By Scott Warfe
Since Michael Crabtree’s self-deactivation in the NFC Championship game, the “pundits and scribes” have been enmeshed in anticipatory waiver wire news regarding the future of the WR position (or, if not this, then they’re being ensnared by the web of their own ejaculatory accusations regarding the 49ers’ lack of integrity). Anyway, as the discussion captures your attention, and your hopes, it is important to not forget precedent: the 49ers prefer to watch the action, rather than get into the thick of it. So, please, fetter your expectations.
The following is a list of free agents the 49ers are least likely to pursue (05 is unlikely, 01 is highly unlikely, and everything else is a gradation of the previous).
05. Robert Meachem, New Orleans
16 games, 40 receptions, 620 yards, 15.5 avg, 6 TDs
While Meachem is certainly an intriguing talent, I just don’t see how he’d fit in Harbaugh’s WCO. Meachem excels at using his speed to split safeties on deep posts and streaks, skills that aren’t exactly utilized by the 49ers. Still, his speed could create some much-needed room for Michael Crabtree to find space in the short and intermediate game. But, frankly, I’m not sure what dimension Meachem could add that is not already present when (the younger) Ted Ginn is on the field.
04. Vincent Jackson, San Diego
16 games, 60 receptions, 1,106 yards, 18.4 avg, 9 TDs
Jackson would probably make the most since for the 49ers, given that he is big, strong, and fast (three qualities the 49ers haven’t had at WR since Terrell Owens). But something tells me that Jackson has more J.J. Stokes than Terrell Owens in him. Don’t get me wrong: I think Jackson could be an asset in the RZ (though he only had eleven RZ targets this season), and could also create the requisite space needed Crabtree to be effective. What’s more, the 49ers and Chargers’ offenses have quite a bit in common: both employ mostly two-receiver sets, both are predicated heavily on the run game (though the Chargers had far more passing attempts, a possible consequence of constantly playing from behind), which suggests that Jackson’s skill set would translate nicely. That said, Jackson isn’t technically the guy in San Diego—this distinction belongs to Antonio Gates. Technicalities aside, he never plays with any sort of consistency that one would expect from the guy, so expecting him to potentially fill that key role is foolhardy at best. It is feast or famine with Jackson, and the 49ers passing game has had enough famine.
03. Marques Colston, New Orleans
14 games, 80 receptions, 1,143 yards, 14.3 avg, 8 TDs
Colston is something of an ideal player: he’s a hard worker, a team player, an exceptional blocker, and a consistent pass catcher. His presence on the 49ers would certainly garner the attention of the opposition’s best. But, even with that, I don’t think he would remedy the 49ers offensive woes. In fact, Colston’s best attributes are arguably the same as those of Crabtree (at least in the eyes of Crabtree’s teammates). The 49ers wouldn’t be introducing any dimension to the offense that isn’t already there. Like Crabtree, Colston is not particularly fast, nor is he some freakish athlete that will win every jump ball. What he is good at is settling into open spaces and letting Drew Brees find him. The Saints offense is very good at creating space; the 49ers are not. I don’t see how Colston could change that. What’s worse, Colston has had three knee surgeries in the past 24 months. That doesn’t inspire confidence.
02. Stevie Johnson, Buffalo
16 games, 76 receptions, 1,004 yards, 13.2 avg, 7 TDs
Johnson is the only Buffalo Bills player to ever record back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons as a WR. Neither Andre Reed, Eric Moulds, nor even James Lofton (while with Buffalo) has accomplished such a feat. Indeed, Johnson stands alone on that pedestal, which might be his biggest issue. Though he has played well against stiff competition and his relative size and speed could be an asset in the red zone, Johnson is not a team player. When he is not letting passes sail through his fingers, Johnson is letting his teammates down. I don’t see that as a trait the 49ers would be willing to take a risk on.
01. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
16 games, 81 receptions, 1,159 yards, 14.3 avg, 5 TDs
Bowe seems like another logical choice. He was coveted by the 49ers during the 2007 draft. He manages to put up exceptional numbers despite playing in one-dimensional passing attacks. When motivated, Bowe has the potential to be an elite WR. The only problem is: he is never motivated. A quick Google search illustrates this. Every year, Kansas City beat writers publish the obligatory “What Motivational Tactic Worked On Bowe This Year” report (WMTWOBTYR for short). In 2009, it was the threat of a trade. In 2010, it was a speech Kurt Warner gave the team. This past year, it was his expiring contract. This trait is unlikely to excite the 49ers interest, no matter what dynamic Bowe could add to the roster.
There is one glaring absence from this list. Were I to leave him off the list, you’re wildest fantasy might be emboldened. Alas, such emboldening is not my business. DeSean Jackson belongs on this list, but he is in a class all of his own.
-01. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia
15 games, 58 receptions, 961 yards, 16.6 avg, 4 TDs.
I know that the prevailing feeling is that signing Jackson would atone for the sin of drafting Chilo Rachal. I can’t exactly deny this. Jackson is clearly a helluva WR. I don’t need to enumerate his success here (Mike Silver is the man to see for that). Still, there is a reason Jackson is at -01. And I don’t believe this reason needs any explanation either. But I’ll indulge: he is the platonic ideal of selfishness. He’s engaged in sideline arguing and pouting; he’s been benched prior to must-win-games; he gives up on plays; he prematurely celebrates; heck, his nickname is “Dispute.” If the 4949 Centennial Blvd were 949 Lombard Street, Jackson would Puck and Smith would Rachel. Which is to say, it wouldn’t work, though it’d make great TV. Like Puck, Jackson is a negative presence: subtraction by addition. If 49ers didn’t tolerate Braylon Edward’s mild me-first attitude, what are the chances they invite Jackson’s advance case into the locker-room?
Now, 49ers fans should take heart. That the 49ers don’t actively participate in free agency doesn’t mean they won’t pursue the right players. There are several WR that fit the 49ers mold. Click here to find out who they are.