With minicamps just around the corner, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the 49ers' offseason activity. For the first time since perhaps the Walsh era, the 49ers front office and coaching staff are in tune with not only one another, but with what this club needs to get to the big game.
The 49ers' re-signings and acquisitions during free agency and the draft only reinforce this notion. The first order of business for Baalke and company was making sure that the 49ers locked up all starters from the 2011 roster--a near impossible task for a roster teeming with pro bowlers and players enjoying breakout seasons. It was widely expected that the 49ers would have to part ways with at least one, if not two, key players from 2011. Well, minus the loss of Adam Snyder (who as of right now seems expendable) San Francisco accomplished that feat and then some. Inking deals with both Ahmad Brooks and Carlos Rogers, while franchising Dashon Goldson, were the most notable and commendable of the re-signings. Moves like these told me two things:
1. Trent Baalke, Paraag Marathe, Harbaugh and the rest of the front office are operating like a well-oiled machine. These guys know exactly what they want and the best way to go about getting it.
2. Players are back to enjoying being a part of the organization. Rogers could have likely scored a better deal elsewhere, but he wanted to come back and play for this team and its coaches. That's a huge accomplishment and a mighty turnaround from where this team was just a year ago.
To top it off, the 49ers were able to bring back inside linebacker Larry Grant. This was really more a matter of luck considering Grant only had a 7th round tender placed on him but nevertheless, I love that he'll be back on this team. Grant is a very gifted player and if it wasn't for NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, he would be a starter for this team and a damn good one at that. Having him as an insurance policy is a boon for this team.
Now on to the players the 49ers brought in from elsewhere. Let's start with Randy Moss. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of this move. As time went on, I began to really, really like this addition. This is the Braylon Edwards Experiment 2.0. The 49ers sign a low/no-risk deal for a player that has huge potential upside. Moss is a lock for Canton and gives the 49ers two things they have sorely lacked at the WR position for a long time--height and speed. Some question whether Moss is washed up or if his heart is in the game but if that was the case, I don't think the 49ers would have offered a contract so quickly after working him out. The timing of that offer told me that Moss showed them all they needed to know in that brief workout with Harbaugh. Moss shouldn't be judged by his 2010 campaign, as it was obvious it was a lack of care and not a case of diminished skills. Could that happen again in 2012? Sure it's possible, but if he wasn't hungry for the game he wouldn't have come out of retirement nor would the team have signed him. Moss provides the 49ers with a big redzone target and will open things up for others with his ability to stretch the field/command double teams. In addition to that, he's very gifted at locating the ball in the air, readjusting, and attacking it up high--something the 2011 WR's never seemed to be able to do. I fully expect Moss to be the #1 wide receiver this year and truly think he can return to form.
The Niners continued to bolster the receiving corps, inking a deal with Super Bowl champion (stings to write that) WR Mario Manningham. Manningham is not a #1 receiver, but he's a solid #3 and could develop into a good #2 if he can work on his hands and consistency. He's another speedy receiver and has the ability to make big plays, as evidenced by his tight-rope catch down the sidelines in the big game.
Lastly, the 49ers brought in running back Brandon Jacobs from New York, former Denver cornerback Perrish Cox and Tampa Bay backup QB Josh Johnson. Personally, I hate the Brandon Jacobs signing. Being a resident of New Jersey and having several friends that are big Giants fans, I watch the team constantly. Jacobs has not had a good season since 2008, and there's a reason he's nicknamed "the tip-toe burglar." Anyone of you reading this article could probably bring down Jacobs in the backfield. He can't shed tacklers and doesn't use his power like he used to, dancing around far too much. Adding insult to injury, he's obnoxious, 30 years old, and loves to talk trash to other teams through the media. So what does he bring to the table? I say nothing. I don't think that he makes it out of camp with the crowded stable of running backs the 49ers currently have.
Cox is a nice pickup, so long as he can square away his off-field transgressions and put them behind him. He also has value in the return game, something the 49ers can certainly use after last year's championship game debacle.
As for Johnson, he adds depth and competition to the quarterback position. Many felt this move was coming last year. Johnson's familiarity with Harbaugh and the system will serve him well. This move also lights a fire under 2nd-year QB Colin Kaepernick. It will be exciting to watch those two battle it out for the #2 spot at the position.
For the sake of not making this article a novel, I'll briefly share my thoughts on the draft. Some analysts and fans say that Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins was a reach at the 30th pick, but after the way Aldon Smith turned out (despite backlash at the time he was drafted) critics don't have much of a leg to stand on. Jenkins becomes the 3rd new receiver joining the 49ers this season and like Moss and Manningham, he gives the team speed on the outside.
Speaking of speed, the 49ers picked up a potential home run threat in the backfield with Oregon running back LaMichael James. He doesn't have the size or durability to carry much of the load at the position, but with Gore and Kendall Hunter, he doesn't need to. Drawing comparisons to Darren Sproles, James has the chance to be a match-up nightmare for opposing teams, especially in split-back sets. The 49ers wheeled and dealed throughout the draft and ended up garnering a whopping 13 picks in the 2013 draft, while still getting everything they needed out of 2012. The fourth round pick of Wake Forest guard Joe Looney stands out as a gem amongst the late round picks. With the coaching staff's ability to rapidly develop rookie talent (see Miller, Bruce), he could very well compete with Kilgore and Boone for the starting right guard position.
In summation, this San Francisco 49ers team is back to being a joy to watch operate both on and off the field. Keeping last year's roster intact already sets the 49ers up for success in 2012. The speed and talent they've acquired on the offensive side of the ball is what will hopefully put this team over the top. Until recently, it seemed as if the 49ers did everything in their power to not address their multiple, glaring needs. With the shrewd synergy of Baalke and Harbaugh, the Niners are conjuring up front-office magic reminiscent of the Walsh era. Hopefully, it all adds up to a sixth Lombardi trophy.
: I regretfully forgot about another huge re-signing, that of Mr. Ted Ginn Jr. This might be the most underrated (and evidently overlooked, on my part at least) move the 49ers made this season. Despite testing the open market, Ginn comes back to the Bay Area at a price the 49ers wanted to pay. The field position and security he provides in the return game cannot be understated. Think of how many fewer TD's and FG's the 49ers score without Ginn handling punts and kickoffs. Heck, San Francisco doesn't even win the home opener without his two touchdowns (which eventually would have meant not getting that first round bye in the playoffs). We all know that he has minimal to zero impact as a receiver, especially now that the 49ers have all those new receivers. But his value in the return game is worth its weight and gold.
Date: July 6, 2012 at 6:43 PM
Comment: last year the new york giants didnt win the nfc championship game... the niners lost that game by letting williams play... cant wait till the start of this season niners will be in the supper bowl
Date: July 4, 2012 at 3:31 PM
Comment: kudos on your article, well written and well read.
enough of spitblood.....please.
Date: June 10, 2012 at 3:35 PM
Comment: I just hope the fact that the 49ers lost Snyder; the one person who when implanted into the guard position brought a dominating sense to our line, does not come back to bite them in the butt. Like last years NFC championship overtime, where the 9ers went to there passing to lead them to victory rather than relying on the running game to propel them to victory. Nevertheless GO 9ers....
PS shoulda said NO to Jacobs & Manningham and gave Snyder more $$ to stay.
Date: May 25, 2012 at 1:40 PM
Comment: We have every reason to believe that the offense will be better. First, most of the starters are coming back. Second, the staff has a fully off-season and preseason. Much of the offense last year hadn't even been installed. Third, off course, there are the "new weapons." Fourth, Smith, who requires a high level of understanding an offense before he can play his best, will have a second year with the same coordinator running the same system. Finally, there will be greater competition at the quarterback position. As it should be, none of our quarterbacks came here looking to sit on the bench.
Having said that, we can't ignore the fact that the rest of the league, especially our division, has improved. While I would take a bet that the niners win the division -- even money. But we would be foolish to offer an even money bet that they will represent the Conference in the Superbowl. But certainly, they will be one of those few teams that the prognosticators will be picking to go far into the playoffs. Maybe we should all take a look back and consider what our expectations were this time one year ago.
Date: May 20, 2012 at 1:11 PM
Comment: Steve -
To build off your comment to Ladale. One simple question: Why can't you see it happening this year? It's not like Smith had much time with Harbaugh last off season, and look at his success. Why can't you see it happening this year? I'd like to hear an argument there I agree with...
Date: May 13, 2012 at 7:39 PM
Comment: In a huge niners fan and seen the good the bad and the ugly.. I've also watched the draft when Alex smith was the number one pick.. Never been a fan but you got to give him credit especially last season or not game manager or not it's still production...I'm glad they resigned him.. And I hate to say but the guy is going to have a break out season.. It's his time to shine...everyone will be suprised look at the Offensive squad plus he's working on himself... Watch and see Niners are the next team on the rise for years to come
Date: May 13, 2012 at 2:06 AM
Comment: Yes, they had to address their deficiencies because their opponents next season will be addressing those same things inorder to beat them?! Make sense then let's see who is right - the 9ers brass or their opponents!!
Date: May 10, 2012 at 6:53 AM
Comment: I think its OK to feel/state the 9ers are a Q.B. away from being a dominant franchise offensively as well as defensively. Harbaugh has insinuated as much by his courting of Hasselbeck, Manning, and acquisition of Johnson. Its clear he's not boxing himself in the shoulders of his current starter. Reality speaks for itself. That said, yes Alex Smith showed personal improvement but it remains to be seen if he can make those around him better. I certainly don't believe the game is rocket science and that things would have to be simplified when you everyone has had time to learn the offense. Talent outweighs comfort. Now with all the upgrade in offense talent with Moss, James, Jenkins, Manningham, etc., if Kapernick, Jonhnson, nor Tolzien can show themselves a quality talent, then your right it is what it is.
Date: May 8, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Comment: You know what I find interesting? Alex has shown that he has the ability to thread the needle when he has to. That game against the Saints was simply amazing. Yet in the Giants game he was constantly throwing at reciever's feet or several feet above their heads. It seems like he plays at his best when trailing. Because when they are slightly ahead, he plays not to lose. It drives me nuts. Granted, I realize it is the coach's decision to play conservatively, but that doesn't explain the poorly thrown balls. I'd love to see him through to recievers in stride, instead of them always having to stop and reach behind them to catch the ball. It looks like he is working hard to improve his mechanics and accuracy. I'm hoping with his new weapons, that he can truly shine. We will soon find out.
By: Michael Sawyer
Date: May 8, 2012 at 8:08 PM
Interesting article. As a 49ers fan since 1981, the success of the team goes to leadership and that has to come from the quarterback. Yes, Alex Smith did do well in 2011 but can he continue it in 2012. The 49ers were terrible in the red zone settling for field goals and keeping the game to close for comfort. How is this problem going to be solved for 2012? The 49ers did extremely well in maintaining their team together. Your thoughts on what position players you think the 49ers will draft in 2013?
Date: May 8, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Comment: Yeah, well, I don't want to dominate your blog (like I'm doing), but I believe that one play that stands out in so many 49er fan minds (the one you referred to in the Giants game that resulted in a huge INT at the end of the first half) is just that - one play. 49er fans don't seem to be too forgiving about one play. I think Ginn could be great. I think part of the reason he didn't get more attention in free agency was because Ginn's not exactly durable. But his out pattern is like stealing candy from a baby, and who knows what he could do with a qb?
Regarding JJ and Kaep being ready to start this year, we'll just have to agree to disagree. The season, still, in my mind, comes down to the qb extending plays. If we find or create that, we're a force to be feared.
Date: May 7, 2012 at 8:59 PM
Comment: Ted Ginn could be the most underrated 49er. That guy is a better receiver than people think. Chad Henne in Miami, Troy Smith at Ohio State, and Alex Smith in SF. Get that guy a qb and he could be trouble. I'm surprised he didn't draw more attention on the open market.
I think Smith sympathizers hope Alex is the best prepared mentally for the 2012 season, but I don't think it takes much for qbs to be ready in Harbaugh's offense. Smith followers want to bash JJ and Kaep, saying Kaep isn't ready but they fail to realize Smith picked up Harbaugh's offense in a few weeks not because Smith is a geneous, but because Harbaugh's offense is easy. AND Harbaugh coaches his qbs well in the game. So you put Kaep or JJ out there with Harbaugh in their ear, they'll be ready. This is why I'm certain there will be a qb contraversy in SF this year. Harbaugh can the most outta any qb. It doesn't have to be Smith.
Date: May 7, 2012 at 12:58 PM
I think you touched on something really important. I think Harbaugh wants to put teams away early, and with this team, he should be able to do that. If a team turns the ball over five times in the first half, sometimes inside their own twenty, they shouldn't be around in the 4th quarter, I don't care who their qb is. I'm not blaming Smith. But Harbaugh wants to dominate. He wants to put teams away early, and step on their necks. That's who the guy is. I honestly believe Harbaugh can do that in 2012 with JJ or Kaep better than he can with Smith. Kaep and JJ are better suited to destroy and demoralize defenses, and that's what Harbaugh wants. I'm freakin' positive of that.
Date: May 7, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Comment: Steve - I disagree, respectfully, with your assessment. Alex Smith improved under Harbaugh as a game manager by not turning the ball over while also knowing when to call run or pass at the line. The improvements on offense came because Harbaugh and his coaching staff assessed what Smith was able to do, and created good opportunities that matched what Smith was capable of doing. The league will catch-up to how Harbaugh uses Smith, and they will defense Smith accordingly in 2012, taking away wheel routes and passes underneath. For the 49ers to win in 2012, the qb needs to extend plays and beat defenses over the top, not underneath. Both JJ and Kaep are more athletic, so I foresee a qb controversy in SF in 2012. Personally, I don't care who extends plays and throws over the top of defenses for touchdowns. If that's Smith, great. But I doubt he can do it. He never has, and at some point in seven years, a qb should display that ability regardless who the coach is. The end result to our debate is ...... We'll have to wait and see.
Date: May 7, 2012 at 9:47 AM
I think it's on-target to say the Niner front office is operating so well...they've taken a lot of hits in recent years, but Baalke's now being recognized as a top-flight GM. His relationship w/Harbaugh is reminiscent of the glory days...even though it was pre-salary cap, the BL is they go out and get players they need to up the ante. It's kind of funny, my son and I were watching the draft and were sure they'd take Fleener. At the moment the pick was announced, we lost our satellite connection and frantically got on our cell phones to find out who it was. When I saw A.J. Jenkins I was shocked...but, the more I read about him, the more enthused I've become. Given Moss doesn't have many years left, getting his potential replacement now goes back to what Walsh told Harbaugh in his final months. Don't wait to draft your replacement players...do it early and you'll avoid dips in performance. Critics of Alex often fail to realize he's not had the luxury of a crack receiving corps and has had an inconsistent OL. He should have all the support now to take his game to the next level. It should be a lot of fun to see the offense step up.
Date: May 7, 2012 at 9:43 AM
Comment: I just don't think, after 7 years in the league, that you are going to see improvement in Smith's game. He is who he is. I don't buy the consistency improvement argument. He is who he is. Alex Smith is horrible at throwing the ball deep. Go back and watch all the games last year. He's bad at throwing on the run, and he's terrible at getting rid of the ball before he gets sacked. I think our offensive line is one of the best in football (even with Snyder leaving), but the qb takes too many sacks. Eli Manning avoids two or three sacks per game just throwing the ball away with a flick of his wrist. But Smith's delivery is terribly slow, so throwing the ball away takes him forever. Smith could and should have avoided a sack or two in each game last year. So, Smith needs to extend plays, get rid of the ball, throw on the run, throw receivers open, score touchdowns over the top of the defense - all things he hasn't been able to do in 7 seasons in the NFL. Why is he going to magically do that in his 8th year? I think Kaep or JJ will be the starter in SF in 2012. I think Smith loses his starting job at some point. Hell, Smith lost his job to Troy Smith. Pa-thetic.
By: Reg Brown
Date: May 7, 2012 at 7:06 AM
Comment: Thanks for the positive side of the offseason. The writer who wrote the last article on the draft picks for rounds 1 through 4 only looked at the negative. I am a half full kind of person.
Date: May 6, 2012 at 7:01 PM
Comment: Steve - Harbaalke have taken out a lot of the variables to success. The team is deep now, so injuries won't be as detrimental if they occur. Harbaalke has also added offensive weapons. The coaching staff is one of the best in the league, now with consistency. What's that leave? It leaves offensive production. In my mind, even if the team has injuries or the turnover ratio isn't as favorable, we still make the playoffs. We all know about our red zone and 3rd down troubles. Smith is the starter, but my "whomever that may be" wasn't a "passive jab." It was my way of implying there will be a qb controversy in SF in 2012 without getting bogged down in a Smith argument. Whomever the 49er qb, he'll have to extend plays and throw touchdowns over the top of the defense. This is why Moss was brought in. It's not to run out patterns, I assure you. Can Smith throw TDs over the top? We'll see. But a tiger doesn't change his stripes - regardless if the media wants to claim he will....
Date: May 6, 2012 at 2:58 PM
Comment: Don't forget resigning Spiller and signing Cartright. We had the best special teams in the league last year and we have the personnel to repeat that role. And we retained our Coaching Staff!!! Great off-season.
Date: May 6, 2012 at 2:51 PM
Comment: The 49ers' 2012 season boils down to one thing, and one thing only - the qb (whomever it is), extending plays. That's it. Nothing more. Baalke and Harbaugh have done an excellent job creating depth that prevents losses due to injury. They have brought in new offensive weapons - 5 in Moss, Manningham.... blah, blah - you know the rest. The turnover differential will fall back to earth. The key is the qb extending plays and throwing over the top of defenses (not underneath) for touchdowns. That's it. Extend plays, we have a shot at a Super Bowl. Don't, and go home early.
Date: May 6, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Comment: Excellent article.
I've been a Niner fan since 1976 and you were very accurate in that we are now fun to watch in the off seasn. Baalke/JH have been stellar. And there still may be another pick-up or 2 whenteams cut their rosters down.
Date: May 6, 2012 at 10:21 AM
Comment: Ive been a niner fan forever and I can not wait for the season to start. We have to be favorites to when the NFC.. who else has are defense and look how electrifying we got on offense. Who has it better than us?? NO F-ing Body!!!
Date: May 6, 2012 at 6:57 AM
Comment: Great right up. I agree it is some much fun to watch this team all the time. You never know what kind of moves they are gonna make to improve the team. Can't wait to see this team on the field
By: Rocky Gilbert
Date: May 5, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Comment: All I can say that I have always been a ninner fan.But it is real good to be a ninner fan right now.Who got it better than us.Nobody!!!!!!!!!!!!