The San Francisco 49ers have had an incredibly busy offseason, swapping out their coaching staff and their front office, and then following that with a host of roster additions. Considering how badly the past two years have gone, it is not surprising to see the team get busy this offseason looking to turn things over.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Mike Sando revealed offseason grades for all 32 NFL teams. He put the grades together with the assistance of “15 NFL executives, coaches and evaluators.” You can view the entire In$ider article here, but we’ll take a look at what he put together for the 49ers.
Sando and his team of evaluators gave the 49ers a C.
The 49ers might have been the volume leader in offseason moves. They hired a new GM out of left field -- John Lynch called them -- and hired a head coach who was a hot candidate. They ditched every quarterback from the 2016 roster, adding four newcomers to replace them. They stockpiled free agents with abandon. It was another wild offseason ride for a team that plays its home games in a stadium near an amusement park.
"They signed the fullback [Kyle Juszczyk] for the most money ever for a fullback, and then they hoodwinked the Bears in the draft," a former GM said. "They finagled and got the kid from Alabama with their second first-round pick [Reuben Foster] and all of a sudden people say the worst case is, he won't play this year. I hate to say it, but the worst case is that he never plays. But he might be great if he does. You want to solidify things and to me they are kind of all over the board."
An exec said he found the 49ers' myriad signings in free agency to be confusing. All agreed that the price paid for linebacker Malcolm Smith was absurd.
"I don't know if John Lynch realizes there is an actual thing called a draft to get players," an evaluator said a couple of weeks into free agency. "They are signing all these players, like 11 guys, and they are all B-level and C-level players. Dude, did you know you are signing a bunch of league replacement players at $1-2 million a year, maybe even more with the $4 million fullback? You can draft a replacement player at league minimum in the fourth round. Why are you spending?"
The counter to that is, why not? It's not like the 49ers mortgaged their future by signing a bunch of descending veterans at elevated prices. They cleaned house. An agent said it feels like the 49ers are playing for a top-five pick in 2018, which could be the best thing for San Francisco, given the quarterbacks expected to be available. For now, they will go into the season with Brian Hoyer as their projected starter.
You could see some method to the madness with regard to the 49ers moves in free agency. They did spend more than some people expected, but coming off a 2-14 season, there is likely a need to over-pay a bit to convince players to come to town. It sounds like players and agents are intrigued by what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are doing, but money still talks in this regard.
This year’s draft was viewed as a strong defensive draft. There was plenty of offensive talent, but it was much deeper across the board on defense. The 49ers ended up drafting Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, and Ahkello Witherspoon with their first three picks. They drafted plenty of offense as well, in those first three rounds expectations are higher for bigger impact players.
Malcolm Smith was a bit of a head-scratcher when he first signed, and even more so with the addition of Reuben Foster. However, it makes some sense for a couple reasons. The first is the desire to implement a defense similar to the Seattle Seahawks. DC Robert Saleh has said the team will have its own system, but they draw inspiration from the Seahawks. Smith has some experience in it.
Second, by the time March arrived, it seems like Solomon Thomas was already pretty high on the 49ers draft board. They might have decided they might have landed Reuben Foster, but were unsure given that they would want Solomon Thomas or Myles Garrett at No. 2. Smith was kind of an expensive insurance option in some ways. Most think he was overpaid, but the team has a ton of cap space, and does have to work toward the minimum cash spending requirement (over four years). That doesn’t make it an ideal signing, but the context of the 49ers this offseason makes it a little more reason.
The 49ers knew they needed to overhaul their offense, but with a focus on defensive impact players in the draft, they were left to free agency. Juszczyk is the name that catches people’s attention given the money spent, but I continue to think people are fundamentally misunderstanding the signing. Aside from the fact that Juszczyk is arguably the best fullback in the league, the 49ers are all but certain to use him in a variety of ways that provides more value than just as a run-blocking fullback. It seems like a lot of people can’t grasp that.
The 49ers signed a host of wide receivers to go along with an entirely new quarterback depth chart. It seems like they are mostly short-term options to get the team moving in the right direction before they invest younger long-term talent through the draft. The team has new starters in Brian Hoyer, Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Kyle Juszczyk, with a likelihood of Jeremy Zuttah taking over at center, and other possible changes along the offensive line. From all these players, by the time the 49ers (hopfully) return to the playoffs, I would be surprised if most of these guys were still in the starting lineup. Some could be, and some will definitely still be on the roster, but it’s simply the early stages of a broader rebuilding project.
And so, time to consider our own grades. How would you grade the 49ers offseason, factoring in the front office and coaching staff hirings, the free agency moves, trades, and the draft?
What grade would you give the 49ers offseason to date?
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