We break down the newest San Francisco 49ers after the first week of free agency: Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford, Tevin Coleman, Jason Verrett, Jordan Matthews, and David Mayo.
On the heels of another losing season and armed with over $66 million in salary cap space, we were prepared for the San Francisco 49ers to be active during the first week of 2019 NFL free agency. 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan — as well as the team’s “chief contract negotiator and salary cap architect” Paraag Marathe — did not disappoint. By the week’s end, the Niners landed six potential starters on offense, defense and special teams. Here’s what you need to know about the newest members of San Francisco 49ers:
LB Kwon Alexander
The 49ers made their first splash move of free agency by coming to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Kwon Alexander during the NFL’s two-day “tampering period.” News of the signing was initially reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
49ers intend to sign former Bucs LB Kwon Alexander to a 4-year, $54 million deal that includes $27 million guaranteed, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 11, 2019
Given that the post-Trent Baalke 49ers took a player rehabbing an ACL injury and briefly made him the “highest-paid inside linebacker in football,” the click-bait/freak-out competition between the national sports media and 49ers Twitter did not disappoint. However, Niner fans were no match for their media counterparts, who labeled the deal as “massive,” “eye-popping” and “huge” — often in the same 200-word article.
Once the details of the contract were revealed, descriptions of the front-loaded deal ranged from “team-friendly,” to “team-friendly” to “team-friendly.” Despite the initial overreaction, Alexander’s acquisition isn’t a slam dunk for San Francisco. The 49ers paid top-dollar for a relatively unproven player — despite his lone Pro Bowl appearance — who relies on his instincts and athleticism, as opposed to perfected technique, in order to generate success. Given the team’s recent blunders at the linebacker position, San Francisco better not miss on Alexander, who was known as the heart-and-soul of Tampa Bay’s defensive unit.
EDGE Dee Ford
The San Francisco 49ers made their most significant offseason move in the hours leading up to free agency, as the team acquired one of the NFL’s elite edge rushers, Dee Ford, from the Kansas City Chiefs. Lynch sent the 49ers’ second-round draft pick in 2020 to Kansas City in exchange for Ford, who was franchised by the Chiefs earlier this month at the cost of $15.4 million. The deal between the two teams was contingent on a contract extension between Ford and San Francisco. The two sides came together on a pricy but front-loaded five-year deal later that evening.
It’s rare for a team to place a pass-rushing specialist of Ford’s caliber on the trade block, even with the Chiefs’ planned defensive scheme changes. There’s always room on a roster for Pro Football Focus’ top-graded pass rusher from 2018, thanks to Ford’s league-leading 84 quarterback pressures. Although the 49ers have yet to decide where their new edge rusher will line up on base downs, we know how Ford will be deployed by the team in passing situations:
RB Tevin Coleman
Shanahan likely had a say when the Atlanta Falcons selected running back Tevin Coleman in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, given Shanahan’s status as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator at the time. Four years later, Coleman has reunited with his former coach on a two-year deal, as the speedster joins a crowded San Francisco backfield. Splitting time shouldn’t be an issue for Coleman, who thrived in a similar role alongside running back Devonta Freeman in Atlanta.
Over his last three seasons, Coleman averaged 981 yards from scrimmage and 9.3 touchdowns. The running back is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, thanks to his sub-4.4 speed and his receiving ability. The 49ers managed to land Coleman on another team-friendly contract that includes a base salary of just $3.6 million in 2019. Further sweetening the deal, Coleman’s contract doesn’t include a signing bonus, which gives the 49ers the flexibility to potentially move on from the RB after next season with no salary cap implications for the team.
CB Jason Verrett
At 5-foot-9 and under 190 pounds, former Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett doesn’t fit the mold of the big-bodied cornerback 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh likes to use in his Cover 3 defensive scheme. Verrett does, however, fit the mold of a low-risk free-agent investment who has the potential to reap substantial returns for the 49ers if the fierce undersized corner can stay healthy in 2019.
Verrett has an extensive injury history dating back to his time in college at Texas Christian University, but that didn’t stop the Chargers from drafting Verrett in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, partially due to his impressive workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. Verrett’s professional career started strong, particularly during his second season, when his PFF coverage grade of 90.1 ranked first in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries limited the cornerback to just five starts over the following three years. Signing Verrett to a one-year, $3.6 million “prove-it” deal was a perfect move for the cornerback-needy 49ers.
WR Jordan Matthews
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews is another new member of the San Francisco 49ers looking to get his career back on track after multiple injury-riddled seasons. Matthews was a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, and looked the part to kick off his career, as he scored eight touchdowns in each of his first two seasons in the league:
Matthews was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 2017, but landed back with the Eagles after sustaining thumb, knee and hamstring injuries during the following year with the Bills and the New England Patriots. Despite his 6-foot-3 frame, Matthews has worked mostly out of the slot throughout his NFL career. After signing a one-year deal with San Francisco, the wideout should expect to see snaps from a variety of splits in 2019, given the number of slot receivers currently on the 49ers’ roster, and the team’s overall lack of height at the position. Locked on 49ers Podcast host Brian Peacock’s expectations for Matthews couldn’t be higher, given the wide receiver’s esteemed status as a Shadow 49er from the 2014 NFL Draft.
LB David Mayo
As the 49ers announced the release of inside linebacker and special-teamer Brock Coyle, San Francisco also officially announced the team’s two-year deal with inside linebacker and special-teamer David Mayo, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. Similar to Coyle during his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, Mayo was primarily a special teams player for the Panthers who also filled in as a backup linebacker.
After Mayo failed to shine during his four-game stint in relief of WILL linebacker Thomas Davis last year, Carolina parted ways with their former fifth-round draft pick at the conclusion of the season. The financial details of Mayo’s new contract, which is unlikely to include much in the way of guaranteed money, have yet to be disclosed. Given his lack of productivity at linebacker over his four-year career, the former Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year will need to work his way onto the San Francisco 49ers’ final roster with a strong showing on special teams.
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