Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports


ESPN ranks 49ers as the 4th-most improved team in free agency

Mar 14, 2017 at 1:12 PM--


John Clayton of ESPN had good things to say about the San Francisco 49ers' approach to free agency so far. Earlier on Tuesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media had a similar opinion of the team's moves. The 49ers aren't making big, flashy signings, but they are slowly adding skill and depth to a team that previously had very little. The idea behind the 49ers' approach to free agency seems to be sustained long-term growth rather than costly moves that may make an immediate impact but hurt the team financially down the road.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have time – years, in fact. They can take a slower, methodical approach to the much-needed rebuild because they each have six-year contracts and all signs from ownership seem to indicate that they will be given the time needed to properly rebuild the roster.

In Clayton's ESPN article, he ranked the most improved teams after the first surge of NFL free agency. The 49ers came in fourth, behind just the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Detroit Lions, and the Tennessee Titans. What contributed to that ranking by Clayton? He liked that the 49ers weren't among the teams that went on a spending spree in the opening days of free agency. While they did not sign top-tier names that would have made big headlines, they did make good use of their money by signing much-needed depth.

Clayton feels that Brian Hoyer and Matt Barley can hold down the quarterback position for a year until the team can address the spot in 2018 – whether that be with Kirk Cousins or someone from what is believed to be a better quarterback draft class.

RELATED 2017 49ers Free Agency Tracker

"You could argue about the value of giving Garçon $17 million guaranteed, but he's much better than any receiver they put on the field last season, and he has experience with Shanahan from their time with the Redskins," Clayton wrote.

As mentioned, Rapoport had a similar opinion. "There's been some draft picks that have been good but mostly they have not drafted well," the NFL Network and NFL.com reporter said on KNBR Tuesday. "So the only way to make up for that is to go build a middle class in free agency and that's what you did. I mean, I don't know if Pierre Garçon is going to set anyone's world on fire, but to me, that was a really smart signing. He's a good receiver. He can help teach the system. Marquise Goodwin can be a really good player. Juszczyk is going to be a really good player."

The 49ers still have the most amount of cap space in the league with about $80 million (per the NFLPA) but don't look for them to go on another spending spree. They obviously want to sign players who fit what Shanahan wants to accomplish. Signing players like Garçon, Hoyer, and others who are familiar with Shanahan's system and can teach it to their new teammates is huge. To some, a signing like Kyle Juszczyk may seem like they overspent, but Shanahan will likely use him differently than he was used in Baltimore. His role should be bigger. Besides, they paid what the market set for the fullback. In fact, Juszczyk turned down more money to join Shanahan and the 49ers.

Since the official start of free agency on Thursday, most of those acquired were signed to one- or two-year contracts. Those players may simply be placeholders until replacements can be found via the draft. Since Thursday, three players were signed to lengthier contracts. They are Garçon (5 years), Juszczyk (4 years), and Malcolm Smith (5 years). With lots of cap space and six years of time ahead of them, the 49ers can build a team that can have long-term success and not just a brief turnaround.



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