As soon as the 49ers were linked with Garry Gilliam, groans from the faithful could be heard from the other side of the Atlantic. This only worsened after the 49ers made their first offer (the rejection offered some respite), offered again (signed - groans intensify) and the groans reached emphatic levels when the Seahawks, with THAT offensive line, let Gilliam pack his bags and leave for Santa Clara.
What exactly to make of the signing? Gilliam has started 30 NFL games, and brings valuable experience at a starter where the current incumbents are Joe Staley and Trent Brown, backed up by John Theus. Only one of those players has more NFL experience than Gilliam, so the former Seahawk brings some useful experience at the tackle position.
The fact he was a starter in Seattle does not predetermine that he will start in San Francisco, but it may help him to do so. This signing should not be viewed the way we looked at those of Pierre Garçon, Kyle Juszczyk, and similar expected starters. This is more of a Brock Coyle, Dekoda Watson, Aldrick Robinson signing — a depth player, though Gilliam could have significantly higher upside than those players. He’s a former tight end who has only played tackle since his senior year at college.
He has certain tools that would seem to mesh well with what the 49ers want to do, with his mobility certainly to the fore. Given Kyle Shanahan’s usage of outside zone and moving pockets Gilliam would seem to have traits that make him a better fit than Trent Brown within this system. Additionally, with his experience at tight end I can see Kyle utilizing him as a pass catcher - but that is not a reason to sign a tackle, of course! His traits certainly made him appealing to the new FO and they clearly saw something i in his workout that they liked.
This signing is an indictment of the upcoming tackle class in the coming draft. It will not stop the team from drafting a tackle that they like if one falls into their lap, but it means they will not reach for one.
It is also clear that the Seahawks had decided to move on from Gilliam, favoring 2016 first rounder Germain Ifedi (who is at least 10lbs heavier than Gilliam). This again should not have been something to deter the 49ers from signing the player. Though the Seahawks have struggled, replacing the undrafted Gilliam with a first round pick should not be a major talking point or something 49ers’ fans should view with apprehension.
With plenty of cap space left, signing Gilliam to a one-year, no risk deal is a smart thing to do. It is undeniable that he has struggled thus far in his career and he may never reach more than NFL backup level. He does still have upside and would seem to fit the athletic profile of what Kyle Shanahan looks for at the tackle position. Even if he does only back up Trent Brown and Joe Staley, he is a cheap one year option that the 49ers could potentially tie down for longer if he and the team are in agreement that his ceiling is as a back up and he has found a good fit in the 49ers’ scheme.