The first day of free agency has come and gone for the 2014 NFL season. Some teams such as the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns went to the high priced shopping bin as they spent big money. One of those moves affects the San Francisco 49ers. Donte Whitner signed a big money deal that allows him to go home to Cleveland. This kick started a shuffle at safety. The 49ers also made a couple of trades that definitely turned some heads.
The Whitner deal is said to be four years and worth $28,000,000. It also includes a $9,000,000 signing bonus with a total of $13,000,000 guaranteed. The 49ers reacted by signing former Indianapolis Colts safety, Antoine Bethea. The terms of that deal have not fully been released but at this point we do know that it has a value of $26,000,000 over four years. The deal has less value than Whitner’s but the real separation will be shown once the guaranteed money and signing bonus information is released.
Some are not pleased about this move but it is an instant improvement on the passing defense side of things for the 49ers. Bethea is a more rangy safety that will allow the 49ers to be more interchangeable at safety. Eric Reid is a solid cover guy and he will work well with Bethea.
I spoke to Bill Polian, the former Colts general manager that drafted Bethea out of Howard University. The first thing that he told me was that he worked with Vic Fangio when they were both with the Carolina Panthers. He said that Fangio likes a smart, experienced safety that is rangy. Fangio likes guys that can do different things but he wants his safeties to be able to cover a lot of ground. Polian mentioned how Bethea played in the box last year but is a true free safety by trade.
Polian shared an interesting story about how he and Tony Dungy decided to insert Bethea at safety. Apparently, Polian was not sure if Bethea was a safety or a cover two corner. He shared the tape that he watched with Tony Dungy. Dungy watched the tape and they figured out that he would be a day two pick. Polian had one request from Dungy, which was to be sure to not mention Bethea to anyone or show anyone his film.
They drafted Bethea in the sixth round in 2006. There wasn’t a rookie mini-camp that year. The first exposure to the NFL that Bethea got was a full squad mini camp. Polian said that he had two interceptions in the first practice in the morning and followed it up with two more in the evening practice. It was at that moment that Dungy walked up to Polian and smiled as he said; “I think we will keep him at safety.” Bethea proceeded to be a starter over the next eight seasons.
Eric Wright was also signed by the 49ers. He will be back for another year with the team that he grew up rooting for. He took to Twitter to announce that his dream continues. The deal is said to be a one year deal worth just under one million dollars. This is a good move for the 49ers as they needed to address their lack of depth at the nickel corner spot. They released Carlos Rogers which saved them about $6,000,000. Rogers was their top corner when it comes to covering the slot receiver. Wright will take over that role unless the 49ers draft one of the better nickel corners such as Kyle Fuller or Jason Verrett. Both should be there when the 49ers use the 30th pick in the draft.
Phil Dawson was the first signing for the 49ers. He came through in a major way for the 49ers last year especially when it came to making kicks of 50 yards or more. Dawson was able to make the transition from kicking in the cold weather in the AFC North to kicking in the windy conditions at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The next stop for Dawson will be kicking through the NFL’s first collapsible field goal posts which were recently installed at new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Two trades took place for the 49ers today as well. Blaine Gabbert was brought in from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a sixth round pick. The move gives the 49ers a veteran backup that is a former first round talent. Things didn’t work out in Jacksonville for him but the 49ers were said to have been high on Gabbert in the 2010 draft and some even thought that they would select him with the seventh overall pick that year. Good thing they selected Aldon Smith.
The other trade was the acquisition of tackle Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins. The 49ers gave up a late round pick in 2015 to get him. This deal will give them a backup at both left and right tackle. It remains to be seen how Martin will handle the 49ers locker room or how the locker room will handle him.
Things are just getting started for the 2014 NFL season but it is already off to a solid start.