Free agency is not without risk. As you saw on Monday, teams were not shy about handing out big contracts. For teams like the 49ers, they were always going to have to pay for talent. When you have $66 million in cap space, you are going to take some risks. Let’s talk about some of the risks that were taken by giving Kwon Alexander a hefty deal.
Betting on character
Bucs TE Cameron Brate to the Tampa Bay Times on Kwon Alexander the day of his knee injury: "For us as a team, losing someone like Kwon hurts. He's kind of the heart and soul of our team. Just the kind of passion he brings every day. You know, we're going to miss that a lot.''— Chris Biderman (@ChrisBiderman) March 11, 2019
Kyle Shanahan has made it very clear he does not mind overpaying for character. He’s said this on a couple of occasions over the years. When you read up on Alexander, you see plenty of people connected to the Bucs, whether players or coaches, say that the speedy linebacker was a leader of that Tampa Bay defense. This past offseason, Alexander himself said “I’m going to be a leader of this team. If I have to get on someone’s butt, I will.”
Trying not to read too much into this, but it’s clear that the team is going to go in the direction of guys that just get it. Veterans that are accountable and hold teammates to a higher standard. Chemistry means so much in football. Alexander appears to be a reliable leader. That could go a long way in developing some of the younger players and how they approach the game.
We don’t know how this will play out, and that’s okay
As of writing this, we don’t know what the contract details for Alexander are just yet. If history is any indicator, that $27 million guaranteed will not be entirely fully guaranteed, and will feature the 49ers usual assortment of rolling guarantees. If Alexander doesn’t perform, San Francisco will more than likely be able to get out of the deal in two years.
The amount of unknown factors related to this signing should give us pause on tearing the Alexander deal apart. For me, there’s pause on how to project it. Just because this can turn out with a number of different outcomes. Here are the two most plausible:
- The 227 pound linebacker will tease us with his talents, but ultimately get nicked up and have to miss part of the season.
- Alexander stays healthy, plays over 1,000 snaps, and makes more plays than each “Will” linebacker in 2018 did combined. That allows us to forgive a missed tackle here and there.
Alexander is coming off an ACL injury. That has to make you cringe based on the past. Knowing there have been a couple other instances during Alexander’s career that have cut his season short can’t help, either. Every player recovers differently. A month ago Alexander posted a video on Instagram of him running with assistance. Again, there’s just know way for us to know how this turns out. Not today, anyway. John Lynch is gambling on the positives.
Paying for what’s valuable
The 49ers were always going to make a linebacker one of the highest paid players at their position. The real question is would they value what wins in the NFL. C.J. Mosley agreed to terms on a five-year, $85 million contract Monday evening with the New York Jets. Mosley is a superior tackler. He also has been able to play through injuries, though he is a guy that lives on the injury report. Durability is important. I don’t have to tell you that.
Knowing that Lynch is betting on Alexander to stay healthy, it’s clear they value the player that is two years younger but also has four years of NFL experience. Anybody who has seen the Ravens play knows that Mosley struggles to cover. In today’s NFL, that’s not the type of player you take a risk on. In a division with Russell Wilson
and Kyler Murray, you better have some second level defenders that can fly around and make plays. If it came down to these two, Lynch was wise to pay for coverage and athleticism rather than the better tackler and run stuffer. Keeping Fred Warner at his position and having two plus athletes at linebacker is a bigger deal than what we are discussing, too.
Three years from now the cap will be much different. It’s silly to compare this to the deal Malcolm Smith received. Alexander has proven to be a much better player. He has actual NFL tape that shows, when he’s at his best, Alexander can be a very good player.
The team said that they’re going to be aggressive. We wanted them to be aggressive. The odds they were going to make Mosley, or Anthony Barr for example, the highest paid linebacker were strong. Lynch is taking a risk and betting on a guy that will help you on the downs that matter: The passing downs and plays where your linebacker has to be able to not only make plays in space but make up some ground. Alexander does just that. Time will tell, but if the team was going to take a risk on a linebacker in free agency, for what they needed, Alexander is the guy.