Free Agency and the San Francisco 49ers
On Wednesday, March 14, NFL free agency officially began, or at least that is how it was supposed to happen. The truth is, by the time the clock struck 12 and March 14 began, hardly any marquee free agents were left without teams. Most marquee players had chosen their desired locations, and were just waiting to make it official. The 49ers were particularly active in recruiting these players, and landed three players who have the potential to make a huge impact.
John Lynch has impressed since taking over the 49ers as general manager. He had an incredible first draft, made a trade for the heir-apparent to Tom Brady, and then signed three players before free agency even began. He signed Richard Sherman, Weston Richburg, and Jerick McKinnon, all three of which have the potential to shine in San Francisco.
The first move the Niners made was signing Richard Sherman. He was released by the Seahawks on Friday morning, and was seen dining with Kyle Shanahan in Los Gatos that evening. The next day, he was a 49er, on a very team-friendly contract. This move is a huge one for the 49ers. Richard Sherman has been the best cornerback in the NFl since he entered the league in 2011. In his seven-year career, he has only missed seven games, playing in 105 games out of 112 games. In those 105 games, he has 32 interceptions. He has played in two Super Bowls, and won it in 2013 (SB XLVIII). He is a four-time Pro Bowler, and a three-time all-pro. He is a perfect fit with the 49ers, and will be an excellent veteran presence on the defensive side of the football. Peter King, from Sports Illustrated, wrote about all the inside details of the Sherman deal here.
The 49ers then signed Weston Richburg, an offensive lineman from the New York Giants. He signed a four-year deal, and the amount of money is currently unknown. Richburg has played center and guard during his four-year career, only spending his first year at guard. This signing is interesting for a couple reasons, one being that the 49ers just re-signed Daniel Kilgore to be their center, but he also has experience playing offensive guard. It will be interesting to see who will play where, but either way, this is a massive upgrade to an offensive line that desperately needed help. Richburg has only allowed 4 sacks in 2,100 blocking snaps throughout his career, according to Pro Football Focus, and he had to block for Eli Manning, who is significantly less mobile than Jimmy Garoppolo. Many experts think that Richburg is a perfect fit in Shanahan’s system because of how quick he is, and that is great, because as we saw at the end of last year, the most Shanahan opens the playbook, the better the team is.
The last move the team made was to sign Jerick McKinnon to a 4-year, $30 million deal. McKinnon is a 5’9” running back who was previously on the Minnesota Vikings. He is one of the most versatile players in the NFL, and again, a perfect fit in the Kyle Shanahan offense. Last year, while splitting time in the backfield with several other running backs, McKinnon compiled 570 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 150 carries. Like I mentioned before though, Jerick is one of the most versatile players in the league, he also had 51 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns. At the NFL combine in 2014, he was one of the best running backs in his class. His 40-yard dash clocked in at 4.38 and 4.35, he led all running backs with 32 bench press reps, and his 40.5-inch vertical jump was fifth among all the players at the combine. If I had to compare him to another player in the NFL today, I would compare him to Tevin Coleman of the Atlanta Hawks. Coleman is another very versatile receiver, who thrived when Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator. Coleman was not his team’s best running back, as they still had Devonta Freeman, but Shanahan likes to have several guys that he can run out of the backfield at any time, and now he has that. McKinnon will fit in well alongside Matt Breida, and if Joe Williams emerges this year, then the backfield will become even more deadly. The threat out of the backfield is very important in Shanahan's offense, because as we saw last year, some of his most effective plays are out of play-action. This means that in order for the passing attack to be most effective, they need to have a solid all-around running game, which they now have.
I really think that all three of these moves are perfect for the 49ers, and they still have a lot that they could do in the offseason to make their team even better. It is clear that John Lynch and Kyla Shanahan believe that their championship window is just opening, and they are making moves to give their team a better chance to break that window off of its’ hinges and jump headfirst into contention. Now, I am not crazy enough to think that these moves are going to make the 49ers win Super Bowl LIII, but they are certainly solid moves that make the team better.
On the other hand, I am crazy enough to say that while these three moves aren’t going to make the 49ers win Super Bowl LII, a full season of Jimmy Garoppolo is. John Lynch has done an excellent job at drumming up excitement for the upcoming season, and I cannot wait to see how the 49ers are able to compete with the Rams in the NFC West.