The San Francisco 49ers are through their first set of OTAs, and while they might make some changes to the roster, the bulk of the 90-man roster we’ll see in training camp is settled. I would not be surprised by one or two changes on the back end of the roster over the next three weeks, but not much else beyond that.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has been taking some time to go through each division and grade each team’s performance. There are still some notable names on the veteran market, but for the most part, players are signed. On Thursday, Barnwell got to the NFC West. He looked at what went right, what went wrong, and what is next for each team.
Barnwell gave the 49ers a B-, in part because there are a lot of questions about how the team’s decisions will play out. Every team does not know how a free agency signing or draft pick will perform when games start, but we also lack any sort of foundation to judge John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan in their current roles. That is more applicable to Lynch than Shanahan, but there are certainly questions.
Barnwell praised the team’s draft process. The team picked up some picks and got the guys they like in solid areas. Reuben Foster’s shoulder could prove to be a problem at some point, but getting him late in the first round and getting the accompanying fifth year option is a strong process play.
The primary critique Barnwell has is the size of some of their free agency deals. He opens by talking about Kyle Juszczyk’s deal. He focused on the fullback tag in discussing his issues with the size of the deal.
Juszczyk wasn't the lead blocker in an effective running game, had just seven carries during his four seasons in Baltimore and was a checkdown machine when Joe Flacco's protection broke down, but the 49ers thought enough of Juszczyk to give him $15.5 million over his first three seasons in San Francisco. By contrast, Shanahan's former fullback in Atlanta, Patrick DiMarco, became the second-highest-paid fullback in football this offseason by signing a four-year, $8.4 million deal with $6.6 million spread over the first three years of his contract.
Clearly they overpaid Juszczyk. We don’t know for certain how much of a premium was necessary, but the 49ers were comfortable paying it. I think focusing on the “fullback” tag is not the best way to discuss this deal. John Lynch’s “offensive weapon” line was amusing, but I fully expect to see Juszczyk used in a variety of ways. It will be interesting to see how he is used in the passing game beyond simply being a checkdown option for Brian Hoyer.
The 49ers did give out sizable looking deals, but they have a couple things going in their favor. The first is a ton of cap space, and the second is the contracts let them get out after two or three years in most instances without big issues. The 49ers seemingly had to overpay in some ways, but these are not crippling contracts. It will be more interesting to see how the team performs this season, and what it in turn means for their free agency prospects next March.