The San Francisco 49ers were incredibly active in free agency this year, adding players on both sides of the ball to fill quite a few immediate needs. The team addressed quite a few team needs, but still has plenty of questions remaining.
Prior to the start of free agency, we took a look at the 49ers needs. That list included quarterback, wide receiver, offensive guard, edge rusher, and linebacker. We could have included running back, safety, and kicker, among others, but the list was primarily the most notable needs.
The 49ers signed running back Tim Hightower over the weekend, following the re-signing of running back DuJuan Harris. The team met with Jacquies Smith a couple weeks back, but given his recovery from an ACL injury, it sounds like it was primarily to check on his medical status. Other than Smith, the 49ers do not appear to publicly have anybody else on their radar for the time being.
There is always room for additional free agent signings, but for the most part, 49ers free agency is just about finished. In looking at those top five needs, here is what the 49ers did.
Quarterback: Signed Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley
Wide receiver: Signed Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson
Offensive guard: Traded for center Jeremy Zuttah
Edge rusher: No move
Linebacker: Signed Malcolm Smith, Brock Coyle, Dekoda Watson
After the top five, Robbie Gould fills the kicker role, Logan Paulsen adds some help at
linebacker tight end, and Kyle Juszczyk is an offensive weapon out of the backfield. The signings of Hightower and Harris add some depth at the running back position.
The 49ers addressed immediate needs, but long-term needs remain pretty similar. Depending on how they use him, Juszczyk is intriguing as a long-term player in this offense. He could get work at fullback, running back, tight end, and even a bit of receiver. He’s an intriguing offensive piece.
Smith will get significant opportunities, likely at weak side linebacker. If he can improve his coverage work, he will get the opportunity to be a long term answer next to NaVorro Bowman and or whomever ends up at middle linebacker for the long haul.
The trade for Zuttah is an intriguing one because we don’t really know exactly what it means the center and guard positions. Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore will compete at center. Does the loser of that job end up getting a shot at a guard position, or does he become a utility option?
Garçon is a strong stabilizing presence for the wide receivers, but at 30 years of age, there will be questions as to how long he’ll last on his new contract. If they get two or three strong years, it’s a great deal, but the team still has to address the wide receiver position for the future.
This was an intriguing bit of free agency work by the 49ers. They added significant depth very quickly, but are not necessarily hamstrung too much in terms of contracts. The draft provides inexpensive options, but having a big contract at a certain position might have precluded some draftable options.
The 49ers have long been a team that looks wholesale over retail for players given the cost of some in free agency. This year, they invested quite a bit in retail, but it was not a potentially crippling shopping spree if the talent does not work out. It is a new philosophy the team has not used as it bottomed out the past three years. What this change in approach will mean in three weeks at the draft will be intriguing to watch.