With their options at running back dwindling and the market for running backs heating up, the 49ers moved quickly to solidify the position, signing former Eagle Brian Westbrook.
The signing comes as a surprise as the 49ers had not had Westbrook in for a visit and he was reportedly mulling offers from division rival St. Louis, Denver and Washington over the past several weeks.
The Redskins were considered the front-runners given Westbrook’s relationship with quarterback Donovan McNabb and the team’s concerns over their group of aging running backs. St. Louis was also rumoured to have strong interest but Westbrook’s desire to play for a contending team ruled out the Rams.
With top backup Glen Coffee unexpectedly retiring, rookie sixth-round pick Anthony Dixon looking overwhelmed, and the team not sold on former quarterback Michael Robinson at the position, the 49ers were forced to make a decision on Westbrook quickly. Credit their management with being proactive in acquiring a player of Westbrook’s pedigree on short notice.
Reports indicate the contract is for one year and will pay Westbrook $1.25 million and includes incentives equal to that amount.
The 30-year-old Westbrook is coming off a season in which he suffered two concussions, causing him to miss eight games. He finished the season with 274 rushing yards and 181 receiving yards to go along with two touchdowns – easily his lowest production since his rookie season.
During his eight years in the league, the former Villanova product has amassed 5,992 rushing yards, 3,790 receiving yards and 66 touchdowns.
Although Westbrook has hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark for running backs (he will be 31 on opening day), he was productive when in the lineup in 2009, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. However, given his age and injury issues, he is clearly viewed as a backup capable of assuming a change of pace, receiving role, and filling in as a starter.
Westbrook is an intriguing player for fantasy purposes, given his history of production and ability to produce in a limited capacity as a receiving threat out of the backfield. The 49ers have surrounded quarterback Alex Smith with excellent young talent at the skill positions and along the offensive line which should allow Westbrook to put up reasonable production provided he can stay healthy.
The knock on Westbrook has been that he is injury prone, however, a closer look reveals that not to be the case. In his first seven years in the league, he played in 99 of 112 regular season games. Clearly, the concussion issue is a significant one but Westbrook is definitely worth taking a flier on in fantasy leagues and should be considered an essential handcuff for Frank Gore owners.
As for Gore, Westbrook is no threat to take his starting position. Clearly Westbrook is a more proven player than Dixon and his presence will likely cause Gore to lose some playing time but nothing that should concern his fantasy owners. Gore’s fantasy ranking should not drop as a result of the team acquiring Westbrook.
When a veteran with a solid resume lands with a new team, the biggest fantasy loser is usually a player who is likely to lose playing time or even a roster spot. However, Dixon wasn’t expected to contribute in 2010 anyway and likely wouldn’t have received any significant playing time, barring a Gore injury.
Instead, Westbrook’s signing in San Francisco makes the Rams the biggest loser from a fantasy perspective. Once again, St. Louis figures to enter the season without a quality option backing up their best player, Steven Jackson. The fact Westbrook signed with a hated division rival only adds to the disappointment.
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