Calm After the Storm: Why the Jordan Reed Signing Makes Sense
Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports
The signing of ex-Washington Football Team tight end Jordan Reed on Monday by the San Francisco 49ers could be pretty big news to roster watchers from all over the Faithful community. Reed played for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan during his rookie campaign in Washington D.C., and grew to be one of the top five to seven tight ends in the league, that is, when he was able to stay on the field. His career has been riddled with injuries, and unfortunately he could be one concussion away from retirement after sitting out the entire 2019 campaign.
The drama of the signing is primarily because of Reed's abilities and the seeming roadblock the franchise is dealing with extending their starting TE, George Kittle, who was just voted as the seventh best player in the NFL. Some may view this as a sign of a deal not getting done, but the structure of Reed’s contract doesn’t show that at all, as he signed a one-year contract that is heavy in incentives (the contract hasn’t been made public yet). Others immediately thought this might mean Ross Dwelley’s spot on the roster is gone with Charlie Woerner being drafted this year and the addition of Reed. The 49ers just keep adding tight ends.
I think people should look at this signing a little different. Athough Dwelley is absolutely no longer penciled in as TE2 anymore, there is a good case that his spot on the roster is pretty safe. When looking at Shanahan’s rosters and how he uses players, fans and analysts alike should stop thinking about how many running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends the team is going to keep, but rather what mixture of offensive skill position players are going to be kept.
Looking back at the last three offseasons, as well as at Shanahan’s play calling, tells us that what Shanahan really covets are players who are weapons lined up in multiple places. You have Jerick McKinnon explaining how he has never practiced running WR routes this much before. You have players like Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel lining up as running back, not just running jet sweeps. The team has drafted players like Jalen Hurd who played both receiver and running back in college, or Woerner, who could line up as a tight end or fullback. Then there is fullback and "offensive weapon" Kyle Juszczyk who lines up everywhere on the offense.
One-trick ponies are not the type of players Shanahan use in his offense. Yes, you have possession receivers like Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne, but they were both added during Shanahan's and general manager John Lynch’s first off-season with the team. What does it mean for this year’s 53-man roster? Each of the past three seasons the team has increased the number of offensive skill position players. In 2017, the 49ers kept 13 (4 RB, 6 WR, 3 TE); in 2018, they kept 14 (5 RB, 6 WR, 3 TE), and in 2019 they kept 15 (4 RB, 7 WR, 4 TE).
I think the 49ers initially keep four tight ends, Kittle, Reed, Dwelley, and Woerner, with Dwelley's and Woerner’s abilities to fill in for Juszczyk at fullback if needed, as well as learn the TE position in case Reed is not re-signed after this season. I also think the team will lower the number of WRs kept this year, with both Kittle and Reed being able to line up out wide, as well as McKinnon. My guess is they keep only six, with the team keeping four or five running backs. Reed's signing might not only force other tight ends like Helms off the roster, but receivers like Dante Pettis or Richie James Jr. might also no longer be safe due to the skill position numbers.
When analyzing 49ers’ moves and positions, we can’t just look at the old standards. Shanahan and Lynch have moved us into the future of football.
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