We Enter Free Agency, Once Again
Each NFL offseason, NFL teams must start the laborious process of filling talent gaps on their respective rosters. Put aside fan criticism or praise for a moment: the amount of work that executives put into this blitz of releases and additions is arduous. It’s a yearly chore equivalent of Sisyphus taking his rock up the mountain, only to watch it crumble before the peak.
For the first time in recent memory, San Francisco 49ers fans have good reason to be excited about free agency. Over the last few years, the team made minuscule effort to acquire veteran talent or leadership in the offseason. However, as the 49ers enter the 2017 season, they are completely void at quarterback and have needs at linebacker and offensive and defensive line. We may finally see some aggressive moves from the executive office to find high-level talent during the opening few days of free agency.
Much to the deep mourning of this Turlock native, the Colin Kaepernick era is over in San Francisco. Thad Lewis, while spending last year on injured reserve, does not fit Shanahan’s offense, and Christian Ponder was just happy to get paid to hold a clipboard last year.
Blaine Gabbert has disgraced the NFL and the 49ers for far too long. With approximately nine career wins, Gabbert’s shown each time his cleats hit the field he’s not an NFL-caliber quarterback, no matter the offense or the coaches. It’s high time we put his career out of its misery.
For better or worse, the 49ers need to be willing to give up something – draft picks or players – to sign Jimmy Garoppolo, Mike Glennon or AJ McCarron.
Despite what the Patriots think Garopollo is worth, he hasn’t attempted 100 passes in his NFL career. For some reason, Tampa Bay wants to pay Glennon – a five-win quarterback – an absurd amount of cash to work on his sideline sunburn. McCarron had no statistics last season. I’m not kidding; he didn’t register a number in any passing category.
These lackluster statistics benefit the 49ers: Not one is worth what his respective team is asking.
If I’m John Lynch, I’d offer the following to each team: “We’ll give you this year’s third round pick, and conditional second round pick depending on their 2017 production. Less than 100 pass attempts, ten wins or one statically number isn’t worth more than this.”
The 49ers list 12 players at linebacker, but NaVorro Bowman is the only star player at the position. For whatever sin committed, the football gods have punished the organization’s linebacker corps starting with Bowman’s knee injury during the 2013 NFC championship game. The result was an influx of subpar linebackers joining the roster to try and fill in for lost talent.
Gerald Hodges might be the only free agent worth resigning, and Lynch needs to find a way to cut Ray-Ray Armstrong, Carl Bradford, Wynton McManis, Nick Bellore and Tank Carridine. The 49ers might have dead money on the payroll for the next two years, but if Lynch is willing to dump a player like Torrey Smith, then he should be able to shed players who have contributed little to the team’s success or failure.
Dont’a Hightower is the best linebacker available in free agency and has racked up 271 tackles and 17 sacks in his five-year career. In fact, Hightower has 80 more career tackles than Armstrong, Bradford, McManis, Bellore and Carridine combined. Hightower, despite some injuries, is the right step in rebuilding a linebacker corps. Plus, if the 49ers take Myles Garrett with their first pick, they’d have some excellent run-stopping talent playing up front.
Andrew Gardner and Andrew Tiller are both free agents, leaving Josh Garnett and Zane Beadles as the team’s only guards. Lynch needs to decide if a guard like Kevin Zeitler or Andrew Norwell is worth a long-term deal, and sign one or both this week. Unfortunately, Beadles signed a three-year deal with the 49ers last spring. The answer might be to sign Zeitler and Norwell and let all four fight it out for the starting roles during training camp. At the very worst, this leaves the 49ers with four solid interior linemen to rotate if necessary.
On Tuesday, say good-bye to Earl Mitchell, Glenn Dorsey and Tony Jerod-Eddie. The 49ers already tendered Mike Purcell, but need a solid nose tackle or defensive tackle to anchor the defensive line. Brandon Williams or Chris Baker would be a sound investment during free agency and then paired with this year’s second or third round selection.
When I started this article, the 49ers had nine receivers on the offseason roster. However, that changed when the organization foolishly released Torrey Smith. Last week, the organization signed DeAndre Carter who has not registered a single NFL statistic. Lynch felt it was best to get rid of a proven player in Smith and hire a person with zero history or experience in the NFL.
I guess this means receiver free agents like Terrelle Pryor or Alshon Jeffery are now a target for Lynch. But why would Pryor or Jeffery leave teams with zero-talent quarterbacks to come to an organization with no quarterbacks? Why would either man be excited about catching passes from AJ McCarron?
The idea Shanahan couldn’t take a talent like Torrey Smith and use him effectively in the offense is preposterous. You take good players like Smith and work around their talents. I find it hard to believe that Shanahan doesn’t have a few Z-stutter-and-go plays in his playbook.
Last year, the 49ers roster was a vast wasteland of talent. And coming into free agency, it’s even more vacant. But, with a complete spring cleaning of the roster, Lynch may get aggressive and continue to release players who don’t fit the future and add a few savvy veterans to help the 49ers rebound this fall.