Since the San Francisco 49ers placed an original, seventh round tender on restricted free agent ILB Larry Grant a few weeks ago, we haven’t heard much. It’s a tad surprising, because all another team would have to shell out for Grant — who was startlingly good in Weeks 13 through 16 for the 49ers as Patrick Willis’ replacement — is a salary over $1.26 million … and a seventh round pick to the 49ers.
There might be a couple reasons why the 49ers have been able to bring back their entire starting lineup on defense, reasons which could explain why Grant still hasn’t signed an offer sheet. The obvious potential reason: the 49ers are an aggressive team these days when it comes to personnel matters, and want to keep their best defense in over a decade together. The less obvious potential reason: the rest of the league thinks so highly of Justin Smith and others in the front seven, the contributions of some 49ers defenders are overlooked and/or undervalued.
Translation: there were probably several personnel evaluators throughout the league who didn’t believe Carlos Rogers’ ascension to 2nd-Team All-NFL had as much to do with Rogers as the team (and front seven) Rogers left Washington for.
Does that mean other teams believe Grant’s stats during that 4-week stretch (2 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 25 solo tackles and 9 assisted tackles) were inflated due to the team he played for? Perhaps. Still, I got a kick out of watching Grant take advantage of his 2011 opportunity, and hope he either has no other suitors or the 49ers match any reasonable offer Grant might receive from another team. Here are four reasons why.
1. It doesn’t really matter, but the idea that a former Foothill High and City College of San Francisco standout can come back to his hometown team (the team that originally drafted him in the seventh round back in 2008 out of Ohio State) and succeed makes me happy. I’m a sap like that. It’s part of the reason why I also root for Nate Schierholtz (San Ramon Valley High) and Brandon Crawford (who also went to Foothill) when I watch the San Francisco Giants. Err, wait … I mean I don’t root for anyone because I’m a journalist and these guys are all rich jerks who wouldn’t give peasants like us the time of day.
2. Did Grant play alongside better teammates than your average backup middle linebacker? Probably, but anyone closely watching those late-season games would be hard-pressed to downplay Grant’s activity and/or results. Grant played like a man fighting for his career, and he saved the 49ers when many worried that Willis’ absence could derail them entirely.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing around — if you’re constantly around the ball making plays as an NFL linebacker, you have nothing to apologize for.
3. The 49ers are a little top-heavy at middle linebacker. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman might be the two best middle linebackers alive, but behind them are Tavares Gooden (who played 13 snaps in 2011) and Michael Wilhoite, who was signed to the practice squad in December. Keeping Grant would provide additional flexibility during the NFL Draft.
4. Willis is on his way to the Hall of Fame, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll play a full season. Not only has he gone from three 16-game seasons to start his career to playing 15 games in 2010 and 13 games in 2011, he also has a shot to be the cover athlete for Madden 2013.
Cue the terrified prairie dog.
A lot of people love to say “I’m not a superstitious person.” Congrats to them. I bet they’re also really good at composting and not watching television.
I’m as superstitious as they come. I watched the entire fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII from behind the couch, because watching while sitting on the couch somehow “helped” the Bengals to a 13-6 lead after the third quarter. I don’t know if David Fucillo of Niners Nation is a superstitious person, but according to a post he wrote on Sunday he’s willing to roll the dice:
The folks at EA Sports are into the second round of the Madden cover athlete tournament. Patrick Willis is representing the 49ers as a shockingly low 11 seed. He knocked off six seed Matt Forte in the first round by a comfortable 62%-38% margin. In winning his first round matchup, Bamm Bamm advanced to face three-seed Maurice Jones-Drew in round two. The voting lasts another few days, wrapping up on April 4.
There are some folks who are considered about the Madden cover jinx. But, as we have learned from our Patrick Willis facts, the all-world linebacker is no ordinary athlete. It’s been a while since we rolled out the Patrick Willis facts, so if you are relatively new here, I’ve posted a few of my favorites after the jump. In the meantime, my own recommendation is to head over and vote for Willis in the tournament.
While I understand that it sounds crazy to worry about a silly little curse when you’re talking about Willis, who according to Fucillo ”knows exactly where in the world Carmen San Diego is…because he dropped her ass for a 5 yard loss” (great line), I’m not willing to risk Willis’ career for videogame fame. It’s not just that players don’t perform as well when they’re on the cover, they often get injured, both that year and during future years. Yeah, yeah, the NFL’s a violent league and injuries happen. But when it comes to players who make the Madden cover, it’s pretty eerie.
Here’s the Madden Curse in action, complete with body part injured and games missed.
Madden 2002: Daunte Culpepper (knee — 5 games)
Madden 2003: Marshall Faulk (ankle — 2 games)
Madden 2004: Michael Vick (broken leg — 11 games)
Madden 2005: Ray Lewis (wrist — 1 game)
Madden 2006: Donovan McNabb (sports hernia — 7 games)
Madden 2007: Shaun Alexander (broken foot — 6 games)
Madden 2008: Vince Young (general incompetence* — 16 games)
Madden 2009: Brett Favre (torn biceps tendon — 0 games)
Madden 2010: Troy Polamalu (sprained MCL — 11 games)
Madden 2011: Drew Brees (knee — 0 games)
Madden 2012: Peyton Hillis (hamstring, strep throat — 6 games)
* Not injured
Then there’s Madden 2000, which featured Barry Sanders in the background behind Madden — Sanders retired before the 1999 season. Garrison Hearst missed two seasons with a broken ankle after making the Madden 1999 cover. It’s a curse, people. Don’t fight the Sports Gods.
Does Willis deserve the cover? Absolutely. Will I vote for anyone standing in Willis’ way? Yes, and unapologetically — but I’m not sure that’ll be enough. The Niners’ defense gained a significant amount of fans this past season, and Willis could very well go all the way in the voting. If/when that happens, hopefully the 49ers will have Grant back for the 2012 season … just in case.