NFL free agency grades: 49ers make calculated gambles to fill roster

NFL free agency grades: 49ers make calculated gambles to fill roster

The 49ers used the first week of NFL free agency to acquire options at all of their positions of need.

General manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and chief negotiator Paraag Marathe used a variety of strategies to plug those holes. Along the way, they took more than a few chances. But that is the nature of free agency and the draft. There is no such thing as a sure thing.

The 49ers also appear to be putting a lot of trust in their restructured player-performance structure with more integration of the team's athetic training and strength and conditioning staffs.

Here’s a look the 49ers’ most-notable transactions in the opening days of the new league year:

DE Dee Ford

The 49ers’ biggest need entering the new league year was at edge rusher. Not only did the 49ers get a pass-rusher, they got a franchise player. The Kansas City Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Ford after his 13-sack season.

Ford is a five-year NFL veteran. Has he figured things out? Or is he a one-year wonder? He certainly has the talent. Ford entered the NFL in 2014 as a first-round draft pick. The 49ers surrendered a second-round draft pick in 2020 to acquire Ford’s rights. Then, the sides worked out the details on a lucrative five-year contract extension.

“I love an ascending player,” Lynch said. “I think it's a fair characterization that last year was his best year. We think the arrow's up. We think he's only getting better.”

Grade: B-plus

LB Kwon Alexander

C.J. Mosley was widely considered the top inside linebacker available in free agency. Before Mosley agreed to his deal with the New York Jets, the 49ers targeted, pursued and landed Alexander.

Shanahan knows all about the former Tampa Bay linebacker from his time as offensive coordinator in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons. Alexander gives the 49ers the kind of explosive playmaker in the middle of the defense the team wanted to pair with Fred Warner. In 46 games with the Buccaneers, Alexander recorded six interceptions and six forced fumbles.

On the negative side, Alexander is rehabilitating from a torn ACL in his left knee. He sustained the injury on Oct. 21. Throughout his career, Alexander has rated high on Pro Football Focus’ list of missed tackles. The 49ers’ contract is a four-year, $54 deal, but the team can get out of it after one season for $14.25 million.

Grade: B

RB Tevin Coleman

Running back depth is a necessity, as the 49ers found out last season The club acquired a low-risk option to go along with Jerick McKinnon.

Coleman reunites with Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner after playing for them in Atlanta. In those two seasons, Coleman caught 58 passes and averaged 12.4 yards per reception – an absurdly high average for a running back. That means Shanahan put Coleman in space to catch passes, utilize his speed and make big plays.

Shanahan has never suited up four running backs for a game, he said. That is not likely to change this season. So if Coleman, McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert are healthy, a good player will not be active for games. (Mostert is virtually assured of being the No. 3 back every game due to his special-teams skills.) That kind of depth creates a good problem for the 49ers.

Grade: B-plus

CB Jason Verrett

There is no denying the talent level of Verrett, a first-round pick of the Chargers in 2014. There is also no denying that Verrett has been unable to remain healthy in his five-year career with a variety of severe shoulder, knee and Achilles injuries.

He has suited up for just 25 games in five seasons and has not played in an NFL game since Sept. 11, 2017.

The 49ers signed Verrett to a low-risk one-year contract. He comes in to compete for a starting job with recent third-round draft picks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore.

If he stays healthy, Verrett will be the starter. If history repeats itself and he is unable to get onto the field, the 49ers will be back where they started.

Grade: B-minus

WR Jordan Matthews

The 49ers did not like any of the available wide receivers enough to extend a high-money, multi-year offer. They monitored the Odell Beckham situation but were unwilling to part ways with the No. 2 overall selection.

The 49ers did not necessarily need a big wide receiver, though Matthews certainly fits that description at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. They need someone who can get open.

In his first five NFL seasons, Matthews caught 22 touchdown passes. He said his three strong points are getting open, catching passes and blocking. There you have it. But Matthews has become something of a journeyman at 26 years old.

He played three productive seasons with Philadelphia before getting traded, along with a third-round draft pick, for cornerback Ronald Darby. He played one season in Buffalo, then signed a one-year, $1 million deal with New England. He never made it to the regular season in New England.

The Patriots released him with an injury settled after he sustained a hamstring injury prior to training camp. Matthews returned to Philadelphia, where caught 20 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games.

The 49ers are not necessarily relying on Matthews to be a starter. Kendrick Bourne, Marquise Goodwin and, likely, a draft pick will compete for the job opposite of Dante Pettis. If Matthews remains healthy, he could be a veteran presence who serves a specific role as part of a rotation.

For what was out there in free agency, it was another low-risk move.

Grade: B

LB David Mayo

The addition of Mayo is not a signing that moves the needle, but he serves a valuable purpose on a 53-man roster as a core special-teams player who has the versatility to fill in, in a pinch, at any of the linebacker spots.

Grade: B

DB Jimmie Ward

You know the story: Four of Ward’s five NFL seasons have ended with him in a sling or cast.

The 49ers were hopeful they could re-sign Ward to a one-year deal. When no other team came with a multi-year offer, the 49ers were able to bring him back.

[RELATED: Here are the 2019 NFL free agency winners and losers]

“To have Jimmie back here with the talent he has and if he can stay healthy, and we're going to give him every chance to, we know we've got as good of a safety as we can get,” Shanahan said.

If – and this is a big if -- Ward remains healthy, the 49ers re-signed a guy who will be their starting free safety.

Grade: B

Tom Brady could replace Jimmy G if 49ers lose Super Bowl, Skip Bayless says

Tom Brady could replace Jimmy G if 49ers lose Super Bowl, Skip Bayless says

All season long, 49ers players have been trying to get the media to give Jimmy Garoppolo credit for their success.

Despite Garoppolo's record as a starting quarterback and regular-season stats, most in the national media see him as the 49ers' weak link heading into their Super Bowl LIV matchup against the Chiefs.

Then there's Skip Bayless, who took the Jimmy G bashing five levels too far.

"If Tom Brady were the quarterback of the 49ers going into this Super Bowl, they would be a five-point favorite instead of a one and a half point underdog," Bayless said on FS1's Undisputed on Monday. "You know it and I know it because what is the X-factor we are about to talk about for the next two weeks? What is the potential Achilles heel for the 49ers? Who is the guy that Kyle Shanahan will do his darndest to keep the ball out of his hands? It's Jimmy Garoppolo."

Yes, the 49ers are 1.5-point underdogs. But that's because of the Chiefs' high-powered offense. Garoppolo is 19-5 as a starter with San Francisco. He's thrown 44 touchdown passes in his career and has been intercepted just 21 times.

Garoppolo is not a top-tier quarterback, but he's not the 49ers' Achilles heel.

But wait, there's more.

"If Tom Brady were the quarterback, he would be so much more poised because Jimmy can go deer-in-headlights, he's much more accurate than Jimmy G is," Bayless continued. "He's just more trustworthy under fire especially in Super Bowls, which Tom Brady has mostly owned. He's 6-3 in Super Bowls and to me, he's not getting any older. You think he's done, he's over the hill, he's washed up."

Of course Brady is more trustworthy, Skip. He's in the conversation for best quarterback of all-time. Garoppolo has two career playoff starts.

Bayless saved his best hot take for last. Get ready for this one, 49ers fans.

"Here's my final takeaway," Bayless said. "If by chance, I'll knock on wood for the 49ers, if Jimmy G becomes the reason by far that they lose this Super Bowl, if he throws three picks and completely unravels and just looks awful in the face of Patrick Mahomes, I would not be shocked if John Lynch, the 49ers GM, if he doesn't in the offseason make a play for Tom Brady because it has been written several times that they could get out from under Jimmy G without any huge salary cap hit."

That's right. Skip Bayless just suggested that the 49ers would replace the 28-year-old Garoppolo with the 42-year-old Brady.

Bayless is off his rocker, but we already knew that.

[RELATED: Five 49ers-Chiefs matchups to watch]

There's no way the 49ers are moving on from Garoppolo this offseason, no matter what he does in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. He is the face of the franchise and under contract for three more seasons.

Garoppolo was supposed to replace Brady in New England. That didn't work out. Now, there's no chance Brady replaces Garoppolo in San Francisco.

Bay Area hoping San Francisco-Kansas City championship ends well again

Bay Area hoping San Francisco-Kansas City championship ends well again

Madison Bumgarner isn't walking through that door, but the San Francisco 49ers hope to replicate the success the Giants had in their championship matchup against a team from Kansas City.

Six years after the Giants outlasted the Royals in an epic seven-game World Series, the 49ers and Chiefs will clash in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2.

While 49ers fans are hoping for the same result, we're sure they are hoping the ending isn't as dramatic.

On Oct. 29, 2014, Bumgarner authored one of the most memorable playoff performances when he pitched five innings out of the bullpen in Game 7 just three days after tossing a four-hit shutout in Game 5.

Bumgarner preserved the one-run lead and World Series crown despite allowing the tying run to reach third base on a single and two-base error.

A little less drama would be perfectly fine for 49ers fans. But that outcome will be tough for Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. considering the firepower the Chiefs possess.

Patrick Mahomes won the MVP last season, Travis Kelce is a two-time All-Pro tight end and Tyreek Hill is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NFL.

But if there is one defense that can slow down Mahomes and the Chiefs, it's the 49ers. Anchored by a tenacious front seven, the 49ers have one of the stingiest defenses in the league.

[RELATED: Montana's two teams facing each other]

Among the playoff teams that have played at least two games, the 49ers have allowed the fewest total yards (505) and points (30).

SF vs. KC: Part 2 is setting up to be a classic, one San Francisco is hoping goes their way again.