Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Giants to start season with more questions than answers

I haven’t done much on the San Francisco Giants since the inception of this website.  It shouldn't be surprising, though – in fact, it's by design.  Maybe it's because the NFL - even in the heart of March - continues to steal the spotlight from all the other major sports.  Perhaps it's because the Giants are in the midst of Spring Training, that long stretch of baseball where player's stat lines are completely overblown and unjust panic is constantly created.
That’s not to say that some Spring Training occurrences aren’t meaningful.  When it comes to the 2012 Giants as a matter of fact, several things of consequence are actually happening. Here are a couple little tidbits to start sweating over, for whatever they may be worth.

Barry Zito  
After writing an article in which I suggested that Barry Zito's comeback story could be similar to Alex Smith's, a huge pundit of readers got after me, basically claiming that I had lost my marbles.  Let me be clear - I was not suggesting that Zito even has a comeback left in him.  After his performance against the White Sox, he may have been suggesting that he didn't have one left in him too.
Zito gave up 9 hits and 2 walks in 2.1 innings to Chicago. It was a performance so bad that he had to finish his outing in the bullpen.  He gave up back-to-back home runs to AJ Pierzynski and Alex Rios and generally looked like the old Zito that we’ve come to know and hate.  He had trouble getting his pitches over the plate, and when he did get ‘em there he left ‘em up high.  San Jose Mercury News Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovich described it as “batting practice” on the Damon Bruce Show.  It's become pretty clear that Zito's location and velocity problems have not been solved through extensive yoga and egg scrambling exercises.
True to form, Bruce Bochy stood pat behind his lefty. "Hopefully he can learn from this," Bochy said. "He's going to be out there (every fifth day)."  Giants fans should be getting used to this $126M charade by now.  But look on the bright side - if you're broke and looking for a cheap game to attend, it looks as if Zito's starts may be your chance.

Ryan Vogelsong
 Vogelsong is still dealing with his ailing back that he injured doing squats several weeks ago.  He is expected to start the season on the DL, but fans shouldn't be too concerned about his long term health.
The Giants may be taking the cautionary route with Vogelsong, ensuring that they don't risk re-aggravating the injury by throwing him back in the mix too early.  Who will replace him if he does miss starts is up for debate, as Eric Surkamp had an MRI taken on his left elbow on Monday, though it came up negative for any structural damage.
As Andrew Baggerly of CSN Bay Area reported, Vogelsong is expected to start the season in the Giants' Triple-A Club, the Fresno Grizzlies.  He may have one more rehab start after the Grizzlies’ season opener, and then be back with the big league club barring another injury setback.

Freddy Sanchez
Remember when Freddy faceplanted while diving for a ground ball and we all held our collective breathes?  He was helped off the field clutching is right arm while we tossed our ballcaps at the ground, certain that it spelled the end of the Giant’s 2011 playoff hopes.  Then, as the postseason became a blur in the rearview mirror, we all took comfort in the idea that Sanchez, with more than a full offseason of rehabilitation, would be back in the lineup as a contributor in 2012?  Not so fast.
Sanchez was the other name brought up as a guy who's probably not going to be on the field come Opening Day. Like Vogelsong, the Giants are taking the slow and steady approach when it comes to his recovery.  Unlike Vogelsong, his return will be much longer in anticipation - if it even happens at all.
According to multiple reports, Sanchez's shoulder isn't close to being at 100% strength, and Andrew Baggerly reported that it might even be "career threatening." He got a cortisone shot in his shoulder in hopes of alleviating some of the pain, but according to Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner, his recover has hit a "plateau."
This leads to more question marks regarding the Giants' middle infield situation.  Emmanuel Burriss has been a stand out at Spring Training and appears to be the leading candidate to start at second base for the season opener.  Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot are also on the roster, but Sabean admitted to be shopping the two for a possible trade.  Even with the depth at second, the middle infield appears to be the Giants' weak spot as far as hitting goes, with Crawford and Burriss's bats still remaining unproven commodities.  Letting Jeff Keppinger walk is turning out to be the bad decision that we all thought it would be after all.
This is all without mentioning Brian Wilson's injury rehabilitation and Matt Cain's contract battles.  Buster Posey, the biggest injury concern for the Giants this offseason, is turning out to be the bright spot as he is coming along well, both at the plate and behind it.  Posey played his first back-to-back games at catcher on Monday and Tuesday and he seems to be near 100% at long last.  Hopefully more questions will be answered as we inch closer to Opening Day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

49ers sign Josh Johnson, change their quarterback status to "it's complicated"

The weirdest offseason in recent memory for the 49ers just got weirder.  If you’re like me, you probably thought you had Baalke figured out.  He doesn't go big on the first day of free agency.  He hunts around for the bargains and turns them into game changers.  Big names aren't his thing.

Enter Randy Moss and the 49ers flirtations with Peyton Manning, and that theory is pretty much null and void.  Now it's gotten even more interesting.  After Ted Ginn had a personal revelation about his chances of being a number one receiver in the NFL and decided to come back to San Francisco on a one year deal, most felt that the 49ers were done shopping.  Not so fast said Baalke, just before he snuck Josh Johnson into the back door of the team's facilities and managed to get him to sign a two year contract with the club.

Well that's awkward...

The log jam of quarterbacks that the 49ers now have may be appealing to their competition-obsessed head coach, but it’s probably not conducive to any of the  players' developments - namely one Alexander Smith.

The 49ers now have 4 quarterbacks on the roster - Smith, Johnson, Colin Kaepernick and the oft forgotten Scott Tolzien.  To make matters more interesting, Johnson isn't just any old backup quarterback - he's a former Harbaugh protégé out of the University of San Diego.  It's the equivalent of Harbaugh renting out a bedroom in his 3-room flat to an ex-girlfriend, possibly making his current girlfriend (Smith) jealous while forcing the long shot (Tolzien) to go sleep on the couch, or maybe even hit Craig's List for some new digs all together.  As Bay Area Sports Guy suggests, he may even find it too crowded and send the suddenly supplanted fourth roommate (Kaepernick) packing as well.

This move means only one thing for Alex Smith - the heat is on for him to perform this season.  That's not to say that there wasn't an expectation for him to excel anyway, but with Johnson in a quarterback competition with him right out of training camp, preseason just got a little more interesting in the Bay Area.

49ers Fan-tasies

When it comes to the position of quarterback and 49ers fans, there's always a more desirable option sitting on the bench. Last year was the first in several seasons that there wasn't a fan favorite holding a clipboard for the 49ers; and by “fan favorite” I mean a quarterback not named Smith.  For one reason or another, fans never really clamored for Kaepernick to replace Smith at any point in 2011.  Perhaps it was because Smith never truly threw up on himself on the playing field last year.  Maybe it's because fans finally figured out - by watching Smith fail and a well-groomed Aaron Rodgers succeed - that slow and steady wins the race when it comes to developing a quarterback.

The prior couple years, however, were not so easy on the Smith-fan relationship.

First they called for JT O'Sullivan, the supposed answer at quarterback after one good serving of preseason performances, and they got him.  He could throw the deep ball, but his hands were about as suspect as Kyle Williams’s knees, so he fizzled out quickly.

Then they called for Shaun Hill, and again they got their wish.  It didn't make it any easier on Smith that Hill was basically Tim Tebow sans the maniacal religiosity.  He didn't have the most incredible arm by any stretch of the imagination, but he had enough intangibles to win games for the 49ers, all the way until those intangibles simply weren't enough anymore - though I suspect there are still fans out there who would prefer Hill over Smith.

Then they cried for David Carr simply because he was the “next best” thing.  Then it was Troy Smith.  And let's not forget the cult pundit of Nate Davis fans - like Ron Paul supporters - who chanted "Start Nate Davis!" on every comment section of every 49ers blog ever in existence.

Now 49ers fans have Josh Johnson in their periphery, a guy that they clamored for even while he was playing for another team.  They dream of an Andrew Luck-type presence at the helm, even without ever having seen Johnson take a snap, simply because they know that Harbaugh once coached him.  "We want Johnson" will be locked and loaded on the tip of every tongue should Smith go three and out more than once in a game at Candlestick.  Yeesh - so fickle.

If this roster move proves anything, it's that the 49ers are even less settled at the position of quarterback than they were 48 hours ago.  The idea that the 49ers would ride the Alex Smith train for two more stops before transferring onto the Kaepernick train has now been complicated.  Will the Smith train break down, only to have the passengers pile onto to the Johnson express instead?  Will any of these three trains even get us to the ultimate destination?  Only time will tell, but it wouldn't be Alex Smith's 49ers without a controversy at quarterback.  Until he proves his worth, the grass will always be greener by the Gatorade.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Alex's new deal - what it means for the future of the 49ers

According to Janie McCauley of the Associated Press, Alex Smith's new deal is for 3 years, worth 8M per year with 16.5M guaranteed and can max out at 33M.
What do these numbers mean?  Basically, it means that the 49ers are committed to Alex Smith for at least the next two years.  Should they decide to cut bait on Alex and go forward with Colin Kaepernick after next season, they will have paid him 16.5M for one year -- near the tops in the league for quarterback’s salary.
Should the 49ers go with Alex for all three years of his deal, they'll pay him close to their original offer -- 24M over three, or 8M per.  The extra 9M, which rounds out the 33M max, is in incentives, which one would hope that he earns.  This may be perceived as pricey, but fans should keep in mind the contracts being given to players like Matt Flynn and Mark Sanchez.  Flynn, who is going to earn 6.5M less in guaranteed money, remains a complete unknown.  Mark Sanchez’s contract is the equivalent of the 49ers giving Alex Smith a hefty raise in 2008, as Sanchez fell flat on his face this season and certainly wasn’t paid accordingly.
But what's more significant is how this final agreement differs from what the 49ers were originally offering.  The contract on the table for Alex over the last few weeks was reported to be for 3 years, 24M with 10M guaranteed.  The biggest change lies in the guaranteed money, now up 6.5M from what was originally reported.
49ers GM Trent Baalke, becoming infamous for his ability to keep from blinking in a contract staring contest, appears to have caved when it comes to Alex Smith.  As much as the 49ers wanted to make it seem that they could move forward without Smith, they proved that they weren't so confident in Colin Kaepernick after all.  Without this deal, Alex would have walked, but this deal ensures that they now have a veteran quarterback presence skippering their offense for at least the next year.
And this is how it should be.  The 49ers and Alex Smith need each other.  Alex's success in the NFL has so far been predicated by the careful handling of a coach who had worn his brand of work boots before, and few coaches can say they have like Jim Harbaugh.
Conversely, the 49ers whiffed in their pursuit of Peyton Manning and have no better option than Alex Smith at this point.  Kaepernick is talented but unfinished.  Scott Tolzien is unproven and won't get a chance this year at 3rd on the depth chart either.  The options around the rest of the NFL are all downgrades from Smith (anyone interested in trading for Tebow?).  No other quarterback has the chemistry with the 49ers that Alex has and it's clear that he provides the 49ers the best chance to win, at least while Kaepernick works towards being NFL ready.
If this money doesn't heal Smith's "Manning Watch" wound, I suspect that time will, and all will be well when the 49ers take the field in August.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Alex Smith has no one to blame but himself... and his agent

                Alex Smith finally came limping back to Santa Clara this afternoon – beaten down, tuck-tailed and egg-faced.  Matt Maiocco reported that Alex and Jim Harbaugh have been talking, and now that the Dolphins have signed David Garrard, Alex’s leverage in contract negotiations is all but gone.
                Other than the man who is about to be the next topic du jour, Tim Tebow, Smith appears to be the biggest loser in this Peyton Manning fiasco.  The Titans still have their quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker.  The Broncos got their man.  The Dolphins are, well, the Dolphins, and the 49ers now occupy the driver’s seat in their contract talks with Alex.  Perhaps he could find a contract as a back-up quarterback, but he is looking for more money than Matt Flynn received – most likely along the lines of Mark Sanchez’s contract, and no team is interested in Smith at that price.  The 49ers aren’t going to budge, especially now that Smith is out of options.
                The 49er-Smith Rift
                Things have certainly soured between the 49ers and Smith.  It has been reported that Alex Smith is upset with the 49ers – that it wasn’t about length of the deal or price, but loyalty and respect.  One can’t help but feel for Smith – he watched a beautiful relationship grow with his coach after years of mismanagement.  He formed a bond with Harbaugh that was almost paternal; he spent time with Harbaugh, he accepted an award for Harbaugh.  He had a great 2011 season and believed he should be awarded as such.
                The 49ers put a contract out on the table early for Smith.  Perhaps it wasn’t fair value in Smith’s eyes, but it WAS correct market value.  If he wanted to base his worth on the contracts given to Matt Flynn and Mark Sanchez then he was destined for disappointment.  The 49ers are not in the business of overpaying for risks.  They set a price on a player and they never waiver.  Alex has spent enough time around Trent Baalke to know that by now.
                His gamble, flirting with the Dolphins, blew up in his face in disastrous fashion now that David Garrard signed with Miami.  At this point it’s clear that he will accept the deal that the 49ers had out for him all along.  All of this trouble and all of the embarrassment is essentially of his own making – had he accepted the 49ers offer originally, the 49ers would not have existed in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.
                Show me the money
                I don’t think, however, that Alex Smith was the sole proprietor of this stalemate gone wrong:  This has Smith’s agent, Tom Condon, written all over it.  You can’t blame Condon for trying to milk his client’s worth for an extra couple pennies – Alex Smith did have a great season in 2011.  But six prior seasons of mediocrity show that Alex still has much to prove if he wants to get paid elite quarterback money.
                It isn’t surprising to see that other teams found very little value in Alex.  Smith needs a special kind of coach, a special kind of attention and an extended learning curve in order to have a chance at excelling.  His history has proven that his confidence is fragile, and though he’s highly intelligent, he’s not the fastest learner.  No team in the league would have been willing to shell out more than what the 49ers were offering for a quarterback like Smith.  Condon should have known as much and kept his client’s best interests in mind before he went off trying to hustle him for an extra buck.
                Of course it’s human nature for Alex to be dejected by this whole fiasco.  He can’t just unfeel the betrayal that he’s experienced, but it’s the National Football League – it’s a cutthroat business where there’s almost always something better out there.  He has to move past his pride and get on board with the 49ers.  His best chance to win is San Francisco – this is where he belongs.  The hope will be that this puts a chip on his shoulder.  Perhaps he will come out stronger in 2012 and he will prove his worth.  Perhaps he can show that he’s worth his salt.  Perhaps he can show that he’s worth a bigger deal.
                In the meantime, Alex has a self-inflicted mess to clean up.  He has a contract to sign and it’s time to make that happen.  But after that’s done, there’s still one thing left for Smith to do before he gets back to playing football – he has an agent that needs to be fired.

Reasons for 49ers fans to breathe easy while waiting for Peyton

It wasn't even 8 o'clock on Friday morning that I tweeted about how glad I was that the 49ers weren't involved in this Peyton Manning fiasco.  As exciting as Harbaugh-mania was last year, it was quite taxing.  For several days straight I sat endlessly refreshing Twitter, hoping for some kind of breaking news.  Pundits told me he was going elsewhere, only to eventually waiver on that fact.  I was so happy when it was over, not only because we got our man, but also because I could finally rest easy, knowing that there was stability in the 49ers coaching situation at last.
Not 3 hours later and the 49ers were ears deep in Peyton-Watch 2012.  I've wasted an entire weekend now hoping for some news that has yet to come.  Thank god I've been close to a wifi signal for more of it.  That same instability that existed in the 49ers coaching ranks now exists at the position of quarterback.

Here's a couple random thoughts on the situation, in no particular order, for you to chew on while you're waitin' for Peyton:

1.) The 49ers have emerged as one of the most confident, tight lipped organizations in football.  I've been very impressed by the way they've handled free agency in the last two years.  Both Braylon Edwards and Randy Moss were low risk- high reward signings.  Regardless of who ends up being quarterback for the 49ers, Moss may prove to be a factor in the passing game this year. If he's not, the 49ers take no major financial hit, so that move was a no brainer.
They took an amazingly confident stance with Mario Manningham and I was impressed that they landed him.  They had Manningham in for a workout early last week and talked contract.  They let him walk to explore his options, basically telling him that they weren't desperate to sign him.  He explored his options in St. Louis and finally decided that the 49ers were the best fit for him.  Financial details of his contract have yet to be released, but they must have gotten him on the cheap, because 18M in cap space doesn't leave them with much to work with.  If Manningham was getting #1 wideout money, the 49ers wouldn't still be in the race for Manning.
2. The 49ers are taking an equally impressive tact in their pursuit of Peyton.  Of each of the teams to express interest in Manning, the 49ers were the only ones to work him out without the Schefters of the world getting wind of it.  No private jets, no over-eager appeals to him, no tweets about how impressive he was.
Despite the fact that the 49ers are the only team trying to land Manning without a solidified #1 quarterback on the roster (okay, so Tim Tebow is up for debate), the 49ers have not seemed overly desperate in their attempts to woo him.  Considering that Alex Smith is a free agent and Colin Kaepernick doesn't appear ready to start, the 49ers may be in the most dire straits as Manning weighs his options.  But as the market thins for Alex Smith more and more, it appears that the 49ers are truly in the drivers seat when it comes to finding their quarterback for 2012.
3. Despite how nervous most 49ers fans are, it seems pretty clear that the team will end up okay in 2012.  At this point, there are four possible outcomes.  First, Manning decides to play for the 49ers.  Second, Manning goes to any other team and Alex Smith signs a contract with San Francisco.  Third, Manning goes to the Titans and Alex Smith signs with the Dolphins, making Matt Hasslebeck available for the 49ers services as Kaepernick's learning curve is substantially sped up.  The fourth and most treacherous is that Manning signs with the Broncos and Alex goes to the Dolphins, leaving the 49ers likely to sign Buccaneers back up quarterback Josh Johnson to compete with Kaepernick for a starting role.  The final two options would certainly open the door financially for the 49ers to go after Mike Wallace, so in all they aren't terrible options - perhaps just the most uncertain ones.
4.  As Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reported, it looks as if Alex Smith is waiting out his decision for the future until Peyton has chosen a team.  Although Smith's undying loyalty to the 49ers seems sad and desperate, it should give fans a reason to breathe easy, knowing that Alex is certainly the best alternative to Manning that the 49ers have.  Much has been made of Alex's broken heart and what this fiasco will do to his confidence, but who knows - maybe this will spurn Smith to come back with a fire in his belly, knowing he has still much to prove.  Financially, this would leave the 49ers open to some further retooling, with enough cap space to sign former Panthers guard Geoff Schwartz and, yes, maybe even Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace.
As fans wait hopefully for Peyton to make his decision, I'll urge you to keep from being dead set on Manning.  Not more than a few days ago, most were very confident going forward with Alex Smith, and this situation doesn't change things.  There are two extremely capable quarterbacks considering providing their services for the 49ers in 2012 and beyond.  Given the current construction of this team, I suspect that the 49ers will be competing dor a championship regardless of the Peyton Manning outcome.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Free Agency: 49ers fan's March madness

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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Perrish Cox, character issues and what this means for the 49ers free agents

                The 49ers signed former Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox to a two year contract Tuesday, marking the second “character issue” free agent signing for San Francisco in less than 24 hours.  In the wake of agreeing to terms on a 1 year, $2.5M contract with Randy Moss, the 49ers have now signed a player who took 2011 year off from football and was recently acquitted of sexual assault charges.
                Cox is not only a cornerback with some high upside, but he is also a return specialist.  He fell to the fifth round of the 2010 draft before being chosen by the Denver Broncos.  It’s been said that his slow 40 speed (4.58) was the main reason for his stock plummet in the draft.  But he played well for the Broncos, and he should provide some pop and explosiveness to the 49ers' secondary - if he plays at a high level.
                The character issues started in college.  In 2009, he was arrested for driving on a suspended license.  He was suspended from the Cotton Bowl by Oklahoma St. head coach Mike Gundy for violating curfew in his senior year.  In December of 2010, Cox was arrested for felony sexual assault charges.  He was acquitted of those charges on March 2nd.
                Signings with baggage
                So there you have it.  Since the final whistle sounded on the 49ers 2011 season, they have signed 3 different players with checkered pasts.  Randy Moss is obviously not a Sunday school graduate, Cox has his history of mischievousness, and let’s not forget about Ahmad Brooks, who came from the Cincinnati Bengals a few years ago with a number of red flags.
                Signing guys with character issues is not a new trend for the 49ers.  Brooks was a signing that made many 49ers fans cringe, but he is now anchored to this team for another 5 years.  His character issues were resolved, and he has become an important member of one of the league’s best defenses. 
                Anthony Davis was a guy that the 49ers drafted despite warnings about his character.  Davis had lots of upside, but was said to be young and immature.  Despite the fact that Davis has no filter on Twitter, he keeps his cool on and off the field, and the youngster seems to be growing into form.
                Then there’s Braylon Edwards, who the 49ers brought in despite character issues.  He acted out in the locker room and to the media, which explains why he got cut, but he didn’t get in any legal trouble during his tenure in San Francisco.  The 49ers are hoping for more from both Randy Moss and Perrish Cox than what they got from Edwards.  But Harbaugh and Baalke both seem confident that their behavioral issues will not reappear while they play for the 49ers.
                What does this mean for Rogers and Ginn?
                The general belief is that this means both Carlos Rogers and Ted Ginn Jr. will be gone, and that may be true.  I am pretty certain that Ginn will be playing for another team next year – the 49ers have already replaced Ginn's deep threat ability offense with Moss; now Cox can provide what Ginn brought to the return game.
                I am hesitant to think that the 49ers are done talking to Rogers, however.  Remember when the 49ers signed Madieu Williams last year and everyone said goodbye to Dashon Goldson?  Goldson was looking for a big contract out in the free agent market but he came up empty.  Goldson came crawling back to the 49ers, and he ended up having a career year.
                The market will probably be considerably better for Rogers than it was for Goldson, but I still wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him coming back.  It’s important to keep in mind that Rogers had one good year, so if a top 5 corner contract is what he’s looking for, the thrifty 49ers front office may not be willing to dish it.  If Rogers doesn't like what he sees, and is willing to settle for a more modest contract, the 49ers might be the team to give it to him.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Randy Moss signs a 1 year deal with the 49ers, I eat crow

                Okay, so I can admit when I’m wrong.  It’s the first in a long history of sports writing hiccups, I hope.  If I’m still claiming that the 49ers won’t sign someone that they do end up signing fifteen years from now, that will mean that I’m still in the sports writing business – so I’ll take it.
                But I digress – the 49ers signed Randy Moss to a 1 year deal Monday night.  The financial details of the contract have yet to be disclosed, but it’s safe to assume that it’s somewhere around what Braylon Edwards got last year - $1M plus a couple million extra in lofty incentives.  At this point in Moss’s career, it isn’t about money though.  The last two years in the NFL have been rough on Moss.  After being cut by the Patriots he bounced to the Vikings and Titans, where he fell into obscurity and then eventually off of the map completely.  He spent a year away from football, and after a reportedly impressive work out with the Saints and (I’m assuming) an impressive one with the 49ers, He’s back – this time in the red and gold.  He won’t be playing for a paycheck; he’ll be playing to save face and reassemble his reputation.
                Questioning the move
                Raiders fans will scoff and chuckle.  Parody Twitter accounts will make jokes about Alex Smith’s arm strength.  But several long months of speculation will eventually culminate in Moss stepping on Bill Walsh field to play for the San Francisco 49ers.  Lucky for the fans, Moss won’t have to be both the horse and the carriage when it comes to the offense.
                As exciting as this move is, the 49ers are not done perusing the wide receiver market.  Names like Colston, Meachem, Robinson, Garcon, Jackson and (please please please) Wallace are still out there, ready for free agency to start on Tuesday.  Names like Reuben Randall, Stephen Hill and TY Hilton (my college sleeper) are available in the draft.  Joshua Morgan is still an option to come back.  And let’s try not to forget about Michael Crabtree, who has become a fly in the ointment of sorts, at least until he shows a desire to produce.
                Randall’s Role
                This move comes along with many question marks.  Can Harbaugh wrangle the free spirit that is Randy Moss?  Will Moss keep within his history and quit or will he finally be a team player?  Will he block and finish his routes?  Can Alex Smith even get him the ball?
                Calm your concerns, 49ers faithful.  Don’t forget that this contract is low risk/high reward.  Assuming that the 49ers will be freshly stocked with a bevy of hungry receiving options, the fall won’t be “Moss to Hastings.”  Should Moss fail to adhere to his role, he’ll be released – and much faster than Braylon was.
                My original reasoning behind not making this move was that Harbaalke had learned from the Braylon signing; in that respect I doubt I’m wrong.  The 49ers won’t waste their time cutting ties with Moss if he proves to be the locker room “cancer” that everyone thinks he is.    There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be a young  wideout waiting in the wings should Randy decide to be Randy.
                Given that it’s March, I’m not even going to bother speculating on how he does.  Moss hasn’t played football in over a year.  I will mention what he’ll need to do.  It will be important for him to finish his routes, block and provide deception.  A lot of the 49ers offense is based around defensive misdirection.  He will need to get open downfield even when he isn’t getting the ball, uncorking the defense for Walker, Davis and Crabtree underneath.  And Alex doesn’t need to throw it 60 yards downfield to complete a pass to him; if Moss is open at 45 or 50 yards, Alex will hit him.  It’s all about trust and separation.  The minute Alex resigns the two can start building trust.  If Moss is even a sliver as fast as he used to be, he’ll get separation.
                So there you have it.  I was wrong about the 49ers and Moss.  I was lying when I said I didn’t want it.  I am excited, but that excitement is coated with caution.  49ers fans have been burned with a history of terrible free agent wide receivers, from Edwards to Antonio Bryant and all the way back to Daryl Jackson.  As the details of the contract come to light, I’m sure 49ers fans will breathe a sigh of relief.  The price will be low.  Keeping expectations lower is the name of the game.  Who knows, we might be in for a special surprise.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A sleeper free agent wideout in Big D

While football fans are mired in that uncomfortable space between the franchise tag deadline and the start of free agency, the only thing left to do -- other than twiddle our thumbs -- is ponder what may transpire.
If you're a 49ers fan, you're probably currently flirting with the notion that Peyton Manning might end up sporting the red and gold.  But if you're an individual whose fandom is grounded in reality, you're probably only concerned with what the 49ers will do at the wide receiver position.
Much has been said about the unusually deep free agent wideout class of 2012, both on this blog as well as countless others.  Big names -- like Dwayne Bowe and Desean Jackson -- were franchised, taking them off the board completely, while others -- such as Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston -- are going to be suited by teams the moment that the flood gates open.  There's one name that hasn't been tossed around very much; a name that the 49ers wouldn't be wrong for looking at -- Laurent Robinson.
He's not the flashiest option, but his career exploded midway through 2011, similar to New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.  Originally drafted in 2007 by the Falcons out of Illinois State, Robinson struggled with injuries over the first few years of his career.  He was traded to the Rams, where he again was underwhelming. His injury troubles continued, and after being released by St. Louis, he bounced from the Chargers to the Cowboys, where he finally capitalized on some playing time.  Ironically, an injury to Miles Austin would be his launching pad -- he stepped in and became arguably the most dominant receiver in Texas.
I became particularly familiar with Robinson when I picked him up off the fantasy waiver wire.  Robinson was a fantasy animal, racking up 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 8 games.
What makes Robinson so intriguing for the 49ers is what you find as you dig deeper into the stat sheet.  He impressed with his abilities in the red zone.  7 of Robinson's 11 touchdowns came inside the 20 yard line -- that's a stat that has to make you drool.
Robinson isn't exceptionally sized (6'2", 210 lbs), but he's a jump ball type of receiver with strong hands.  Contrary to what many 49ers fans may think, getting the ball downfield isn't the primary problem -- most games they were fairly successful between the 20s.  It was once they got inside the red zone that the 49ers always seemed to stall out.  Robinson could be a step towards solving that problem, both creating a target for Alex Smith as well as opening up space for Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.  What's more -- he may be affordable as he slides under the free agent radar this off season.
The Cowboys will want to resign him, but with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin already solidified as starting wide receivers for Dallas, Robinson may not want to continue playing third fiddle.  Jerry Jones may also use Robinson's injury-filled history as a reason to tender a smaller contract, driving down his price for other suitors around the league.
San Francisco is a destination where Robinson could emerge as a number one receiver and that could play to the 49ers' advantage in negotiations.  His price will depend on how the market unfolds when free agency opens and how badly Jerry Joned wants him back.
How much is Robinson worth?  Definitely not Mike Wallace money.  But Trent Baalke said it himself -- they'll explore every option, and Laurent Robinson could be a viable one for the 49ers offense in 2012.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Some Ruthless Giants Marketing Suggestions

If I may be frank, I’m sick of the old, tired Giants marketing gimmicks.  Lincecum wigs were cute, but they’re too low budget; they don’t even look like real hair!  Honestly, I could make a Wilson beard with a piece of mattress pad and a black sharpie. And please, I’m not a tourist – I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a panda hat.  I’ve got some fresh ideas for products that should hit Dugout Stores immediately.  These are products that REAL Giants fans would endorse, so if you work for the teams marketing department and you’re reading this, start taking notes.

“Let said player do something” T-Shirts - Obviously, the team’s staff wasn’t responsible for creating the "Let Timmy Smoke" T-shirts, but I bet they're cursing political correctness to this day. It proved to be a gold mine for T-Shirt bootleggers everywhere – I bet it’s still a hit outside the ball park this upcoming season. Just in case they decide to throw caution to the wind and start making some risqué T-shirts, I have some suggestions that could earn them some extra coin.
My buddy Sonny cooked up the idea of "Let Freddy Tweak" T-shirts, in honor of the Giants' nervous tick-ridden second baseman.  He dives out of the way of pitches that are way outside, his facial expressions at the plate would make any DEA agent suspicious - Freddy Sanchez wants to tweak, and the Giants should let him.
Other options include "Let Aubrey Drink," "Let Pill Pop," "Let Belt Sit," and "Let Barry Bikram." That last one could be a huge hit for the ladies, as Bikram yoga has gotten pretty popular, and why shouldn't the Giants earn every dollar they can from having Zito on the roster?

Barry Zito Mustache - Speaking of Zito, let's talk about the paste-on mustache. We already have the Lincecum wig and the Wilson beard, so why not continue with the hair trend?
Zito has been known to grow a pretty sweet Ron Jeremy 'stache from time to time, but as Bay Area Sports Guy pointed out his commitment to facial hair is as questionable as his commitment to baseball. Why not offer both Zito and Giants fans an opportunity to go either 'stache or no 'stache on a moment’s notice? By selling the Barry Zito mustache, fans could slap it on for Zito's starts, and if he starts to lose his command or he gives it up completely, they'll have something to rip off in frustration.  Trippy idea, right? Don’t kill my dream, man.

The machine bobblehead day - This idea was not mine, it was actually Brian Wilson's. He claims that a "Machine Bobblehead" already exists, so why not use it as a promotion? It would be an enormous hit. For those of you arguing that it would be taboo because of the children, keep in mind – you see just as much skin, if not more, on a Stretch Armstrong doll.

Buster Posey leg lamp day - In honor of possibly the greatest holiday movie every made, "A Christmas Story," the Giants could give out Buster Posey leg lamps. It would be one serious blockbuster of a promotion. I can see it now – Fans would start lining the streets of China Basin as early as 8 AM to get their mitts on one of these bad boys. It would come fully equipped with that smooth skin look, and could even be rocking a walking boot for extra irony. You could put it up right in the front window to show the entire neighborhood what a hardcore fan you are – as long as your wife doesn’t mind, of course.

Prospect yo yo day - Just for that young child in your household, I give you the "Prospect Yo-Yo." Give that kid something to play with while he's bored to tears in the sixth inning of a 1-0 ball game – it’s better than them screaming in your ear for a Ghirardelli’s sundae. Each yo-yo would be complete with the name and headshot of such players as Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Brett Pill, and hell, maybe even Gary Brown. That is, of course, if we really want to get our hopes up.
Obviously, these promotions wouldn’t be a one day thing. As soon as people catch a glimpse of these beauties, they’ll be running to the souvenir stands with wallets in hand. The possibilities are endless, especially with the chance of more free agent signings down the road to exploit. Go to the Dugout Store and demand these products – after all, you deserve them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an application to fill out for the Giants’ marketing staff.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ward to the 49ers isn't too far-fetched

Yet another notable wide receiver has hit the free agent market, so being an ever-ambitious sports blogger, I decided to pounce on and devour the opportunity to create speculation like a wolf on fresh meat.
Today's wide receiver du jour is Hines Ward, the Steelers' smirking veteran that defensive backs love to hate.  After a Hall of Fame 14 year career with Pittsburgh, Hines Ward has been informed of his release, making him available for pursuit by other teams.  The next, oh-so-logical question is: Will the 49ers bite?
Well I say: Sure, why not?  At 36, Ward has certainly seen a drop off statistically, but he doesn't believe that his career is done, and I'm not so sure either.
Oft injured in 2011, he played in 15 games and only started in 9.  He racked up 46 catches for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Those numbers are nearly half of what he put up in 2010, and not even sniffing what he did in 09.  He certainly wasn't the primary target that he used to be, especially with players like Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace taking snaps from him.  Many people think Ward's career is over, but I don't believe that he would be completely useless on the 49ers nonetheless.  If the 49ers could get land Hines Ward on a short term, inexpensive deal, he could be a useful piece.
He doesn't exactly fit the bill for what the 49ers need at wide receiver.  He's not a burner; he never has been.  But he would provide Alex Smith with another receiving option - someone with sure hands who runs disciplined routes.  He's also a hell of a run-blocking wideout, an asset for Jim Harbaugh's balanced run-pass system.  Off the field, he could play the role of Yoda for Michael Crabtree, a guy who has never enjoyed the benefit of having a true veteran wide receiver around to take cues from.
It wouldn't be the first time the 49ers signed an over-the-hill wideout.  We all remember when Isaac Bruce became a 49er and we all took to enjoying chanting his name, right?  Signing him to a 2 year, $6M deal may have even been a stretch for a 38 year old who was clearly past his prime, but his 835 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2008 provided a little bit of spark and proved that he had something left in the tank.
Whether or not Ward has anything left in the tank himself is up for debate.  Bruce's 733 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2007 are better numbers than Ward's 2011 effort in Pittsburgh, but the 49ers wouldn't have to offer him much.  Case in point: Braylon Edwards.
The 49ers waited out the market on Edwards until it was clear that he wasn't getting offers.  They stepped in and pushed $1M base salary deal across the table stocked with some lofty incentives.  It was basically no-risk from a salary cap standpoint.  When Braylon fizzed out, there was no loss in cutting him because there was no great financial burden attached to him.
The same design can be utilized in pursuing Ward.  If they wait out the market and find that no one has signed him, they can step in with a small, incentive-laden offer and see if he bites.  It would be tertiary to both signing a free agent wide receiver - one who can REALLY make a difference - and using their first round draft pick to get another one.  If another team picks up Ward, or if the 49ers get him and he turns out to be truly done, it's not a big deal because he wasn't their primary target to begin with.  But if he signs a 1 year deal for around $1M, they have picked up a cheap veteran who could fill a role on their squad.
I'm not saying that I would be flying out of my cage if this deal happened - who's to say that Ward isn't done?  He certainly looked that way after the concussion he sustained in November of 2011.  Nonetheless, Hines Ward says he still wants to play, and for the right price, the 49ers may just offer him that opportunity.