Do you know Kyle? If the answer is yes, the 49ers may have an opening for you in 2017.
As was the case when the team filled out its coaching staff last month, familiarity with new coach Kyle Shanahan has been a theme in free agency. Five of the nine free agents who agreed to deals with the team have played for Shanahan or one of his assistants.
That approach allows the 49ers to place their free agency dollars on players they trust. Having players who know the style and language of the system also should help the 49ers get off to a faster start when they start practicing this spring.
Here’s how the team’s free-agent acquisitions fit:
WR Pierre Garçon: Did the 49ers overpay in giving Garçon, who will be 31 when the season begins, a deal that essentially is two years for $23 million with options for three more seasons? Yes. But opening the wallet wide is required when a team is in rebuilding mode and doesn’t have a strong quarterback corps to attract free agents. Garçon is valuable to Shanahan not just because he’s familiar with his offense after the pair spent two years together in Washington, but because the veteran sets such a workmanlike tone. The team essentially is rebuilding its receiving corps from scratch, and it wants Garçon’s gritty approach to rub off on the young players who arrive in coming years, beginning with fellow free-agent wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, 26. Garçon has a lot of similarities to Anquan Boldin, who led the 49ers in receiving all three years he was with the team.
QB Brian Hoyer: Hoyer’s two-year deal, which makes him one of the lowest-paid starting quarterbacks in the league, does not preclude the team from trading for Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo or from using its first-round draft pick on a passer. But those other options are so fuzzy at the moment that the 49ers are operating as if Hoyer, 31, is their starter for 2017. Aside from Cousins, Hoyer would have a significant head start on anyone else the team brings in at the position anyway. After all, he knows Shanahan’s system, which will set the pace for the other quarterbacks the team ends up signing. Look for the team to add one more in free agency and at least one in the draft.
FB Kyle Juszczyk: Don’t let the title fool you – Juszczyk is more than a fullback. He ranks sixth on Harvard’s all-time receptions list and played a little of everything – halfback, tight end, H-back, special teams – with the Ravens over the last four years. Putting a fullback into the game usually telegraphs a team’s intent to run the ball. That won’t be the case when Juszczyk, 25, is on the field. That’s essential to Shanahan’s offense, which at its best can run or pass equally well out of the same formations and personnel groups.
LB Malcolm Smith: The archetype for the 49ers’ defense this year is the Seahawks’, which works best with two speedy inside linebackers. Smith, who once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds – excellent for a linebacker – has the requisite wheels. He also is well-versed in a Seahawks-like defense, having played in Seattle for four seasons. He’ll likely compete with Ray-Ray Armstrong for the weak-side linebacker spot. Smith, 27, has the edge in experience. Armstrong, a former safety, may be better in coverage.
WR Marquise Goodwin: Before the 2016 season, the Falcons – and then-offensive coordinator Shanahan – added two wide receivers: big-bodied and physical Mohamed Sanu and fleet-footed Taylor Gabriel. In the 49ers’ version of this maneuver, Garçon is Sanu, and Goodwin is Gabriel. Goodwin ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL combine, speed the 49ers hope both produces big plays and creates space underneath for Garçon and the team’s running backs.
TE Logan Paulsen: Like Garçon and Hoyer, Paulsen has played for Shanahan; they spent four years together in Washington. Paulsen’s career path has been similar to that of the 49ers’ Garrett Celek. Both were picked up as undrafted rookies because of their blocking ability. They stuck around because they showed they also had untapped receiving skills. Now Paulsen, 29, likely will compete with Celek for playing time, if not for a spot on the roster.
K Robbie Gould: After an 11-year career in Chicago, Gould, 35, found himself without a job to start the 2016 season – but not for long. The Giants signed him in October after issues of domestic abuse involving kicker Josh Brown forced them to make a move. Including the playoffs, Gould made all 12 of his field-goal attempts with New York. The only other kicker on the roster is Nick Rose, 22, who never has kicked in the NFL. Gould’s only competition may be with punter Bradley Pinion for kickoffs. The Bears ranked 32nd in opponents’ average starting field position on kickoffs in his last year with the club, and the younger Pinion could have the bigger leg.
WR Aldrick Robinson. The 49ers secured three new receivers in the first full day of free agency. Overkill? No. Shanahan's offense in Atlanta either had six or seven receivers on the active roster all season depending on how many injuries it had. Robinson, 28, played 30.3 percent of the team's offensive snaps last season. The attraction in his case is speed -- Shanahan can't have enough of it. Assuming Garcon, Goodwin and Robinson aren't injured on cut-down day, it appears as if there might be three spots available among Jeremy Kerley, Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, DeAndre Smelter, Eric Rogers, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter, Rashad Ross and any receivers added in the draft or after the draft.
QB Matt Barkley. He began last season on the Bears' practice squad and was bumped up when both Hoyer and Jay Cutler were injured. Barkley, 26, got his first extensive playing time over the last six games. As was the case with Hoyer in 2016, he mostly looked good but was only able to eke out one win, which came against a 49ers team that a.) had its worst defense in 71 years b.) had been on the road for nine days and c.) was playing in the snow after practicing all week in sultry central Florida. Barkley has no background with Shanahan. If the only other quarterbacks the team adds from this point forth are rookies, he's a good bet to be Hoyer's backup for a second straight season.