The 49ers have been a mess since Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan following the 2014 campaign, but the club is perhaps finally getting back on track. With a new general manager and head coach in place, San Francisco spent the offseason rebuilding from the ground up.
- Pierre Garcon, WR: Five years, $47.5MM. $17MM guaranteed.
- Malcolm Smith, LB: Five years, $26.5MM. $11.5MM guaranteed.
- Brian Hoyer, QB: Two years, $12MM. $9.85MM guaranteed. $6.5MM available via incentives.
- Kyle Juszczyk, FB: Four years, $21MM. $7MM guaranteed.
- Earl Mitchell, DT: Four years, $16MM. $4.65MM guaranteed.
- Marquise Goodwin, WR: Two years, $6MM. $4.45MM guaranteed.
- Jeremy Kerley, WR: Three years, $8.4MM. $2.8MM guaranteed.
- Elvis Dumervil, DE: Two years, $8MM. $1.5MM guaranteed.
- Garry Gilliam, T: One year, $2.2MM. $1.25MM guaranteed. Seahawks declined to match 49ers RFA offer sheet.
- Dekoda Watson, LB: Three years, $4.5MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Robbie Gould, K: Two years, $4MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Don Jones, S: Two years, $2.2MM. $750K guaranteed.
- Matt Barkley, QB: Two years, $4MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Aldrick Robinson, WR: Two years, $4MM. $500K guaranteed. $2MM available via incentives.
- Brock Coyle, LB: One year, $1.45MM. $400K guaranteed.
- Tim Hightower, RB: One year, $1.107MM. $300K guaranteed. $400K available via incentives.
- Logan Paulsen, TE: One year, $1MM. $125K guaranteed.
- K’Waun Williams, CB: One year, $765K. $75K guaranteed. $250K available via incentives.
- Chris Jones, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit. $50K guaranteed.
- Tim Barnes, C: One year, $795K. $20K guaranteed.
- Brandon Fusco, G: One year, $1.4MM.
- Shayne Skov, LB: One year, $615K.
- Will Davis, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Leger Douzable, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Andrew Gardner, OL: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Asa Jackson, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Sen’Derrick Marks, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Louis Murphy, WR: One year, minimum salary benefit.
With a new regime lead by head coach/offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan in place, the 49ers nearly revamped the entirety of their offensive skill positions during the free agent period. That effort started with the signings of quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who will likely serve as San Francisco’s No. 1 and No. 2 options under center in 2017. The 49ers figure to target a signal-caller upgrade in the coming year, either through an early draft choice or a pursuit of a free agent quarterback such as Kirk Cousins, but a Hoyer/Barkley tandem is a serviceable duo for a rebuilding club, especially given the limited price tag. Hoyer, of course, has worked with Shanahan before, passing for more than 3,000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions under the then-Browns play-caller in 2014. While the 31-year-old performed much better in 2016 (no interceptions on 200 pass attempts), Hoyer finished 26th in air yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least five starts, meaning his success was mostly based around short throws.
Hoyer will be tossing the ball to a wide receiver crew that’s almost entirely new, and is now led by Pierre Garcon. Like Hoyer, Garcon has played for Shanahan in the past, as he lead the NFL in receptions with the Redskins in 2013 while Shanahan was the club’s offensive coordinator. While Garcon may not be a clear-cut No. 1 wideout any more at the age of 31, he’ll serve in that capacity for the 49ers, especially given that he’s familiar with the team’s new offensive scheme. It won’t be a surprise if he improves upon his 114 targets from a season ago, and the club will value his leadership and toughness. San Francisco didn’t stop after adding Garcon, however, as the club also signed Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and Louis Murphy while re-upping Jeremy Kerley. Goodwin is the most intriguing of the bunch, as he’s a former Olympian who ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine. Ideally, that would make Goodwin a near-perfect option to play the Taylor Gabriel/deep threat role in Shanahan’s offense.
San Francisco’s backfield also saw a makeover headlined by the additions of running back Tim Hightower and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Hightower is 31 years old, but he doesn’t have the wear-and-tear of a normal running back of that age given that he didn’t play in the NFL from 2012-14 (all told, he’s only rushed 752 times during his pro career). While he should be able to help in the passing game, Hightower could have trouble running behind the 49ers’ sub-par offensive line — according to the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, Hightower broke a tackle on only 7.8% of his touches, second-worst in the league. Juszczyk, meanwhile, signed one of the more above-market deals in recent memory, as he blew away all fullback precedents with a $5.25MM annual salary that is more than double the next fullback. The deal is a complete overpay, but Shanahan knows how to deploy fullbacks (see: Patrick DiMarco in 2016), and San Francisco had cap space to burn.
The 49ers used that ample cap space to ink a number of veterans to low-cost contracts (whether that be minimum salary benefit deals or just pacts with little-to-no guaranteed money). Never was that more apparent that along the offensive line, where San Francisco signed Tim Barnes, Brandon Fusco, Andrew Gardner, and Garry Gilliam, the latter of whom was poached from the division-rival Seahawks in restricted free agency. None of those players is a superstar, and they may not all even make the Niners’ 53-man roster. But they’ll give the club some semblance of respectability up front — Fusco, notably, is now on track to start at right guard while Barnes could conceivably see time at center in place of Daniel Kilgore. Barnes, Fusco, and Gilliam combined to start 43 games in 2016.
Taking chances on cheap players was also a tactic for San Francisco on the defensive side of the ball (cornerback K’Waun Williams, defensive linemen Chris Jones and Leger Douzable), but the club also brought in a number of defenders who should definitely stick on the roster. The 49ers’ defensive line was specifically addressed, as the team signed defensive tackles Earl Mitchell and Sen’Derrick Marks plus edge rusher Elvis Dumervil. Mitchell should anchor the interior of San Francisco’s defensive front, playing the nose tackle role alongside three-technique DeForest Buckner, while Marks can offer a bit of pass rush on an interior rotation. Dumervil, though, is potentially the most interesting addition, as the 33-year-old came on in 2016 after returning from a foot injury — in the last five weeks of the season, Dumervil managed 22 total pressures (sixth among edge defenders), per Pro Football Focus.