The Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones yesterday. If you aren’t familiar with Jones, he’s the guy who ended up in the hospital after a bad reaction to synthetic marijuana in the week leading up to the Patriots’ divisional round playoff game against the Chiefs. He also led the Pats with 12.5 sacks last year and has 36 in his four-year NFL career.
New England received former first-rounder (and current bust) Jonathan Cooper and a second round pick. Arizona gets Jones in the last year of his contract, and they’ll hope he keeps sacking quarterbacks and stays out of trouble this year. This is a “win now” move for the Cardinals, who consider themselves a playoff team that, with a little more talent, could win their first championship.
The 49ers do not see themselves as a playoff team.
“We’re not in a rebuild. This isn’t a rebuild situation. This is a reload situation,” said Trent Baalke during the 49ers’ infamous We’re going to tell you that we mutually parted ways with Jim Harbaugh because we think all of you are idiots press conference on Dec. 29, 2014.
Whether or not Baalke believed what he said back then is unknown, and doesn’t really matter anymore. He most certainly doesn’t believe they’re in a “reload situation” now, otherwise they’d actually, you know, try harder to reload the roster.
The 49ers still have plenty of cap dollars available — $59,190,891 (almost 10% of all available cap space in the league, and second only to the Jaguars), to be exact. But after spending the first week of free agency avoiding players from other organizations other than Thad Lewis, the best free agents are gone. And the remaining available players wouldn’t make much of a dent on a team that (1) is decidedly young and (2) was outscored by nearly 10 points per game last season.
Let’s take a look at who’s still out there. First, the positions where the 49ers probably aren’t overly concerned.
Tackles (not necessarily a top priority with Joe Staley, Trent Brown and Anthony Davis … if the latter indeed returns)
- Andre Smith: choosing between the Cardinals and Vikings
- Russell Okung: expected to visit Broncos; Lions and Giants also interested
Safeties (49ers’ deepest position other than kicking specialists)
- Reggie Nelson: 32 years old
- Walter Thurmond: possibly retiring
- Rashad Johnson: isn’t any better than what the 49ers have
- Husain Abdullah: 31 years old in July
Defensive tackle (probably not a need after they re-signed Ian Williams)
- Nick Fairley: serviceable in 2015; arrested twice in two months in 2012
- Terrence Knighton: not an upgrade over Williams/Dorsey/Dial
Center (Daniel Kilgore should be the Week 1 starter a year removed from his ankle injury)
- Stefen Wisniewski: decent player, but the 49ers haven’t shown interest
There are some unsigned free agents at positions where the 49ers could use an upgrade, but none of them are all that exciting/realistic.
Cornerback (wouldn’t be a bad choice for the 49ers)
- Patrick Robinson: several teams have shown interest, including L.A. (but not the 49ers)
- Leon Hall: 31-year-old slot corner, and that’s Jimmie Ward’s position
- Jerraud Powers: started 13 games for Arizona in 2015, in shadow of Patrick Peterson and the Badger
- Brandon Boykin: didn’t get a lot of snaps with Pittsburgh in 2015
Outside linebacker (Ahmad Brooks is totally starting for the 49ers next year)
- Courtney Upshaw: run-stopping specialist (yawn)
- Aldon Smith: uh … no
Defensive end (the 49ers are probably looking for OLBs, but could make an exception)
- Greg Hardy: yikes
- Dwight Freeney: 36-year-old probably wants to play for a contender
Guard (Tiller could be decent, but another year of Marcus Martin or Erik Pears starting would be gross)
- Jahri Evans: turns 33 in August
- Evan Mathis: not the biggest fan of Chip Kelly (update: he signed with the Cardinals today)
- Geoff Schwartz: big (6-6, 340) former Oregon Duck was cut by New York Giants
- Manny Ramirez: can also play center, 33-year-old is probably more of a backup at this point
Wide receiver (because Quinton Patton is not a No. 2 wideout)
- Anquan Boldin: unless a contender suddenly shows interest (or the 49ers think he’s done), he’s probably coming back
- Percy Harvin: 718 yards and 3 receiving touchdowns in the last three years
- Rueben Randle: take him away from Eli Manning and Odell Beckham and see what happens
Running back (because Carlos Hyde needs help/competition)
- Arian Foster: injury-magnet; likely holding out for more than 49ers would want to pay
- Alfred Morris: yards per carry down every year (3.7 ypc in 2015)
- LeGarrette Blount: Chip coached him at Oregon!
- Chris Johnson: entering his age-31 season
Quarterback (you knew this was coming)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick: big money demands for a 33-year-old who has never been in the playoffs
- Robert Griffin III: no one seems all that interested, including the Rams
Even if the 49ers go on a wild spending spree — let’s say they add Robinson to their secondary and Schwartz or Evans to their offensive line, re-sign Boldin, give in to Foster’s contract demands (which are probably exorbitant), and sign Fitzpatrick after FINALLY trading Colin Kaepernick — they still won’t be any better than the third-best team in the NFC West.
And, while we make fun of the 49ers’ front office quite a bit around these parts, we should admit something. Baalke, Paraag Marathe and Jed York are probably smart enough to know they can’t realistically compete for a playoff spot in 2016. Not in the NFL’s toughest division, not without a franchise quarterback, not with an extremely young roster in a brand new system.
This will be another developmental year, one in which the 49ers hope Kelly and his staff can develop the young players and a considerable number of drafted rookies better than Jim Tomsula and his staff did in 2015. And if the players show signs of improvement, maybe — just maybe — the 49ers will actually act like a team with tens of millions in cap space a year from now. In the meantime, season ticket-holders and frustrated fans who watch the games on TV will have to decide whether giving up their Sunday afternoons for a rebuilding 49ers team is worth it.