They may not have landed the biggest names, but the Seahawks NFC West rival 49ers made some key acquisitions through free agency. They’ll keep dealing, too.
The NFC West looks like it will be more competitive than ever in 2019. It’s fair to say none of the Seahawks division rivals have done more this off-season to elevate their team than the 49ers. One of their biggest acquisitions was via trade, so we’ll address that another time. San Francisco picked up enough in the free agent mark to make Seahawks fans a bit nervous as it is.
The Cardinals added one key player and a lot of depth, while the Rams added just one player, at least until they signed Clay Matthews on Tuesday. The 49ers have them both beat, as they added two potential game-changers, plus depth, plus the aforementioned trade pickup. Add that they’ll get their $137 million man back behind center this season, and San Francisco could be dangerous again. For the record, I still think they terribly overpaid for Jimmy Garoppolo, aka the new Scott Mitchell. Better them than the Seahawks.
The first big name to join the 49ers is linebacker Kwon Alexander. You may remember that Alexander is one of the players Frank Clark recruited via tweet after the Seahawks offered their quarterback crusher the franchise tag. As it turns out, Alexander will be heading west from Tampa Bay, just a bit further south than the Emerald City.
He led the league in solo tackles in 2016 with over 100, and followed that up with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2017. 2018 was a disappointment for him though, as he missed 10 games with a back injury. Alexander missed four games in 2017, and his tackles per game have dropped over those three seasons from 9.0 to 8.0 to 7.5. There’s usually a reason teams allow players to escape in free agency, after all. He has a pretty big upside, but he also misses a lot of tackles. I’d say 78 missed tackles in 46 games qualifies as a lot. Bobby Wagner missed one – yes, ONE – tackle in 2018.
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Coleman brings his speed to NFC West
Running back Tevin Coleman is the second star-quality player to join San Francisco as a free agent. After four years with the Falcons, the slashing Coleman joins the NFC West for two shots at the Seahawks every season. It’s a pretty small sample size – just 25 carries – but to this point, Seattle has kept him in check. He has just 53 yards rushing against the Hawks in his career, although he has scored once.
Running in tandem with Atlanta’s Davonta Freeman, Coleman has always shared the load in the backfield. When Freeman missed 14 games last year, Coleman responded with 800 yards on just 167 attempts. He also caught 32 passes, and scored nine times overall. San Francisco is going to have a loaded backfield with Matt Brieda and Jerick McKinnon already in place. Single wing, anyone?
As for the rest of the 49er’s additions to the NFC West, it’s a mixed bag of depth and some potential- mainly depth. San Francisco re-signed outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha, free safety Jimmie Ward, and safety Antone Exum. Nzeocha has been used mainly on special teams, although he did get the first three starts of his career in 2018. The Niners signed him for three years,so they clearly like him.
Ward got just a one-year deal, though. In his five seasons in San Francisco, he’s played at every possible spot in the secondary. That’s less because he can play anywhere, and more that they kept trying to find his best role. Add that 2015 was the only season he managed to stay off injured reserve, and the surprise isn’t that he got a one-year deal for $5 million. It’s that he got a deal at all.
Exum showed enough last year to earn another shot. Unlike Ward, he actually had an interception, and broke up seven passes. For the record, Ward has zero picks and one pass defense over his last 13 starts. Compared to Ward, Exum is the Earl Thomas of their safeties. Of course, he isn’t even close. But he is the bargain of the century for the 49ers at $855,000.
Finally, the Niners added cornerback Jason Verrett, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and linebacker David Mayo. Verrett was a good player for the one season he was healthy. Matthews caught 225 passes in his first three seasons with the Eagles, but he practically dropped off the map afterwards. The Niners hope he can come back from his 45 catches over the past two years. Mayo is another special teamer that will add depth to the roster.