Every year during the Trent Baalke/Jim Harbaugh era, plenty of 49ers fans have have been quick to get angry about the team's slow start to the offseason. Even when the team added a large number of free agents in 2011, it took several days for the action to really pick up. But since then, we've all kind of figured out the 49ers free agency philosophy. They generally wait for that first big wave of big names, and then find some solid bargains. Even when a guy like Antoine Bethea is signed in the first hour of free agency, it still appears to have been a solid deal for a guy who won't take much off the table.
I bring this up because with free agency more or less a wrap at this point, sites are starting to break down what went down over the last month. Free agency started on March 11, which means it has been almost exactly a month. And in that time, the 49ers signed 2 outside free agents. They re-signed some of their own guys as well, but they only added 2 guys outside the team. It probably makes sense to include the trades for Blaine Gabbert and Jonathan Martin, but even with those, they have no spent a whole lot of money.
Spotrac broke down free agency signings to date, and how much each team spent. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the way with $147,290,000 in total contracts. The Cincinnati Bengals brought up the rear with $4,005,000 in total contracts. Our 49ers were 25th, with $24,250,000 in total contracts. A more useful figure is the amount of guaranteed money. The Denver Broncos led the way with $69,075,000 in guaranteed contracts, the Bengals were last with $240,000 in guarantees (WOW), and the 49ers 24th with $9,250,000.
Here is a breakdown of how the NFC West shook out in terms of money spent. The first number is total contracts, and the figure in parenthesis is the guaranteed money:
Arizona Cardinals: $58,925,000 ($26,575,000)
St. Louis Rams: $38,355,498 ($17,178,821)
San Francisco 49ers: $24,250,000 ($9,250,000)
Seattle Seahawks: $16,120,000 ($4,750,000)
The Cardinals spent the most, and it is not surprising that they would in turn appear to have improved the most among NFC West teams. We took a look at the players gained and lost by each of the 49ers opponents, and Arizona had one of the stronger offseasons.
And free agency works for some at times. It's not like the 49ers don't do anything in free agency, but they have too many talented, young players to re-sign. They can't be blowing bucks on guys like DeSean Jackson. They could afford to sign Jackson, or bring back Donte Whitner, or do a whole host of things, but it comes at the expense of retaining some of their core.
This is not some kind of shocking development, but it can be easily overlooked when the shiny penny that is a big name free agent appears. It could very well impact what we see on the field in 2014, but it also means potentially extending out a "championship window" a little bit longer. There are no guarantees in football, whether you spend a bunch of money on free agents, or you save all your money and invest through the draft. You just have to pick your strategy, and if you're convinced it is the best strategy, you don't waver.