Continuing my reign of front page dominance, I've decided to present you guys with a (hopefully more agreeable) list of the best free agent signings this decade from our 49ers. Yesterday I considered the other end of the spectrum and included such nausea-inducing choices as T Jonas Jennings and LB Tully Banta-Cain though hopefully today I've got some names that will bring a smile to your faces.
I smiled to myself when I wrote this, looking through the transactions I remembered that WR Dominique Zeigler was signed as an undrafted free agent and seriously considered trolling everybody here and putting him as my number one, but I've since decided I'd be a bit more professional (hah) about things. This list was actually more difficult than the worst because the 49ers have snagged quite a few pretty good starters from free agency but it was hard determining who was the "best" and as such I'll likely not give a numeric ranking like my piece yesterday... Let's get started, shall we?
QB Shaun Hill 2006 Why not, I mean, what exactly has Shaun Hill brought to the table? Well... he kept the bench pretty warm for his first season with the team but the second was another story. After a severe concussion, Hill replaced Trent Dilfer in the 2007 season and had a pretty good performance against his former team, the Vikings. Hill was named the starter for the remainder of the season and made his first two career starts, playing well and winning both games before being hurt and missing the next two games.
The team signed Hill to an extension and he 'competed' with quarterbacks Alex Smith and J.T. O'Sullivan for the starting quarterback spot. We all know what happened then, with J.T. being benched and Hill getting the start, he finished the season strong under interim head coach Mike Singletary. Hill then was named the starting quarterback last season and played moderately decent along the way, but a change was inevitably made. He finished last season as Alex Smith's backup.
So how do we rank Shaun? He's a great guy, to be sure, and a serviceable backup. He's a backup who did very good stepping in as the starter and as such, I think he deserves to be mentioned.
LB Takeo Spikes 2008 He's not a player who has amazing stats but in my mind, Spikes has been the best TED linebacker in the league. That is to say, Spikes may do what we ask him better than just about everyone else does what they're asked on this defense. He's a sure tackler, he snags the occasional interception and he's very smart. I don't have a whole lot to say about him but he has been incredibly solid in his position. A very good pickup.
Make the jump for the best of the best (of the best of the best).
OG Larry Allen 2006 What a beast! He only played for two seasons but Larry Allen is Larry Allen, you know? You may ask why he deserves to be on this list after only two seasons but I think you need to look at just what year he started. In 2006 Allen played LG and played well. He was inactive for five weeks but still made a pro bowl blocking for HB Frank Gore in his career best season. Allen and the rest of the line were awarded game balls against the Detroit Lions that year when Gore rushed for 198 yards. Allen and the line also blocked for Gore's single game franchise record of 212 rushing yards that season, a game that had a total of 262 yards in the game from the 49ers. Gore was awarded the game ball, who then proceeded to give the entire offensive line game balls. In 07, Allen was also very good and made a pro bowl alternate before signing a one day contract and retiring with the Cowboys. (Whenever I italicize it like that, imagine I'm spitting the word out while urinating on the Dallas star and flipping off Jerry Jones. Got the image? Good.)
S Tony Parrish 2002 Parrish is a guy who came in without incredibly high expectations, but he absolutely blew up when he got to the team. His first two years with the team were career years, snagging 7 interceptions in 2002 and tying for the most in the league in 2003 with 9. Parrish eventually injured his leg and lost his starting job but the majority of his time spent with the 49ers was time he played at a very high level.
DE Marques Douglas 2005 Douglas was brought in when the team was transitioning to a 3-4 defense with head coach Mike Nolan and he came to help make the adjustment. Douglas had great years with the team, leading the league in tackles for a defensive lineman the last year he played. He's definitely one guy I wish the team could have kept, but we did do well for ourselves with this next guy, no..?
DE Justin Smith 2008 This guy has been stellar. On March 1st, Smith became a very happy man, the 49ers gave him a nice, big six-year contract with an $11 million signing bonus on top, and he did not disappoint. I remember watching the first game and hearing the commentators talking about him and I remember thinking "Who?" This was when I was blissfully (woefully?) ignorant and didn't pay too much attention to things. He got my attention quick.
Smith registered 73 tackles, 7 sacks and even snagged an interception in his first year. Last season his numbers were a bit smaller, but that's not because of lack of effort or talent, no sir. The rest of the defense got better, the big man next to him, Franklin, elevated his play, as did Isaac Sopoaga on the left side. Smith finished last season with 55 tackles, 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, no interceptions this time though. A great signing.
LB Derek Smith 2001 Now maybe this isn't a sexy choice here and Smith had people who weren't exactly on board, but I liked the guy for a good, long time. He led the team in tackles for most of his time with the 49ers, and was kept around for much more than that. Smith was routinely noted as the leader on the field and in the locker room, and he did a good job of it. When there were front office and coaching changes, Smith made it through them, producing as best he could. In his last season or two his numbers fell off and he was ultimately replaced by Patrick Willis.. I don't think anyone is upset about that, but that doesn't take away what he did while he was with the team.
S Michael Lewis 2007 Lewis came to San Francisco needing redemption. He was benched in 2006 and was picked up by the 49ers in the offseason. Lewis instantly made an impact. In his first season he started all 16 games and recorded 104 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. That's 104 tackles from the safety position, guys, not a linebacker position. Granted, they drop him down a lot to give him all those tackles (he was benched in Philadelphia due to blown coverage several times) but I don't think anyone else out there in the FA market, the draft, or the team could put up those numbers and he's been solid ever since. The team may look to replace him this offseason because of his durability issues, but Lewis has been a great free agent acquisition.
CB Walt Harris 2006 Walt has been good during his time with the 49ers. That time may be up now but nobody can deny that he was a very, very solid second corner the three years he got significant playing time. During his first season with the team, Harris snared eight interceptions and took one back for a pick six and earned himself a trip to the pro bowl. In his next two seasons he was also very solid.
Harris is probably done with the 49ers, however. They brought in Dre' Bly, who is almost the same exact player when Harris was placed on injured reserve after hurting himself in team activities. Bly doesn't figure to be back either, but the 49ers will likely look to get younger at the CB position. Still, while with the team Harris has a knack for being around the ball and being solid in coverage.
K Joe Nedney Nedney is the last player on this list, and I think he's been the one who's done the most for the team. Now, I'm sure you've all been in semi-agreement this whole time and may now be slamming your face against your keyboard to type out your response to me but hear me out.. In Joe Nedney's first season with the team he scored on 92.9% of his field goals, putting in 26 of 28. He hasn't been that accurate since, but he's been very, very good.
Nedney has been called "Mr. Reliable" for a reason. He's frequently good on kickoffs (or has been most of the time here, not too sure he was this year) and has always been someone you could count on for a field goal, under pressure or not. Since his first year he's been 82.9%, 89.5%, 87.9% and 81% on his field goals, and up to this point has made 118 out of 136 field goals, which totals to 86.8% of his field goals with the 49ers. Now, if my math is wrong, sue me, I haven't done math in years and I'm proud of myself for at least (kind of) remembering the formula.
So there you have it folks. I wanted to include guys like Aubrayo Franklin and Moran Norris but Norris blocked for Gore in one really good season and has since just been good, and Franklin only decided he was going to kick it into beast mode this past season, so it'll take a bit more before he's added to one of these lists--because I recall a lot of people wanting him gone before the season started. There were some other names as well, but these are what I went with. Hope it was a good read.