When Trent Baalke served as the San Francisco 49ers general manager, the team was slow to act on the free agent market. In fact, Baalke picked up no more than three players during the first week of the free agent signing period for five straight seasons.
New GM John Lynch has taken a very different approach.
The 49ers are up to 12 free agent signings so far this year, with 11 of those coming in the first week of the signing period. Considering the outcome of the 49ers’ last few seasons, it’s no surprise that Lynch is looking to make some big changes.
Here are three of Lynch’s signings 49er fans can get excited about as the new leadership works to turn things around:
- Pierre Garcon
The wide receiver position was arguably the 49ers’ weakest last year, making Garcon a much-needed addition to the roster. Garcon has over 7,000 yards in nine pro seasons to his name, including a career-best 113 receptions (best in the NFL) and 1,346 yards caught in 2013 with the Washington Redskins. Three years later, Garcon shows no signs of slowing down. Last season in Washington, Garcon made 79 catches for 1,041 yards. That adds up to 374 more yards than Jeremy Kerley’s 2016 total, the team’s best receiver in 2016. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Redskins at the time. Like the QB Brian Hoyer signing, Lynch and Shanahan have done the smart thing by choosing a talented player like Garcon that has positive history with Shanahan and the proven ability to operate under a Shanahan-style offense. This signing should be a win-win situation for the 49ers and Garcon.
2. Kyle Juszczyk
Lynch seems particularly enthusiastic about new 49er fullback Juszczyk’s 4-year, $21 million signing. Although many NFL teams are foregoing the fullback position, coach Shanahan still sees value in the position as evidenced by his success with Falcons FB Patrick DiMarco last season. Referred to by Lynch as an “offensive weapon,” Juszczyk’s versatility could fill in a number of holes in the San Francisco offense in the receiver slot, boosting the run game or giving added support to the offensive line. His most impressive stats come out wide, where Juszczyk caught 78 passes for 587 yards in the last two seasons. If he can live up to his potential, Juszczyk can give the 49ers a more unexpected aspect to their offensive that will throw off the opposition and create more scoring opportunities.
3. Don Jones
On the defensive side, the 49ers picked up defensive back Don Jones from the Houston Texans. Jones played well for the NFC South Champions last year, registering a team-high 11 special teams tackles in just nine games. Although Jones has been almost exclusively a special teams player, the new 49er front office may find a spot for him with the defense this season. The 49ers allowed 3,848 passing yards in 2016 due to their highly ineffective secondary, leaving the door wide open for Jones to demonstrate his talents and create himself a role. It’s hard to tell if Jones will be successful working with the secondary, but based on last year’s performance, San Francisco has nothing to lose giving Jones a shot. Regardless, the 49ers have acquired an elite special teams defender at the very least.
The most encouraging aspect of this free agent signing period thus far is the way in which Lynch and Shanahan are working together. Unity has never been a strength among the recent 49er front office, but the new regime seems to have a clear vision to bring San Francisco out of it’s losing rut.
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