Latest Free Agency Haul Shows Players Willing to Bet on Themselves to Join 49ers

Matthew Barr
Mar 19, 2019 at 12:00 PM


The San Francisco 49ers made waves in free agency with the addition of defensive end Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander. Ford was acquired via trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and Alexander made his own decision to join the 49ers after leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent. While their paths to Santa Clara may be different, they do have one thing in common: they bet on themselves in contract negotiations. Both players signed front-loaded contracts with very little guaranteed money long term. Signing players to team-friendly deals has been how the 49ers have operated for many years. How do they continue to get players gamble on their futures?

The most important aspect is clear. The 49ers bring in players who have something to prove in their careers. Bouncing back from injury, a down year or attempting to live up to the expectations of what could be seen as a "fluke" season. Take Ford and Alexander as examples of two of these traits. Ford was franchise tagged by the Chiefs, a move that showed Kansas City was not ready to commit to a long-term contract, possibly due to inconsistent production. Alexander is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in October of last season, an immediate red flag for many teams that will not even bring the player in for a visit.

Paraag Marathe is the President of 49ers Enterprises and Executive Vice President of Football Operations but many fans know him as the salary cap guru. Long before John Lynch took the helm as the general manager, Marathe, the "Marathlete" if you will, was the lead contract negotiator for the 49ers. His crown jewel was how he handled the negotiation of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. When the news first broke about Kaepernick's extension, national media had a field day with the initial numbers of a five-year deal worth $126M. However, once full details were discovered, it was clear that Marathe and then GM Trent Baalke had leveraged Kaepernick's lack of starting experience while also having him stake his earnings on his performance on the field.

The tradition of Marathe convincing players and their agents to gamble on themselves has continued now that he is partnered with John Lynch. Every single free agent who has been brought in under this regime has had a contract with an out for the team after a year or two. Wide receiver Pierre Garçon and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell were the latest victims to contract maneuvering that left the team with the option to bring the player back or not. Those two represent the aging veteran portion of the free agent market that can be perfect for team-friendly deals; they are players looking for one last big paycheck.

All of this has pointed to how the 49ers have played it smart on their end and with such a clear track record of how they operate, why do players come to the Bay? The 49ers have worked hard to change the opinions of prospective free agents after the free fall the franchise was in following the Harbaugh years. The hiring of Kyle Shanahan and trading for Jimmy Garoppolo have altered the perception league-wide. Garoppolo is yet another semi-unproven player who staked his financial future on his ability to produce on the field. It can be easy for the front office to point directly at Jimmy as a shining example: If the franchise quarterback is willing to bet on himself, why aren't you?

Another corner of the market that the 49ers have sought to exploit is the players searching for a one-year "prove it" deal. Cornerback Jason Verrett is a former first-round pick with incredible amounts of talent but cannot seem to stay on the field. Verrett has battled a multitude of injuries throughout his career and is gambling on his health this season in hopes of lining up for a big extension next offseason. Defensive back Jimmie Ward's career mirrors Verrett and his contract does as well. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews spent seasons buried on the Philadelphia Eagles' depth chart and lost in the quarterback wasteland of Buffalo. Now he has signed a one-year deal betting that Shanahan's offense can get the most out of his skillset.

While all of the players the 49ers have brought in have gambled on themselves, the team has also taken a gamble on them. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are entering the third year of their team rebuild and they are out of excuses. Just as soon as the team could move on from their hand-picked players, it could also move on from the staff.
  • Matthew Barr
  • Written by:
    Matthew Barr has been writing for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub since 2018 and co-hosts the 4th and Gold podcast which can be found on all podcast platforms. He can be found on Twitter fighting an endless battle to get the underscore removed from his handle, @MattBarr_.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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