John Lynch apparently abides by the mantra “money talks.”
Less than one week into NFL free agency, Lynch and the 49ers organization have made two bold statements to address their glaring defensive issues.
First came the Kwon Alexander signing.
The 24-year-old former Buccaneer is coming off a shortened season in which he played just six games due to a torn ACL. However, the 24-year-old former fourth-round pick was a Pro Bowler in 2017. And he is really just entering in his prime, set to begin his fifth season.
The four-year, $54 million contract given to Alexander, including $27 million guaranteed, might seem steep for a player that isn’t a household name, but Alexander is both talented and young. Plus, with the void left by cutting Reuben Foster, the 49ers needed a quality linebacker. If Alexander returns to his 2016-2017 form, this contract will look like a no-brainer.
Lynch then doubled-down, going out and trading for edge rusher Dee Ford from Kansas City.
This trade helps repair a horrible 49ers pass rush, which finished tied for the seventh-fewest sacks in 2018. Ford recorded a career-high 13 sacks while starting all 16 games in 2018, becoming a Pro Bowler in the process. Before being limited to six games in 2017, he was nearly as effective in 2016, posting 10 sacks in 15 games (14 starts).
Ford truly broke in 2018, becoming a better all-around defensive playmaker. He compiled 55 tackles (42 solo) and had an incredible seven forced fumbles, tying him with J.J. Watt for the NFL lead.
The subsequent contract given to Ford following the trade is an estimated five years and $87.5 million, with a currently undisclosed guaranteed amount. The $17.5 million annual average will slot him right behind Detroit’s Trey Flowers as the fourth-highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL.
Again, many may scoff at that price for a player whose name doesn’t carry the weight of an Aaron Donald or Von Miller. However, if it weren’t for injuries in 2017, we would likely be looking at a player with three consecutive double-digit sack seasons. A player like that would no doubt have contracts like this one piling at his feet.
San Francisco did well with these two moves, also adding Jason Verrett, in hopes that he will be able to avoid injuries and realize the talent that made him a first-round selection in 2014 to the defensive backfield. Tevin Coleman, who played for Shanahan in Atlanta, and Jordan Matthews, who caught 85 passes for the Eagles in 2015, were added to the mix on the offensive side of the ball.
Say what you will about the totals – San Francisco locked in two young, still-improving defensive players that fit roles they desperately needed filled, and added veteran depth to help a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo.
Also, they still have an opportunity to have an elite offseason with the draft approaching.
There are tons of potential pass-rushing superstars in the 2019 Draft. If the Cardinals pass on Ohio State’s Nick Bosa with the first pick, he’ll fall right to the 49ers at No. 2. And if Arizona does take Bosa, or the 49ers decide to go elsewhere, Lynch & Co. have great options in guys like Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell.
San Francisco’s approach so far has been smart. They didn’t over-offer for Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr. – two incredible receivers, but not necessarily positions of extreme peril for this team. They were apparently very close to signing Le’Veon Bell, but with Jerick McKinnon returning this season, that wasn’t a glaring roster hole either.
Let’s see what happens from now until May.