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49ers free agency 2018: The good, the bad, and the ugly of day 1

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Three signings, a few interested parties. Let’s look at the big names the 49ers have added through free agency.

Welcome to free agency! This year its even more important because the 49ers possess a boatload of cap room and a chance now to make a playoff run. Last year, the 49ers made a number of signings, bringing players like Kyle Juszczyk to begin the transition to Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

This year the 49ers brought in three players on day one. A far cry from the amount of signings last year, but were these good signings? Let’s take a look.

C/G Weston Richburg

The Good: Offensive line upgrade
The Bad: Considered an average O-line upgrade
And the Ugly: That’s a major improvement

Anyone remember the days of Jordan Devey and Eric Pears? Man, that seems so long ago. The 49ers offensive line began its transformation in 2017 with names like Brandon Fusco helming protection and not offering much of it. Once Jimmy Garoppolo went under center, the sacks went down, largely thanks to his ability to get the ball out faster than a speeding bullet. Regardless of the decline in numbers, the 49ers knew they needed to get some protection and went to the east coast. Weston Richburg comes from the New York Giants, signing a 5-year contract. The contract certainly makes him a starting center, and for a detailed look, take a look at Jason Hurley’s write-up of the numbers. Here’s the general gist: the contract is worth $47.5 million with a $9.3 million signing bonus. The guarantees are all over the place and will simply inflate this post if written here. The money involved in roster bonuses and incentives clearly is making him starting-caliber.

The money isn’t so concerning as it is the depth. Center Daniel Kilgore. Kilgore started 13 games for the 49ers in 2017 and while not elite, developed good rapport with Jimmy Garoppolo. Pro Football Focus gave him a 51.0 overall grade, ranking him 23rd among 35 centers. Once Garoppolo started taking snaps, his ranking went to the top-10, not allowing a single hit/sack. The 49ers signed him to an extension before Richburg so it begs the question: what gives? The big problem though is the contract and Richburg’s ability. He’s not bad, but he’s not a be-all, end-all offensive line piece. If he can thrive in Shanahan’s system is also something yet to be determined. He is better than Kilgore, but the question is: by how much? And if it’s marginal is it worth the contract?

It’s still a solid addition, if a gamble. If you think the 49ers line is getting through 2018 without an injury, you’re crazy. Joshua Garnett’s future remains in question and the team may spend some picks on rookies to further develop. Plus, if Kilgore can’t play center, he can definitely play guard and if Richburg is center and goes down, Kilgore can shuffle right in and there is no worry about a new guy.

The same can be said for Richburg. There have been suggestions that he absolutely should not be a guard, but if he is and Kilgore is at center, the same theory and methodologies apply. Now if Kilgore does hit the sidelines to start the season, he’s solid depth and familiar with the offense. Basically the days of interior line troubles are about to come to an end, or at least have some of the bleeding stopped. The position makes sense, it’s just the personnel there and already signed that brings the grade down.

Grade: C+

UPDATE: It appears that the 49ers have traded Daniel Kilgore to the Miami Dolphins. This removes depth, but also the questions of where Richburg would be starting and what the 49ers line looks like. With the trade being so recent, I’m upgrading my grade now that this is fulfilling a position of need, and the difference in ability between Kilgore and Richburg is no longer a factor.

Grade: B+

RB Jerick McKinnon

The Good: 49ers got their pass-catching back they’ve been wanting
The Bad: A bit expensive for a back that only got 570 yards rushing in 2017
And the Ugly: Carlos Hyde went to the Cleveland Browns

The pass catching speedster from the Minnesota Vikings is coming to the Bay Area. Raise your hand if you saw this coming, especially to the tune of that contract he was given. While it was initially reported as a $36.9 million contract, it was later found to be inaccurate, there’s plenty of outs for the 49ers after 2018 if things aren’t working out.

McKinnon fixes one of the biggest errors with Carlos Hyde last year: drops. Hyde was at the front of the league as far as drop rates with other 49ers running back Matt Breida not far behind. Breida gets some latitude as a rookie, but Hyde simply cannot drop some of the passes, especially when some would be go-ahead touchdowns and also especially when your head coach’s offense is predicated on such plays.

McKinnon on the other hand made a career as a pass-catching running back with the Vikings. He shows decent awareness and can turn on the jets when needed to go through the tackles. He does come with some red flags, namely the fact he was sharing carries with Latavius Murray, carries that he began to be on the losing side of as the season progressed. He also failed to notch a single game of at least 100 yards rushing. Again, this is due to being behind Murray, and the fact he’s a pass-catching back, but he also only got 100 yards passing once all through 2017.

Still when he’s on, he’s on and McKinnon has looked speedy and darn good. He will no doubt be getting the lion’s share of carries when the season begins and we’ll get a better idea of how the hierarchy works out with Matt Breida and Joe Williams as the season progresses. This is one of those situations where his stats lie, but the tape doesn’t. Shanahan’s system depends on running backs catching the ball (lining up as wide receivers on occasion) and McKinnon will be shouldering the load of this offense. Fans have every right to be skeptical, but this guy might be special in this system.

Grade: B-

CB Richard Sherman

The Good: Richard Sherman is going to be in a 49ers uniform
The Bad: Richard Sherman is going to be in a 49ers uniform
And The Ugly: Richard Sherman is going to be in a 49ers uniform

Richard Sherman didn’t sign when free agency began, rather the weekend before once released by the Seattle Seahawks. Given the profile of the signing, we’ll add him to this year’s free agent class.

The signing is a gamble, Sherman is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. He knows just as much as he negotiated his own contract without agent representation and has signed an incentive-laden deal that forces him to play lights out to get everything. This works for everyone. Robert Saleh studied under Pete Carrol in Seattle, giving Sherman a familiar defense to work with. The idea of Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon in the backfield can be downright lethal if Sherman can show any signs of his former self.

This is all a big “if.” Achilles injuries are not papercuts and they have put players into retirement before. Sherman is rehabbing and the 49ers doctors are some of the best in the league, so we’ll have to wait and see if this injury claims another career.

Even if Sherman returns to form, the 49ers may decide to draft a corner in the mid-rounds this year to develop. Sherman is approaching 30 years of age and even if he returns to form, he won’t be dominant forever. The 49ers would be wise to to take advantage of this teacher mentoring Ahkello Witherspoon and an eventual star in the secondary for when Sherman is either released or calls it quits.

Grade: B+

Up Next:

No wide receiver signings yet, however the 49ers are interested in Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Washington wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. The former was released by the Packers to make room for Jimmy Graham and the latter finished a 1-year contract with Washington. Let’s see where this goes.

Until we get there. What do you think of the signings as a whole?