Image Credit: USA Today Sports
Less than three hours into the open negotiation period, it had been reported that the San Francisco 49ers and free agent linebacker Kwon Alexander had agreed to terms on a 4-year, $54M contract. Immediately, the fan base was split down the middle, with half in elation at the addition of a running mate for LB Fred Warner while the other half bemoaning the amount of money tied up in an off-ball linebacker coming off an ACL tear just six months ago. Once the hubbub had died down, cooler heads prevailed as it was proven that the “Marathlete” remains undefeated in contract negotiations. Wash, rinse, repeat. So, what can be expected from the 49ers’ highest profile free agency signing in 2019?
Alexander will fill the void left behind when the Linebacker-Who-We-All-Left-In-2018 violated the team’s trust and was shown the door. After his departure, there was a noticeable drop in play from the linebacking corps as a whole. Alexander is immediately a plug and play starter alongside Warner in both the base and sub packages. His presence gives defensive coordinator Robert Saleh two sideline-to-sideline linebackers to patrol the second level in his scheme.
Alexander’s game, however, is predicated on speed, so how his torn ACL rehabilitates will dictate how effective he can be. If the knee is able to heal in time for him to be a full go Week 1, expect Alexander to take over the Will LB position. One of the strengths of his skillset is the ability to blanket tight ends, running backs and even receivers in the passing game. With an ever increasingly passing league, this skill will be put to the test early and often as teams test his surgically repaired knee.
The running game is not a weakness for Alexander, either. Once he was sidelined in October of last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense was markedly worse containing opposing running backs. Prior to Alexander going down, the Bucs defense was only giving up 90.0 rush yards per game as opposed to the 144.3 rush yards per game in the final 10 games. The biggest knock on Alexander’s game is his propensity to miss tackles. From 2015-2017, he did lead the league in missed tackles with 70, but if there is any positive to take from that, Alexander is often in position to make a play.
The most important aspect that Kwon Alexander will bring to the 49ers is heart. Former teammate, wide receiver Mike Evans, went to Twitter to lament the loss of Alexander from the Buccaneers’ locker room. His best individual game came against the Atlanta Falcons immediately after Alexander’s 17-year old brother had lost his life. He was able to rack up 11 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery ripped from the arms of Falcons’ WR Julio Jones. Alexander’s ability to suit up and take the field less than 48 hours of receiving the heartbreaking news about his brother was an inspiration to his Tampa Bay teammates. That is a component that has been missing from the 49ers’ defense which at times seems anemic and lacking an edge.
Expectations for Kwon Alexander ride almost entirely on his knee and how that bounces back from injury. A healthy knee and Alexander becomes an instant impact player in Saleh’s defense that will challenge Fred Warner for the team lead in tackles. However, if he is unable to rebound from injury, Alexander will be the latest member of the 49ers’ ACL All-Stars.
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