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Everyone anticipated something from 4949 Centennial Drive during free agency, but no one knew exactly what was in store. Nolan, in his time in San Francisco, has chosen to play his cards close, not letting others see exactly what his hand may be. One thing was painfully obvious though. The 49ers needed to upgrade the wide receiver position like Lindsey Lohan needs a Big Mac.
Looking at the two most recent moves, their trade of Brandon Lloyd and their signing of Antonio Bryant, it looks like the receiver position is on the right track. Let's face it - Lloyd was not the future of the franchise. Yes, he can be a human highlight reel at times. Yes, he got markedly better under Jerry Sullivan (which only reinforces the importance of a good coaching staff). Yes, he probably would have developed into a good compliment to a number one receiver. He was not, however, going to stay beyond next year. Already asking for too much money another year of improvement would have inflated his (already inflated) asking price. After the '06 season he was going to be gone faster than the beer from the "magic fridge." (All hail the MAGIC FRIDGE!)
The 49ers went from most likely getting nothing for Lloyd to getting two draft picks (a 3rd this year and a 4th next year) from the Washington Redskins. With an extra third round pick the 49ers can target another rookie wide out, or another linebacker to fill out their rapidly depleting linebacker corps. Basically it allows the team to get better by bringing in two players instead of losing one after next season. Not only that, but I am sure the locker room has to be a little less tense now that one of the biggest egos on the team is gone.
That left a void at receiver that the team quickly filled by signing Antonio Bryant, Cleveland's number one receiver. Bryant is probably best known for his time in Dallas where he went from a promising rookie to throwing a practice jersey at Bill Parcells. "It was a reaction," Bryant said in a February interview, "[Parcells] tossed the jersey at me. I could have reacted better than I did. I reacted. I picked that jersey up, I was already on fire. I tossed it right back at him." From what I hear about Parcells, Bryant did what everybody wished they could do at one point or another. Nevertheless, Bryant shows some maturity when talking about what happened. "I'm not concerned about going off on people. I've been through too much. I know what's down that street, and I'm not going back down it. I always tell people I can never bad mouth him. I learned so much from being around him. It helped me to be more of a man and to have more character." A far cry from T.O.'s "next question" mentality.
For those of you who are not swayed by the "he's a reformed hot head" act, let me move you towards more quantitative benefits. Only 10 players had more receiving yards than Bryant last season. Not one of them has the last name Givens, Randle El, Jurevicius or Lloyd. And it's not as if he did it with Marvin Harrison on the other side of the field. Bryant had Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye throwing him the ball. Combined, their quarterback rating last season was 74.6. This, of course, was on a team that ranked 26th overall in yards per game (at only 60 more yards per game than the 49ers) and 23rd overall in passing yards per game. In other words, Bryant proved he could play on a team that wasn't very good. Exactly what the 49ers need.
And to top it off his contract is reportedly for 15 million, including bonus over 5 million dollars. He is a 15 million dollar, thousand-yard receiver. Compare this with the 11.5 million in guaranteed money the Redskins gave Randle El after amassing a whopping 558 yards last season. Givens, the other wide receiver that was on the 49ers' radar, was asking for a 25 million dollar, 5-year contract. Not only did the 49ers get as close to a proven commodity as there is, they did so without breaking the bank. This still leaves plenty of money under the cap to sign Chris Hope, an upgrade at the free safety position, bolster the bottom of the roster with cheaper vets, and sign the 10 or so rookies the 49ers will have after the draft.
The 49ers upgraded the receiver position, removed a potential locker room problem, acquired two more draft picks, and they didn't even break the bank. As long as Nolan can keep his jersey throwing fetish to minimum the 49ers will have a better group of receivers in the 2006 season.