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This free agency period for the San Francisco 49ers under the official Mike Singletary regime has been more like stomach influenza then it has been like a refreshing gym workout. You have to scratch your head and wonder whether the 49ers under President Jed York are an enigma, or an organization building a new name for itself.
Addressing the needs of the team has to be the combined efforts of head coach Singletary, general manager Scot McCloughan and President Jed York. Sprinkle in a few whiffs of other executive personnel and an occasional interest of Dr. John York and you would imagine some rather sound judgments, wouldn't you?
Well from my perspective, the decisions I have seen are not settling well in the pit of my stomach as of late. I will first begin with those that I am excited about, and then those that are very questionable at best. As a die-hard 49er fan, I am lost at how the 49ers conceived spending the $25 million dollars they had available to them under this year's salary cap.
Locking up some of our own players that have performed at a high level is a sound investment, and I believe we did that with return specialist Allen Rossum, linebacker Takeo Spikes and fullback Moran Norris. Saying goodbye to wide receiver Bryant Johnson, who was productive for us, and signing a no-name four-year veteran wide receiver in Brandon Jones leaves me rather confused. Why spend $16.5 million dollars on a four-year Tennessee Titan wide receiver that has sustained so many injuries he has not had any kind of an opportunity to showcase his perceived talents as of yet? It is pure speculation to believe that he will finally stay healthy and produce the numbers he was drafted for back in 2005.
Say goodbye to rock solid experience and let's open the door to the unknown. With the anticipated retirement of veteran All-Pro Isaac Bruce and the departure of Bryant Johnson to the Detroit Lions, the 49ers receivers are still a compilation of athletes trying to prove something.
The recent signing of free agent defensive end Demetric Evans, formerly of the Washington Redskins, was one of the smartest moves I've seen as of late. This season is proof of a still stagnant pass rush dating back to the Mike Nolan administration circa 2005.
Evans (at 6-foot-4, 287-pounds) started 11 games for the Redskins last season at defensive end. He is stout against the run and is a contributor to applying heat on the quarterback. He had a career-high 3.5 sacks last year, and he is a seven-year NFL veteran that turns 30 in September. In essence, he wasn't signed to be a pass rush specialist so much as someone that can help collapse the pocket and provide pressure. The pass rush in our 3-4 schemes will come from our outside linebackers. Evans became a real necessity as we said goodbye to defensive lineman Ronald Fields, who signed on with a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos.
What also makes Evans a great signing is the fact that in this draft there is little to no depth of quality in regards to the defensive line. This alone was reason enough to find someone to compliment our line now. Evans will have to adjust to the new 3-4 scheme since he had been in a 4-3 with the Washington Redskins. The man he will challenge for playing time and the starting spot at left defensive end will be last-year's first round draft pick in Kentwan Balmer.
Now for the courtship of two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner as our next starting quarterback. In early March, the inability of Kurt Warner to come to a conclusion in contract negotiations with his Arizona Cardinals mustered him to consider other options. The 49ers flew in Kurt and his wife Brenda from the Phoenix area to San Jose, and drove them to the Santa Clara complex for some interesting negotiations. It was a thrilling affair that was lavished with a 22-foot stretch Range Rover and a dinner with 49er executives in San Jose. All of this because there was a $10 million dollar gap in between negotiations involving the Arizona Cardinals, in which he believed he was worth more. With Shaun Hill, an improvised quarterback in any given situation but still relatively unproven, and Alex Smith, a perceived bust with negotiations on a restructured contract going on, the 49ers felt that they were entitled to dream a little. Here was a Super Bowl proven quarterback who just last season threw for 4.583-yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and helped lead his Cardinals to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Interestingly enough, it was inside San Francisco 49er headquarters in a meeting with head coach Mike Singletary, who gave a passionate rendition of what his expectations are for the franchise, that inspired Warner to remember his own head coach back in Arizona and his visions for the team. Citing that God wanted him to remain an Arizona Cardinal and to get the job done, he told his agent to go ahead and get the deal done so he could remain an Arizona Cardinal.
The offer made to Kurt Warner by the San Francisco 49ers was believed to be around $30 million for two-years...a deal much sweeter than that of the Arizona Cardinals, who sealed a deal worth $23 million over two-years with $19 million guaranteed. In essence, Kurt Warner feels like this is his final NFL contract at 37-years old. Did we lose him because of failures within our own front office?
Evidence suggests that may be the case considering that Kurt's agent Rick Bartelstein told ESPN.com that San Francisco had made an offer "much higher" than what was on the table with Arizona, an offer his agent claimed would make Warner one of the league's five highest paid quarterbacks. Immediately following that report, General Manager Scot McCloughan fired off an e-mail to the San Francisco Chronicle that the 49ers had made no offer at all to Kurt Warner. Is this a clear failure on Jed York's and Scot McCloughan's part in securing the services of a God-given talent like Kurt Warner?
On the other hand, poor Shaun Hill is in the background wondering what he has to do to prove his stature as this team's starting quarterback. Hill is 7-3 the past two seasons with 10 starts. The 49ers are 5-17 in games Hill has not started during that time. The quarterback situation became even dicier with J.T. O'Sullivan leaving to Cincinnati and then we go and sign free-agent (and long-time back-up) quarterback Damon Huard, who will be 36 in July and is a 12-year veteran. Damon Huard spent the last five seasons as a Kansas City Chief, where he spent most of 2008 on the injured reserve list with a broken right thumb.
As the 49ers signed Damon Huard, the shame on the die-hard fans' faces was made apparent for losing the prospect of potential instant success with Kurt Warner. In reality, Huard became the scab of what was supposed to happen. In 12 NFL seasons Damon Huard was with Kansas City (2004-08), New England (2001-03) and Miami (1997-2000).
In his career, he has played in 64 games and started 27, throwing 33 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. As a Chief last season, he played in five games and completed 50 of 81 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns, with four interceptions. I don't expect him to be a real challenge to Shaun Hill other than battling for the second-tier position with Alex Smith.
At the same time I don't think Damon Huard is an upgrade over J.T. O'Sullivan. If anything they are one in the same. Usually when you are looking at acquiring a quarterback for some competition and/or depth, don't you latch on to someone that has proven ability and talent in a playoff setting?
This was not the case in signing Damon Huard. It was someone that has experience but that is all. Jeff Garcia was available and a proven commodity in Tampa Bay, yet we forfeited our chance to consider him? On top of that he had helped us make it to the playoffs under former head coach Steve Mariucci. The intent of this franchise was to sign someone they refuse to admit is a failure.
The drafting of University of Utah's Alex Smith with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft was a mistake on Scot McCloughan's watch and Mike Nolan's part. Aaron Rodgers, now a proven success in Green Bay, was available and considered within that same draft. He would've been a better fit. I will explain further in my next article.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.