49ers Blog and Q&A

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

March 12, 2014
Wednesday morning QB: Analyzing 49ers' busy start to free agency


Here are some thoughts on Tuesday's additions to the 49ers' roster. All of the transactions - free-agent signings, trades - are contingent on the players passing physicals. There is no reason to believe that any of the players below have any conditions that may scuttle a deal.

Safety Antoine Bethea. The 49ers wanted to retain Donte Whitner but felt that $7 million a year outstripped his value. So they acquired a Whitner-like player at a slightly lower price, between $5 and $6 million a year. As was the case last year when Eric Reid replaced Dashon Goldson, the new safety starter's skills and physical profile are eerily similar to the old starter's. The bottom line is that the 49ers needed a smart and steady veteran at safety as a counterbalance the youth at other positions in the secondary. That's what they had in Whitner but also what they get in Bethea.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert. You have to assume that Jim Harbaugh, who once attended Gabbert's pro day alongside GM Trent Baalke, had input on this trade. And if Harbaugh had input, you have to assume that he believes he can work his magic with Gabbert. Sure, everything from Gabbert's arm strength to his leadership to his moxy has been questioned since he was drafted 10th overall in 2010. But he has size and physical gifts. And given Harbaugh's track record with quarterbacks, including some (See: Smith, Alexander D.) who had been all but heaped on the trash pile, you have to give Harbaugh and the 49ers the benefit of the doubt at this point. Remember, they did not use a 10th overall pick on Gabbert. They used the 200th pick (or thereabouts) to get him.

Tackle Jonathan Martin. This is another example of parlaying a late-round pick - a conditional 7th rounder in 2015 - on a promising reclamation project. Martin has played both right and left tackle for the Dolphins, which makes him a good candidate to take over the "swing tackle" role for the 49ers. It also will be interesting if they give Martin a look at guard. Mike Iupati is entering the final year of his contract and his price tag promises to be steep if he hits the open market in a year in which the salary cap is north of $140 million. The 49ers must have options. Joe Looney is one. Martin could be another. It must be noted that Martin didn't play well for the Dolphins. Like Gabbert, however, he's someone who showed potential as a college athlete and you can only assume he's motivated to prove his doubters wrong. Harbaugh loves that kind of player. Martin's addition is not-so-great news for a couple of 2013 rookies, Carter Bykowski and Luke Marquardt, who were looking to stick on the roster as swing tackles.

Cornerback Eric Wright. This is Baalke's reclamation project. He's betting that if Wright can put all his problems behind him he will perform like he did early in his career when he was considered one of the top young cornerbacks in the league. If that's the case, the 49ers have a potential starter at cornerback and - this can't be stressed enough -- someone who can play the nickel position. Last year, Vic Fangio and the coaching staff tapped Perrish Cox, not Wright, to play that role in a playoff game against the Packers. But the coaching staff isn't in charge of free agency. Baalke is. And it's notable that Wright, not Cox, is the one who was re-signed first.

Kicker Phil Dawson. Any team that expects to go deep into the playoffs must have a reliable kicker. That's what Dawson is. Heck, he admitted Tuesday to watching, from his Texas home, the video feed of the construction at the 49ers' new stadium just so he could judge how the wind was blowing.

-- 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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