The San Francisco 49ers had a relatively exciting day in free agency, especially for a team that has typically liked to build via the draft. With the amount of action the 49ers participated in, should fans be worries that this team is falling into the trap of over-utilizing free agency a la the Washington Redskins?
No. The difference between the type of free agency activity the 49ers just engaged in and that of teams misled by the glory of “winning” an off-season time period is that the 49ers did not try and pay players more than they were worth. They let Donte Whitner walk away when he was offered more than the 49ers wished to pay. They did not try and sign top free-agents, but rather found players who were not necessarily seeking top-dollar. Their signings and trade acquisitions primarily are backups or fill-ins. (The noticeable exceptions being a kicker, Phil Dawson, and likely a one-year stop-gap safety in Antoine Bethea.)
The 49ers attacked free agency intelligently. They knew what they wanted and they got it. They did not give up a lot either–Bethea’s contract, at 4 years and $23 million, is by no means outrageous, Eric Wright‘s deal is reportedly for only one year, Dawson is a kicker, so his contract, even if high by kicker standards–as it likely is–will not cost a huge chuck of the 49ers’ cash over its two-year duration.
Then come the trades. First it was Blaine Gabbert, the bust whom the 49ers acquired in a way similar to the way they acquireJd Colt McCoy last offseason, with a sixth-round pick and a conditional pick. Then the new broke, late last night, that Jonathan Martin was coming out west for a conditional seventh-rounder. Despite any potential locker room trouble–which Jim Harbaugh apparently does not expect, based on his continued support for his former Stanford lineman–Martin is a player with starting potential who was picked up for hardly anything. Though neither of these players will have the same impact on the 49ers as Anquan Boldin did last season, they are both good pickups. The 49ers have long been searching for a quality backup, which “bust” Gabbert hopefully provides, and Martin, especially if he can shift inside and play guard or center, at the very least should be a quality rotation player, much like the aging Adam Snyder has been for years. With Mike Iupati likely gone after next season, this deal could prove its worth in the long-term as well.
The 49ers played ball on day one of free agency, but they played with shrewdness and intelligence that the Trent Baalke-Harbaugh era, despite its distractions, has consistently shown.