Grading the San Francisco 49ers' Free-Agency Moves so Far

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2015

Grading the San Francisco 49ers' Free-Agency Moves so Far

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    A reporter recently asked general manager Trent Baalke if he will change his approach to the offseason now that the Seattle Seahawks have traded for 6’7” All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.

    Baalke smiled. “Not unless you can find a 6’6” safety,” he said. “If you can find one of those, I’ll take it. But, no. Obviously you’re always looking at the division. In order to get to the next step, you either have to win your division or play very well within your division. 

    You’ve got to try to win your division and put a team together that can win your division. You’re always looking at matchups. This is a matchup game now. They made a move. If you’re playing chess, they just moved their rook. Now we’ve got to make a move. What move will that be? I don’t know.”

    The 49ers" target="_blank">San Francisco 49ers haven’t moved their rook, but they’ve moved a few bishops and knights.

    Baalke has signed a bunch of players, specifically players who match up well against the Seahawks.

    Are the Seahawks in check? No. But Baalke is setting up his attack. Many of his offseason signings are geared to the Seahawks but not all of them.

49ers Sign WR Torrey Smith for 5 Years, $40 Million

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    Grade: A

    Torrey Smith is kind of like a rook.

    He lines up closer to the boundary than any other player on the offense, and then he runs straight down the sideline.

    The left sideline to be precise.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 49ers gave Smith a five-year, $40 million deal. They signed him to play split end—think John Taylor. Taylor usually lined up on the left side of the 49ers offense.

    Why is it important that Smith lines up on the offense’s left? Because that’s the side of the field Richard Sherman doesn’t cover. That’s the side of the field the Niners must attack when they play the Seahawks.

    It’s pointless to throw into Sherman’s coverage more than a couple of times per game. He is the best cornerback in the league. He overmatches almost every receiver he faces.

    The Seahawks' No. 2 cornerback—Byron Maxwell—signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on March 8, according to NFL writer Jayson Braddock. The Seahawks replaced him with free-agent cornerback Cary Williams.

    Williams cannot cover Smith. The Seahawks must draft a cornerback who can.

49ers Sign RB Reggie Bush for 1 Year

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Grade: B+

    Reggie Bush is 30 years old. The 49ers signed him to a one-year deal, according to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. The terms of the contract have not yet been reported.

    Bush may not be a good running back anymore—he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last season. But the 49ers probably didn’t sign Bush to carry the ball.

    They most likely signed him to catch it.

    Bush played only 11 games last season, but he still caught 40 passes. He has averaged four catches per game during his career. Compare that to the Niners’ No. 2 receiver, Torrey Smith. He has averaged just 3.3 catches per game in his career.

    Bush is a good receiver.

    Can Colin Kaepernick get him the ball? That is the question. Kaepernick’s short passes lack touch, so the 49ers haven’t called many passes to halfbacks the past few seasons. That has to change for the Niners to overtake the Seahawks in the NFC West.

    The Seahawks gave up 11 catches to New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks simply couldn’t account for him.

    They probably won’t be able to account for Bush either.

49ers Sign WR Jerome Simpson for 2 Years, $1.73 Million

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Anquan Boldin is the 49ers’ go-to-guy on third down.

    The Seahawks know this, so on third down they cover him with Richard Sherman. Sherman usually stays on one side of the field, but on third down against the Niners he follows Boldin everywhere he goes. This is a problem for the Niners.

    Jerome Simpson is supposed to correct the problem. He is the Niners’ new No. 3 receiver. They signed him to a nonguaranteed two-year, $1.73 million contract, per USA Today Sports' Tom Pelissero.

    Sometimes the Niners use three receivers on third down. If Sherman covers Boldin, the Seahawks' No. 3 cornerback—Will Blackmon—has to cover Simpson. Simpson is better than Blackmon.

    Blackmon is 30. He was terrible last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars before he broke his finger and missed eight games.

    Simpson is 29. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch in 2013. The Minnesota Vikings cut him in 2014, and he did not play that season.

    But Simpson still is a legitimate deep threat. If the Seahawks cover him with Blackmon, Blackmon will give up big plays.

49ers Sign DT Darnell Dockett for 2 Years, $7.5 Million

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    Paul Connors/Associated Press

    Grade: A-

    Darnell Dockett has played one position his entire career—right defensive tackle.

    It’s the same position Justin Smith plays. If Smith retires, Dockett can replace him. The 49ers are set for now at that position.

    Right defensive tackle matches up against the opposing offense’s left guard. The Seahawks’ old left guard, James Carpenter, signed a four-year contract with the New York Jets last Wednesday, per ESPN New York's Rich Cimini. The Seahawks' new left guard, C.J. Davis, hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2012.

    Advantage: Dockett.

    The 49ers signed Dockett to a two-year, $7.5 million deal, per Niners Nation's David Fucillo. Dockett hasn’t appeared in a game since 2013—he tore his ACL last year. If he’s healthy, C.J. Davis has no chance against him. Dockett is a devastating pass-rusher, arguably a better pass-rusher than the man he might replace—Justin Smith.

    The Seahawks must account for Dockett—must draft someone who can block him. Otherwise, Dockett will squash the Seahawks’ itty-bitty quarterback.

49ers Sign CB Shareece Wright for 1 Year, $3 Million

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Grade: A-

    Shareece Wright played for the San Diego Chargers last season. The Chargers had the 29th-worst run defense in the NFL. It’s tough to play cornerback for a defense that can’t stop the run.

    A defense that can’t stop the run faces a lot of 2nd-and-5s and 3rd-and-1s—downs in which the opposing offense can run or pass. The defense has to be prepared to stop both. Play action becomes a big weapon, one that fools cornerbacks routinely.

    Wright doesn’t have to play with San Diego’s bad run defense anymore. He gets to play with the 49ers, who signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

    The Niners stop the run as well as any team in the NFL. When a defense stops the run, it creates obvious “passing situations”—downs in which the opposing offense has to pass. It’s much easier for a cornerback to stop a pass when he knows a pass is coming.

    Wright should have the best season of his career in 2015.

49ers Sign OT/G Erik Pears for 2 Years, $4.7 Million

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    Offensive line is one of the 49ers’ biggest weaknesses.

    The Niners offensive line gave up 52 sacks last season—second most in the league. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars gave up more sacks than the 49ers.

    As recently as 2012, the 49ers had the best offensive line in the NFL. What happened?

    Joe Staley and Anthony Davis still are excellent tackles, but Staley is on the downside of his career, and Davis might be injury-prone. Their backup, Jonathan Martin, is just bad.

    Starting right guard Alex Boone also seems to be on the downside of his career. He was mediocre last season after returning from a holdout. And Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati signed a five-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The 49ers needed to sign an offensive lineman. They signed Erik Pears for two years, $4.7 million, according to The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson (via Niners Nation). Pears isn’t great or even particularly good. But he can play guard or tackle, and he’s better than Jonathan Martin. Now, the Niners can cut Martin, which is a bonus.

49ers Re-Sign TE Derek Carrier for 3 Years, $2.985 Million

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    Tight end is another weakness of the 49ers.

    Last year, Vernon Davis played like the 49ers signed him off the street.

    His backup, former second-round pick Vance McDonald, can’t seem to catch a pass. He has dropped almost half as many as he has caught during his two-season career (11 catches and four drops, according to Pro Football Focus).

    The Seahawks defense has trouble covering tight ends. Last season, it gave up 68 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski in the Super Bowl and 96 yards and three touchdowns to Antonio Gates Week 3.

    The 49ers don’t have a tight end who can exploit the Seahawks. Vernon Davis typically struggles against Seattle.

    Ideally, the 49ers would take a tight end in the upcoming draft, but the tight ends in the draft aren’t very good. So, the 49ers did the best they could do. They re-signed 24-year-old tight end Derek Carrier for three years, $2.985 million, according to USA Today Sports' Tom Pelissero.

    Carrier is 6’3”, 238 pounds, and he runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, according to NFL Draft Scout. He is more athletic than most of the tight ends in this year's draft.

49ers Re-Sign QB Blaine Gabbert for 2 Years, $4 Million

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    Grade: D

    I get it.

    There aren’t many good quarterbacks available on the market or in the draft this offseason. It’s a terrible year to need a quarterback.

    So, for two years and $4 million, according to The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson, the 49ers’ re-signed Blaine Gabbert. At least Gabbert knows the Niners’ system.

    That’s the only argument you can make for this signing.

    Gabbert still stinks even though he knows the 49ers’ system. He stinks no matter what system he knows. It’s unfortunate.

    Gabbert has zero quarterback instincts. He doesn’t sense when or where to move in the pocket. He looks nervous back there. He’s supposed to have a strong arm, but he’s dreadful at throwing downfield. He mostly throws short. He’s averaging a microscopic 5.6 yards per pass attempt in his career.

    Gabbert is a waste of the 49ers’ money. They would have been better off signing former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor. At least Taylor can run and throw downfield and do some of the things Colin Kaepernick can do. Taylor would have been an excellent backup for the Niners.

    But the Niners missed out on him. The Buffalo Bills signed Taylor to a three-year deal on March 12, according to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak.

    All quotations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.