quarterback Steve Bono, and cornerback Don Griffin.
Additionally, the salary cap ramifications of the great San Francisco free-agency binge of 1994 effectively ended the team's run at the top of the NFL and impeded its ability to maneuver for years to come. The franchise is just now recovering.
The current edition of the team is not a few free-agent signings away from a Super Bowl. It is, however, a strong draft away from the playoffs.
And although the Niners have lost some players during the offseason, they will need many of those roster spots for drafted players.
This is a young team being built for the long haul, and my bet is DeBartolo wouldn’t be throwing his money around like Daniel Snyder (and we have seen how well that has worked for the Redskins).
He also wouldn’t be releasing promising young players to sign aging veterans.
A shrewd businessman doesn’t repeat the same mistakes (too often).
Free agents are finding out that the big piles of money just aren’t there like they used to be. There may not be a salary cap but any team with a pecuniary responsibility is using its money to re-sign its own players—now and in the future.
So the waiting game continues. Once the draft is over and teams have re-evaluated their needs, I would expect that free agents will start signing with those teams that still have an offer on the table.
That said, the Niners still have a spot or two open for a couple of free agents.
Even with a great draft, I still believe Pitts would be a great addition to the team. The team could use his veteran presence to help mentor whomever they draft for the offensive line.
As suggested by Matt Maiocco on Monday, the team may also be waiting for June to roll around for a run at Rams safety Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe. If Atogwe and the Rams don’t come to an agreement by June 1, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Mike Singletary has a very special relationship with the Rams safety, as his daughter is engaged to him. At first blush the 49ers and Atogwe would seem like a match made in heaven. But I just have to ask: How many son-in-laws really want to work for their father-in-law?
In an odd coincidence—and in contrast to this article’s title—linebacker Travis LaBoy visited with the team yesterday. If he stays healthy, Laboy could be an inexpensive option to bolster the team’s pass rush.
LaBoy had reportedly visited the team back in February, but until now nothing had become of it. Could an announcement be forthcoming?
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