They signed a few solid players who fit their scheme. They protected themselves financially. They improved their roster.
There are legitimate reasons to like the moves the 49ers made in free agency. I understand if you do.
I like the overall direction the 49ers are heading — don’t get me wrong. I think they could be Super Bowl contenders in 2019 if they add a few top-shelf players. But, they’re not contenders yet. They’re not in win-now mode. And they should be.
They botched free agency. Here’s how.
No. 1. They didn’t get one top-shelf player.
They tried to get three — All-Pro cornerback Aqib Talib, All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell, and former New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis, who gained 1,110 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5 yards per carry as the Patriots’ featured back last season.
Those players would have been big-time additions.
But, Talib refused to play for the 49ers after they completed a trade for him. Norwell chose to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars instead of the 49ers. And Lewis chose to sign with the Tennessee Titans.
So, the 49ers had to pick from the lower shelves.
They signed a cornerback coming off two Achilles surgeries since November (Richard Sherman), a center who missed 12 games last season with a concussion (Weston Richburg), and a running back who has never has been a full-time starter (Jerick McKinnon).
Other than maybe Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers have no special players on offense. Not on the line, and not at the skill positions, either.
The Niners haven’t given Garoppolo a go-to guy. Every quarterback needs one. Tom Brady has three — Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks. Joe Montana had Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Brent Jones. Great players.
Garoppolo has role players and Steady Eddies, including Marquise Goodwin, who still has lots to prove.
No. 2. They panicked when they didn’t get their first choices.
Especially with the offensive players.
Everyone knew the 49ers needed an interior offensive lineman and a running back. Those were glaring holes, and the 49ers had more than enough cap space to fill them. The Niners couldn’t come up empty handed.
So, when they didn’t land Norwell and Lewis, they went all in for their second choices. Paid too much for them. Made Richburg the highest-paid center and McKinnon the sixth-highest-paid running back in the NFL in terms of guaranteed money. Had no choice, because losing them might ruin the Niners chances of going to the playoffs.
They made desperation moves.
They should have overpaid the first choices — Norwell and Lewis. Those are players you go all in for.
No. 3. Paraag Marathe may have driven away Norwell and Lewis.
Almost every contract Marathe makes is “team friendly,” usually with a potential out for the club after a year or two.
Team-friendly deals work for mid-tier free agents who are old and declining, or young and haven’t proven much in the league. Like McKinnon, who has been a backup his whole career. In his deal, there’s a potential out after the first season, so the Niners can keep him if he plays well as their starting running back, and cut him with no penalty if he plays poorly in his expanded role.