We haven’t really talked about the free agency group as a whole. The San Francisco 49ers were busy last week. Much busier than other teams. They burned through more cap space than many teams around the league had to begin free agency with. That’s what we wanted, though. For the team to be aggressive.
With every signing there is a direct impact on either a player that is already on the roster, or maybe how you will approach the draft. Sometimes it’s as extreme as cutting a player. Other times you are simply bringing in a player to compete. Looking at the Niners roster after the first week of free agency, here are four winners and losers from the team. Two on each side of the ball.
My biggest takeaway from the secondary signings last week is that the team does not want Williams on the field. He struggled in 2018. There’s no real reason to cut Williams as he cost next to nothing and does provide quality depth. Judging by his 2018 film, there’s reason to feel like you should move on from Williams. He had a success rate of 47%, which ranks him 122nd in the NFL for 2018. He also ranked 182nd out of 212 CBs in average yards after the catch allowed. The one thing you must excel at to play in the slot is tackle. Limit those extra yards. Williams didn’t do that, and that’s likely while he’ll loose out on playing time once training camp hits.
Williams has shown flashes throughout his career of being a good corner. Perhaps these signings motivate him and he’s able to bounce back. Another key reason to keep him on the roster.
Even with signing Jordan Matthews, and trying to make a deal for OBJ, Pettis is the winner. What a rookie season. One touchdown for every 9 targets is an insane rate. To be able to put up over 500 yards as a rookie while missing four games speaks volumes. At worst heading into the regular season, Pettis will be WR2 for the Niners. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie. Considering players take the largest leap from year one to year two, I could see why the team is confident in Pettis. He showed some next level route running as a rookie.
We know McKinnon is fast. We know that he is an excellent fit for Kyle Shanahan. Whether it be catching the ball out of the backfield, pass protection, or running in Shanahan’s predominantly zone scheme. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to see that happen in a Niners uniform. After a calf injury during preseason of 2018, following an ACL injury before the season kicked off, it’s a lot of unknown for the team. Yes, I know they carried four running backs that were active last year. I’m just not sure how adding/keeping a running back is good news for McKinnon.
You can tell Shanahan thinks highly of Ward by the way he speaks about him. Ward is actually the ideal fit for a free safety in this defense. He has a physical presence about him that comes off as an enforcer. He is also a sure tackler. Ward had the lowest broken tackle rate on the team, per Football Outsiders, at 5.3% in 2018. You want your free safety to be just that as he’s your last line of defense.
Ward’s issue is he just doesn’t make plays. Over the last two years he’s had one combined interception and pass-breakup. You’d think a pass would bounce off of a hand at least once and land in his lap. Nope. Nothing. Then you get to the whole availability issue and Ward is a winner in free agency for the 49ers on defense. He gets his final ninth life.