Barber: 49ers have been slow in free agency, for good reason
There has been some news out of Santa Clara the past couple days, or wherever it is the 49ers’ business operations are emanating from lately. The team has reached agreements with linebacker Joe Walker (a move it confirmed in a press release Tuesday), defensive end Kerry Hyder and, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report Tuesday, wide receiver Travis Benjamin. All were 2020 free agents.
The 49ers’ fortunes this season (I’m being optimistic about an NFL season) are unlikely to hinge on these three players. Walker did start 11 games for the Cardinals last year, making 65 tackles. But it will be tough for him to crack his new team’s starting lineup at linebacker, a position of strength for San Francisco. Hyder has started just two games since getting his NFL start in 2014. Benjamin, who is 30, had a total of 18 catches over the past two seasons. All three look like rotational/depth guys.
And yet they qualified as significant events around here, because until then the 49ers had not brought in a single outside player for 2020. They were, in fact, the last of the NFL’s 32 teams to add a piece.
I don’t follow the rest of the league as closely as our Bay Area teams and, outside of headline players like Tom Brady and DeAndre Hopkins, I have only a faint idea of who is signing where. So Tuesday morning, I scoured two thorough team-by-team “free agency tracker” lists. One was on NFL.com, the other part of Pro Football Focus’ early offseason grades.
Neither of the two sites had posted the Walker/Hyder/Benjamin deals yet, so the only players appearing on the 49ers list were members of the fold who had re-signed with the team — defensive ends Arik Armstead and Ronald Blair, and safety Jimmie Ward. Meanwhile, every one of the NFL’s other teams, all 31 of them, had acquired at least one player via trade or free agency.
Granted, some of them had only dabbled. The Super Bowl-champion Chiefs, for example, had brought in only cornerback Antonio Hamilton. Many teams, though, had cannonballed into free agency, writing (or at least promising) massive checks to newcomers. Consider the Raiders, who by Tuesday morning had already locked in Marcus Mariota, Nelson Agholor, Cory Littleton, Nick Kwiatkoski, Eli Apple, Carl Nassib, Jason Witten, Jeff Heath, Maliek Collins and Eric Kush.
That’s a lot of influx! And Oakland, er, Las Vegas, wasn’t alone. Other teams were treating free agency like an unsupervised plate of porch candy on Halloween.
The 49ers’ approach: “Nah, we’re good.”
It’s an obvious statement at this point but, yeah, it’s insane to think how much everything has changed for the 49ers in a year.
Flash back to last spring. The 49ers, coming off a 4-12 rotten egg of a season, picked up a couple of major pieces in edge rusher Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander, and some solid accessories such as running back Tevin Coleman, cornerback Jason Verrett and center Ben Garland. And the consensus was that the Niners hadn’t done enough.
A year ago, there were holes up and down the roster, and major question marks in the starting lineup. After a Super Bowl run that stunned everyone, from CEO Jed York on down, the picture is like a reverse image. This year, the 49ers feel they know exactly what they have, and they are content with it. The minor acquisitions of Monday/Tuesday don’t alter that perception.