Greatest free agent acquistions in San Francisco 49ers history: 3. Garrison Hearst
49ers Tenure: 1997 – 2003
Tim McDonald might be a bit overlooked, in terms of fans’ recollections of the past. But the No. 3 player on this list of all-time great free agents certainly isn’t.
Ever since the departure of running back Roger Craig after 1990, the 49ers had struggled to find a mainstay in the backfield. That all changed, of course, when the Niners brought Garrison Hearst aboard in 1997. He immediately rewarded the team with its first 1,000-yard rusher since Ricky Watters did it back in 1992.
The following year, Hearst would amass an astounding 1,570 yards and a league-leading 5.1 yards per carry.
Oh, and it’s impossible to forget 96-yard game-winning touchdown runs, either.
But Hearst ended up missing both 1999 and 2000 with circulatory issues, which led to Charlie Garner being a crucial free-agent pickup. Thankfully, though, Hearst returned in 2001 and picked up right where he left off, rushing for over 1,200 yards and being every part the offensive powerhouse he was before the injury.
Those efforts ultimately led to Hearst being the 2001 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award winner.
San Francisco’s same cap issues, which affected quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Terrell Owens’ tenures with the team, ultimately led to Hearst’s release after 2003.
Still, Hearst remains a 49ers favorite.