It is now day three of the NFL New Year and pro football has already seen some big money change hands. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made perhaps the biggest splash of the season so far, locking up former Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Saints guard Carl Nicks to contracts. The Washington Redskins have done work to bolster future quarterback Robert Griffin III's receiving corps by signing 49ers wideout Joshua Morgan and Colts wideout Pierre Garçon. Other teams did some work in house, like the Eagles and Lions, who locked up Desean Jackson and Calvin Johnson to long term, big money contracts respectively.
So what have the 49ers done in 48 hours? Most fans would say very little. In the bigger picture, though, the 49ers are probably right where they're supposed to be.
They signed Randy Moss to a 1 year deal with no guaranteed money. It's splashy, but it means there's no guarantee he'll even make the roster come week one. They signed troubled Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox to a similarly scarce two year deal. They brought back Carlos Rogers on a 4 year deal for around 7M per, marking their biggest signing this off season that - when held up to the contracts received by Eric Wright and Cortland Finnegan -looks like a steal. They let Adam Snyder and Blake Costanzo walk - two guys that I was sure they would resign - without even offering contracts to them. They signed Rock Cartwright to replace Costanzo.
Still no word from Alex Smith? Still no offer tendered to Mike Wallace? What's the deal?
As 49ers fans get used to how their new-ish general manager Trent Baalke operates, there will certainly be some grumblings. Baalke's modus operandi last year was a slow and steady approach. He is taking the same tact this season.
Fans wanted to break the bank for Nnamdi Asogmua last season, and it looked like the 49ers would go after him after cutting Nate Clements. Instead they got Carlos Rogers on a big bargain and he earned a Pro Bowl bid.
They called for Olin Kreutz after letting David Baas walk to the Giants; instead they got Jonathan Goodwin, who is now embedded as the 49ers' center of the future. Kreutz ended up retiring a few games into the season.
They wanted Dashon Goldson back, so the 49ers signed Donte Whitner instead. They ended up getting Goldson back too, for much less than his original asking price. These were positions of need that Baalke filled successfully, and he did it without breaking the bank.
It's easy for 49ers fans to get frustrated while they get comfortable with this new and improved front office tactic. The most glaring need on the team, wide receiver, is still unfulfilled as most of the top talent has now signed with other teams.
But Baalke seems to know exactly what he's doing. At 7M per, Washington overpaid for Joshua Morgan. At just over 6M per, Jacksonville overpaid for Laurent Robinson. If Baalke's most pricy free agent signing this year is Carlos Rogers, who's earning 3M per year less than the other cornerbacks that have signed, it seems pretty clear that the 49ers will not take an expensive risk to sign a player that hasn't proved their worth. They would rather take a risk on underpaying for an asset that is just as unproven.
From this fact, one inference can safely be made. If receivers like Mario Manningham, Eddie Royal or Brandon Lloyd are looking for Laurent Robinson-type money, they won't get it from the 49ers. Baalke will probably sign Chaz Schilens to a much more cap friendly contract before he shells out much bigger money to someone who's numbers are mediocre like Manningham or Brandon Lloyd.
Mike Wallace is still out there, quiet as kept, and he's probably the only receiver on the market who's worth a bank breaking contract. Whether the 49ers are actually willing to pay Wallace what he's seeking, let alone give up the 30th pick to get him, is yet to be seen. Most fans would say that now is the time to pay out, as wide receiver is the most glaring need that the 49ers have had since Baalke took over as GM. But with an undetermined amount of cap space left, other avenues (like the draft) available to bolster the position, and Alex Smith still unsigned, this may be another spot where the 49ers remain thrifty.
It's enough to drive a fan mad, but in the end it's how Trent Baalke operates. None of the free agent moves that San Francisco made last year would've lead to an NFC Championship prediction, and yet the 49ers still ended up on the precipice of a Super Bowl berth nonetheless. Fans must learn to throw caution to the wind and have patience while they get trudge through the growing pains with the 49ers new personnel regime, no matter how frustrating it may be. Baalke has shown that he knows what he's doing, and though it may not be flashy, his method for building a team has proven to be extremely effective.