The 2009 free agency may seem like an uneventful offseason compared to the 2007 and 2008 free agency periods led by former head coach Mike Nolan. But upon further review, this is exactly the type of offseason the 49ers need to turn the franchise around. Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan are signing the right players for reasonable prices.
Before I dissect the 2009 offseason, let me take a step back and analyze our free agency moves under Mike Nolan in those previous years. In 2007, Nolan led the 49ers to sign Nate Clements, Michael Lewis, Aubrayo Franklin, and Tully Banta-Cain to transition into a primary 3-4 based defense. In addition, the 49ers acquired Darrell Jackson from the Seahawks for a 4th round draft pick to improve the WR unit. In that year alone, the 49ers spent roughly $20 million for those five players.
What was the outcome of those acquisitions? Banta-Cain and Jackson are no longer members of the organization. Franklin is entering the last year of his contract and will compete for the starting spot against Isaac Sopoaga – who has three years remaining on his contract. Clements and Lewis are good players, but eight interceptions in 2 seasons combined does not cut it – especially at their salaries. Given the amount of money spent, the 49ers should have achieved more than a dismal 5-11 overall record.
In 2008, the 49ers tried once again to buy talent instead of developing talent through the draft. Isaac Bruce, DeShaun Foster, Bryant Johnson, Justin Smith, J.T. O'Sullivan, and Barry Sims were the notable free agent additions to the 49ers. Mike Martz was also brought on to replace Jim Hostler as the offensive coordinator. In total, the 49ers spent about $15 million on those six players. Takeo Spikes was a late addition to the team.
What was the end result this time around? Isaac Bruce and Justin Smith were very impressive in the 2008 season – no doubt about that. Takeo Spikes also played at a near pro-bowl level next to Patrick Willis. But Foster is currently a UFA with little market interest. Bryant Johnson signed a contract with the 0-16 Lions. J.T. O'Sullivan is now backing up Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, and Barry Sims may be let go depending on the 49ers future personal decisions. Even with another expensive offseason, the 49ers managed to earn a 7-9 record that cost Nolan and Martz their jobs.
To recap: the 49ers spent $20 million on five players in 2007, and $15 million on six players in 2008. Out of the eleven players, only three are likely to play past the 2009 season with the 49ers: Clements, Lewis, and Smith. Bravo 49ers...brav-f'in-o.
Now fans have the audacity to complain that the 49ers are spending too little this offseason? Let us now dig deeper into the main signings for 2009:
Brandon Jones: Fair contract at above market value. The 49ers must have expected Bryant Johnson to walk, and they badly need a speed threat. Simple economics tells us that when supply is low and demand is high, you're going to pay a higher price for the good - specifically if you have a high preference for that good.
Demetric Evans: Excellent contract at market price. The 49ers needed this kind of lineman since Douglas left the team at the end of 2007-2008 year. Evans and Balmer provide depth and potential for the 3-4 base defensive line.
Damon Huard: Low risk, medium reward signing. This is exactly what the 49ers need in the #3 QB on our roster before the NFL draft.
Moran Norris: He thrived in Norv Turner's system in 2006. Jimmy Raye also uses the digit system.
If there's one noticeable characteristic under the new Singletary-McCoughan regime, it is that the 49ers are going through a youth movement. The young players are going to get the chance to show their talents on the football field. Jason Hill, Josh Morgan, Dashon Goldson, Chilo Rachal, and Parys Haralson are slated as starters for 2009. Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers 1st round draft pick in 2008, will also get a fair shot at the starting defensive end position opposite of Justin Smith.
The 49ers have learned from their past mistakes under Mike Nolan. So far in 2009, I don't see any Darrell Jackson or Tully Banta-Cain type signings. I only see bargain signings that resemble the 49ers acquisition of Walt Harris. Evans, Norris and Jones have all shown some level of production in their NFL careers, but they need the right situation with the proper scheme to get to the next level – just like Walt Harris.
Is this change we can believe in? I think so, but as the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me three times, pray for new ownership.
This article was written by guest writer Sumeet Arora.