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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

March 22, 2012
49ers sign QB Josh Johnson to a two-year deal


One day after signing presumed starter Alex Smith to a three-year contract, the 49ers have added another passer, Josh Johnson, to their quarterback stable. Johnson, 25, visited the 49ers today, met with coach Jim Harbaugh and then signed a two-year deal, a league source said.

The deal reunites Johnson with Harbaugh, his coach at the University of San Diego. Johnson had been the understudy to Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay the last two seasons. The Oakland native became a free agent this year, and he visited the Washington Redskins earlier in the week.

Johnson (6-3, 205 pounds) became an ultra efficient passer at San Diego under Harbaugh. During his senior season in 2007 -- Harbaugh had left for Stanford by then -- he threw for 2,988 yards and 43 touchdowns against a single interception. He holds the record for the highest career passer efficiency (176.68) in NCAA Division-I football history. Harbaugh used the same offense at San Diego that the 49ers use now, and Johnson presumably will pick up the system quickly.

Johnson, however, was not able to maintain that efficiency after the Buccaneers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. He's started five games -- four in 2009 and one last season -- in Tampa Bay. He's attempted 177 passes in the last four seasons, completing 54.2 percent of them, and he has a 57.7 passer rating. He's also been sacked 16 times in his career.

How does Johnson fit into a 49ers quarterback rotation that includes Smith, last year's second-round pick, Colin Kaepernick, and undrafted Scott Tolzien? Harbaugh has yet to weigh in on it, but he has said on multiple occasions that there will be competition at every position, including quarterback.

The 49ers also can get out of their three-year contract with Smith fairly easily after the first year. Smith said Wednesday he has accepted that there will be challengers for the job. "That's the way it's always been with Jim," he said. "It was the same way with me last year when I got brought in. Nothing was ever laid out there, nothing was given to you. You were going to have to earn everything. And I agreed with it. That's the nature of this game going all the way back to when it first started - it's about competition."

Johnson is similar to Kaepernick, the only player in NCAA history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards, in that he also has a big arm and is a threat on the run. Johnson owns four passing records at San Diego including touchdown passes (113), completions (724), at­tempts (1,065) and passing yards (9,699). In addition, he rushed for 1,864 and 19 touch­downs, finishing his career with 11,563 yards of total of­fense.

"Josh is a promising young player that has experience in our offensive system," general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "He is a skilled athlete with good arm talent. Josh has shown promise in limited action, both as a back-up and starter at the NFL level. We are pleased to add him to our team."

The 49ers have one other former Torero, receiver John Matthews, on the roster. Matthews spent most of the 2011 season on the 49ers practice squad.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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