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San Francisco 49ers Free Agency Update

The free agency period is rarely a time when the San Francisco 49ers make any big headline moves. Bill Polian is a former general manager that put together a Super Bowl championship team with the Indianapolis Colts. He was quick to note that teams that make a big splash in March are usually the teams that are drowning in January. Winning teams are built through the draft, not by way of plug and play free agency moves. That being said, let’s take a look at a few of the moves that the 49ers have made.

Every year it seems like 49ers fans will clamor for Trent Baalke to pursue every big name free agent. This year Donte Whitner returned home to Ohio when he signed with the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers wasted no time in finding his replacement by signing former Colts safety Antoine Bethea. This move was actually an upgrade on the field and for the salary cap. Bethea’s deal is a four year deal with a value of $21 million. There is a guarantee of $9.2 million. This is a much more reasonable deal than the one that Whitner signed with the Browns. Whitner is set to make $28 million over four years with $15 million guaranteed.

As far as ability is concerned, Bethea is a better coverage guy than Whitner. He is more interchangeable with Eric Reid. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes safeties that are more rangy and versatile. Whitner is more of an in the box player but he was successful under Fangio. Bethea will experience similar success with the 49ers and he will still provide that veteran leadership in the secondary that was lost with Whitner.

Don’t be surprised if the 49ers still draft a safety as high as in the second round in this year’s draft. Deone Bucannon from Washington State, Terrence Brooks from Florida State and Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois are options in the second round. The 49ers have shown a significant amount of interest in Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. He would likely require a first round selection but he told me that he met with both Jim Harbaugh and Ed Donatell, the defensive backs coach. The Bethea deal is designed in a way that will allow the 49ers to get out with a $2.5 million cap hit in 2016. This is well in line with the development of a young safety obtained via the draft.

One of the other moves that the 49ers made was signing Chris Cook, a former Minnesota Vikings cornerback. They brought in a number of defensive backs prior to signing Cook but in the end settled on the 6-2 corner. This is a typical 49ers signing. Cook was a high draft pick by the Vikings that was not able to get on track. The 49ers showed interest in him when he was coming out of the University of Virginia in 2010. He tested well and his size was impressive. Things just didn’t work out in Minnesota. Cook is more of a press corner and the 49ers have already told him that he will be able to take advantage of his press skills with them.

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×239$.jpg” alt=”Chris+Cook+Tennessee+Titans+v+Minnesota+Vikings+CZkkxXaVlcEx” class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-4063″ ]Cook was in a very tough predicament playing in the NFC North. Facing the likes of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson twice per season is not exactly the most ideal scenario. The 49ers are hoping that their defense will allow Cook to resurrect his career. He will get limited opportunities as the 49ers are likely to draft one or two corners this year. They also retained a few of their own free agents in Eric Wright and Perish Cox. Cook was obtained on a one year deal for only $730,000 and carries a cap hit of $570,000.

The 49ers have literally only added two free agents to their roster so far. They have 11 draft picks so they’ll be in a position to add some depth and impact players this year. It should also be noted that they where able to parlay a sixth round draft pick into a trade for Blaine Gabbert. Let me be clear, Gabbert did not enjoy any success with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a top ten draft pick. He is a bust if you look at him from the standpoint of a first round pick. However, if you shift the paradigm to that of a sixth round pick, it is a great deal.

Ironically, Gabbert wears the same number and has the same limitations as another quarterback whose career was resurrected under Harbaugh. That would be Alex Smith. Both players are athletic and have the tools but their issue was in the helmet. They don’t always believe what they see and let the ball go when they see it. There is also a confidence issue that you can see when they’re on the field. This is something that changed in Alex Smith back in 2011. Hopefully, the only time Gabbert will be able to show this change is in the preseason which would mean that Colin Kaepernick remains healthy. Never the less, Gabbert is definitely a suitable veteran backup player.

The other deal of note is the acquisition of Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins. Martin was once a first round pick so he does have talent. The 49ers only gave away a late round pick in 2015 to obtain him. He is a swing player that will primarily be a backup at the tackle positions. Obviously there is a familiarity with the 49ers system as he played for Harbaugh and Greg Roman while at Stanford. The locker room is strong and will welcome Martin. Being close to home and in a veteran locker room will be the best thing for Martin. He will also have the option to compete for a starting position and don’t be surprised if he is tabbed to be the replacement for Mike Iupati at guard if Iupati leaves via free agency.

The main areas for improvement will be via the draft. That is the way the 49ers build their team. Free agency has been a way for them to supplement their core of home grown players. That will continue to be the case. Stay tuned as the off season continues to roll along.

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