The great thing about free agency is you get a fresh start. The hard part is watching familiar faces leave. That’s the nature of the business. Despite losing their starting secondary from last season, fan favorite Anthony Dixon and hard hitting safety Donte Whitner, the San Francisco 49ers have reloaded by adding Antoine Bethea, Chris Cook, Blaine Gabbert and Jonathan Martin. So far, not so good.
The best acquisition was Antoine Bethea from the Indianapolis Colts who will fill the void left by Whitner. Bethea is a natural talent who doesn’t give the 49ers a drop off at the safety slot. Combine him with Eric Reid and San Francisco has a very solid back two. In his career, Bethea is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, started every game for Indy for six straight years and won a Super Bowl in his 2006 rookie season. Last year, the strong safety made 110 tackles to go along with two picks and a sack.
The other three pickups have the Faithful doing a collective face palm. The additions of Cook, Gabbert and Martin are head scratchers at best. All three have minimal talent, and that’s a compliment.
Chris Cook was a major disappointment for the Minnesota Vikings, where he never intercepted a pass in his four seasons. The Niners have already released Carlos Rogers and lost Tarell Brown to the Oakland Raiders, and bringing in Cook feels like a major downgrade. Cook had 47 tackles last season in 11 starts, but his upside lies in his physical attributes. At 6’2 and 212 lbs., he gives the 49ers that big, physical corner they had been seeking, and are hopeful they can maximize his potential. Unfortunately, his career suggests otherwise thus far. Fortunately, it’s only a one-year deal.
Gabbert, in my opinion, was the worst starter in the NFL last season. Despite being drafted 10th overall in 2011, Gabbert has never matured into the quarterback the scouts saw at the combine. Going to the Jaguars probably didn’t help and injury problems certainly hampered his growth, but the guy is flat out awful. His 22 touchdown passes in 28 career games actually seem much higher than I originally thought. Hopefully he won’t see the field other than in the preseason and when the Niners are up 50.
Martin is best known for being the victim in the Miami Dolphins-Richie Incognito bullying saga. A former Stanford grad, Martin is looking for a fresh start in San Francisco. However, barring injury, don’t expect him to play much. Martin is a big lineman, but with Alex Boone and Pro Bowler Mike Iupati in front of him, he’s a backup. A side note, Martin leaving that toxic situation in Miami is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Whether or not he can handle all of the pressures of the NFL remains to be seen, but judging his mental toughness because of the Incognito situation is shortsighted at best.
So far, I would give the 49ers a C- in free agency. The Bethea acquisition filled a need, but the other pickups don’t figure to help much. Hopefully the coming days can yield a decent slot receiver, however, with limited cap space, the Niners will need to either unload some more draft picks or try and build through the draft for the future as our own Jeff Vandersnick has suggested.
You can follow me on Twitter @mrandyparker