As expected, the 49ers did not sign DeSean Jackson. The Philadelphia castaway inked a deal with Dan Snyder in Washington last week. While a Jackson-to-San Francisco transaction would have generated rabid excitement among much of the 49ers Faithful and compelled analysts to dub it "the move that puts the 49ers over the top," Baalke and company ultimately made the right decision. Truthfully, no one knows how close or intrigued the 49ers were in actually signing Jackson. There could have been serious interest and push to bring him in, or it could have been another case of a team doing their homework at a position/skill-set of need; logic would point to the latter. At any rate, the short- and long-term benefits of not making the deal outweigh what Jackson would have brought to the table, regardless of whether the decision was intentional or a financially-forced.
For one, Jackson would have only been the number three receiver on the roster or, more likely, a rotational number two with Anquan Boldin. The kind of money he was commanding was far too high of a price for what his role and snap count would be. Furthermore, the money would have only kept Jackson-a wide receiver with an ego-driven reputation-ephemerally happy; one could easily picture the former Cal receiver becoming disgruntled with his role, lack of looks from Kaepernick, snap count, etc. That kind of personality doesn't jibe with the 49ers' locker room and would only serve to be a divisive force within the organization.
Then there's the physical component. The 49ers play in the NFC West which has made a name for itself as the new "Black and Blue" division. Players in this division are among some of the biggest, toughest, and hardest-hitting in the league; just ask Denver. At 5'10 and 175 lbs, Jackson (who has only played a full 16-game season twice in his six-year career) would stand a much greater chance of injury and likely find himself overmatched going up against the likes of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Patrick Peterson, and others. That would pose issues in several facets of the game: getting off the line, fighting for the ball, and blocking (something the 49ers' coaching staff places a high premium on).
Let's not kid ourselves entirely here though, adding DeSean Jackson would be far from the worst thing to happen to the 49ers. He brings a skill-set that the 49ers desperately lack and he's coming off the best year of his career. Equipped with speed to get behind coverage, he would be a perfect complement to Kaepernick's big arm. I'm sure the 49ers signal-caller would relish the opportunity to rifle 60-yard bombs to a player of that caliber.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, it would be surprising if the 49ers regret not bringing Jackson to the Bay. Retaining the cap space and cash that he would have required is essential to locking up Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith--far more important players at far more important positions The reported interest in Jackson just confirms the 49ers' awareness that they need to get faster at wide receiver. A number of affordable players can satisfy that singular need; the key is getting a player who can do more than that (see Ginn, Ted for reference). Players with that kind of potential can be had at bargain prices via a 2014 draft that sports one of the deepest receiver classes in recent memory.
DeSean Jackson ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine back in 2008. Meanwhile Brandin Cooks, the Oregon State product, boasted a 4.33 40-yard dash; other higher-end prospects such as Paul Richarson, Odell Beckham Jr., Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief, and Martavius Bryant all had times under 4.50. Cooks and Beckham may not make it out of the first round, but there's a good chance at least one of them will be there when the 49ers pick at number 30 (should the team stand pat at that position). The others project to be second-, third-, and fourth-round selections. As the proud owners of 6 picks within the first 100, Niners brass has the liberty to aggressively follow their board and move up or down to secure the prospects they value most.
As mentioned earlier, Jackson's size would have been a concern in the ultra-physical NFC West. It's reasonable to assume that the 49ers more covet a guy who can take the top off the defense but also be able to fight for the ball in traffic and adequately block. A bigger frame better suits the type of offense they run and defenses they face. Again, the 2014 draft class has receivers whose combination of speed and size are conducive to that kind of play:
- Jordan Matthews: 6'3, 205 lbs, 4.46 40-yard dash
- Martavius Bryant: 6'3, 211 lbs, 4.42 40-yard dash
- Donte Moncrief: 6'2, 221 lbs, 4.40 40-yard dash
The potential of wide receiver draftees is tempered with concerns surrounding the 49ers' ability to develop talent at the position after the failings of drafted players like A.J. Jenkins and Ronald Johnson, and the underwhelming performance of former Chief Jon Baldwin. It's important to remember that this reputation really stems solely from the Jenkins selection. Since 2011, Jenkins, Johnson, and Quinton Patton are the only WRs the team has drafted; Johnson was a sixth-round pick and Patton still has great upside heading into 2014. Jon Baldwin was nothing more than a shot-in-the-dark, no-risk tradeoff for Jenkins. If he was anything remotely special, Kansas City would never have parted with him so freely for another bust.
Being the shrewd, super-competitive individual he is, you can bet Trent Baalke will be looking to shed the hasty label that he's a poor wideout evaluator once Roger Goodell takes the podium at Radio City in May. Signing Jackson would have, in some ways, sent a message that Baalke himself isn't confident in his ability to select a reciever. It also would have starkly defied the 49ers' credo of building through the draft and model of sustainability. The team has Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin cemented as the starters for 2014 and a very promising young player in Quinton Patton. They simply need a speedster who can add a dimension they lack and push Patton for the number three spot to round out the corps. A player in that kind of role is not anywhere near worth the $8 million guaranteed that Jackson will earn in 2014 as the number one option in Washington. I know that and you know that; it would have been crazy to think the 49ers didn't know that. This regime maintains a clear plan-of-action; it will be interesting to see how that plan addresses the need for speed come draft day.