Why Terrell Owens was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer


Why Terrell Owens was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

Steve Mariucci coached Terrell Owens longer than any other coach. He said there is no question in his mind that Owens deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Based on the stats, of course, there is little question. Owens ranks second all-time in receiving yards; third in receiving touchdowns; fifth in touchdowns, period; and sixth in receptions.

Those are Hall of Fame numbers. And that is not being disputed by anyone. I covered Owens for the eight seasons he played with the 49ers. I have not seen many players who were as dominant and game-changing as him.

I am not a Hall of Fame voter, but I know quite a few of the 46 members that comprise the board of selectors. And I think I have a pretty good handle on what those in the room were thinking when Owens did not even make the cut from the 15 finalists to 10 -- let alone the final five who were chosen as the modern-era Class of 2016.

[RELATED: Owens: 'Disrespected,' but not surprised by Hall of Fame snub]

Most of the members who were thumbs-down on Owens told me they were not doing so because of any personal grudge or any perceptions about how he fit into locker rooms. They said they were merely taking the lead from the decision-makers who had Owens on their teams.

After eight productive seasons, the 49ers essentially traded Owens to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 for defensive end Brandon Whiting. Owens was ultra-popular in Philadelphia for one season. The next year, the team suspended him for seven games when he became too disruptive and released him in March 2006. Owens spent three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before releasing him in 2009. He signed a one-year deal with Buffalo in 2009. He was not re-signed. He signed a one-year deal with Cincinnati in 2010. He was not re-signed for 2011, and he would never play another NFL regular-season game.

The consistent theme I heard was that football is the ultimate team sport, and a Hall of Famer should be the ultimate team player. Moreover, I was told that a Hall-of-Fame player should be somebody that 32 teams desire -- someone they never want to get rid of once on their roster.

The problem with Owens is that five teams got tremendous statistical production out of him in his prime but ultimately decided they were better off without him.

When I proposed that theory to Mariucci, he acknowledged Owens was not easy to coach. But, also, he was quite clear he never felt the 49ers were better without Owens.

Mariucci recalled the time the 49ers suspended Owens for one game in 2000 after the Dallas incident. The 49ers’ starting receivers the next game were J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets. Certainly, the 49ers were not better without Owens, he said.

[RELATED: Ex-49ers WR Owens: 'Haven’t officially retired; LA, I’m ready']

In Owens’ final season with the 49ers, the team went 7-9 under Dennis Erickson. Owens was traded as part of San Francisco's roster purge. The next year, the 49ers finished 2-14 and had the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. They would go eight-consecutive seasons without producing another 1,000-yard receiver.

Here’s how the other teams fared before, during and after Owens:

Philadelphia: Before Owens, the Eagles went 12-4. In Owens’ first season, they were 13-3. Owens missed the final two regular-season games and first two playoff games with a broken leg. He was exceptional with nine catches for 122 yards in a losing effort in Super Bowl XXXIX against New England. The next year, a disgruntled Owens was suspended. The Eagles finished 6-10. The year after he was released, Philadelphia bounced back to 10-6.

Dallas: The Cowboys were 9-7 the year before Owens and 11-5 the first season he was gone. With Owens, the Cowboys went 9-7, 13-3 and 9-7.

Buffalo: The Bills were 7-9 before Owens, 6-10 with him, and 4-12 the first year he was gone.

Cincinnati: The Bengals were 10-6 before Owens, 4-12 with him, and 9-7 the first year without him.

Hall-of-Fame voter Clark Judge cited a quote from Bill Polian when discussing Owens’ candidacy.

“The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who make their teams better,” Polian said, “not for those who disrupt them and make them worse.”

Clearly, a lot of voters agreed. That is why it’s difficult to imagine that Owens will make it next year, either.

The only thing that will change a year from now is that Marvin Harrison, a wide receiver who was a finalist three-straight years, is no longer standing in the way. Because there’s a maximum of five modern-era inductees per year, the voters appear reluctant to enshrine multiple players at the same position in the same year.

There is a certain amount of patience that’s required. Not every deserving candidate can get elected into the Hall of Fame on the first or second ballot.

I also spoke with multiple Owens supporters in that room. There was one voter who arrived in San Francisco with the belief that Owens was a "slam dunk." Then, as the arguments on both sides were being made, it became clear there was more than enough negativity in the room to block his selection.

“T.O. will get in,” Mariucci said. “If it’s not this year, it’ll next year, and if it’s not next year, it’ll be the year after. But his numbers support Hall of Fame greatness. There’s no debate about that.”

We agree with Mariucci’s assessment. But it might be awhile.

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”