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 thus far. Four of the six free agents who are set to sign with the team either 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 a 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 reportedly worth $29 million over three years? 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 two 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 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 he same formations and personnel groups.
LB Malcolm Smith. The archetype for the 49ers defense this year is the Seahawks defense, 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 Kyle Shanahan — added two 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 in the past; 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.