Familiarity becomes recurring theme for 49ers in free agency
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When the San Francisco 49ers set out to remake their team in free agency under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, there was a recurring theme in the players they found: familiarity.
Led by quarterback Brian Hoyer and receiver Pierre Garcon, the 49ers brought in a haul of players on the opening day of the league year, including several with ties to Shanahan or other coaches on San Francisco’s staff.
“The advantage of having been with someone is you know what type of guy they are,” Shanahan said Friday. “There’s always a risk when you see the tape and you bring in someone in that you don’t know. You don’t know what exactly you’re getting that you can’t see on tape.”
That familiarity worked both ways with Hoyer, Garcon and tight end Logan Paulsen all pointing to their time with Shanahan at previous stops as reasons they felt comfortable joining a team coming off a two-win season.
That 2016 debacle led to the firings of coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke, and sent the 49ers into the free agency period with no quarterbacks on the roster and only one proven receiver.
They introduced seven free agents Friday with Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk, linebacker Malcolm Smith, kicker Robbie Gould and receiver Marquise Goodwin also joining Hoyer, Garcon and Paulsen.
Later in the day, the team finalized contracts with quarterback Matt Barkley, linebacker Brock Coyle, defensive back Don Jones and receiver Aldrick Robinson, another of Shanahan’s former players.
“Kyle knows how to scheme offense up,” Hoyer said. “When people talk about offensive gurus, he knows what to do. I knew coming in no matter who we had, he’d find ways to get people open.”
Hoyer spent the 2014 season in Cleveland when Shanahan was offensive coordinator and posted a 7-6 record in 13 starts and threw for a career-high 3,326 yards. Hoyer plans to go back to his notes from that season to bone up on Shanahan’s offense so he can help get his new teammates up to speed quickly on the complex system when the offseason program begins next month.
“It isn’t the easiest system,” Hoyer said. “That’s why it works, because Kyle is able to put a lot of stuff on the players. It will help to have Pierre, who has played in this system. It will help to have Logan, who has played in the system. You have to bring those other guys along and that’s part of my responsibility.”
Garcon also had his most productive year with Shanahan calling plays, having caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards in Washington in 2013. He committed to the Niners despite not knowing for sure who would be quarterback.
He said he also plans to be a sort of player-coach, helping others learn the offense implemented by a coach he knew would have great success when he first started working with him. Shanahan was coordinator on his father Mike’s staff in Washington.
“We knew it was going to happen that Kyle would follow in his dad’s footsteps and want to be better than his dad,” Garcon said. “You could see he had the mind of a football guy. He knows a lot for such a young age. I knew he’d be a head coach at some point, but didn’t know when it would come or how fast it would come.”
Robinson and Paulsen also played for Shanahan in Washington, with Robinson spending an additional year with Shanahan in Atlanta last season.
Shanahan wasn’t the only familiar face that served as a selling point for the free agents. Smith said it was a “huge” factor that his former assistant in Seattle, Robert Saleh, was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco.
“I don’t want to say it was the only factor or the biggest factor because this organization is great,” he said. “He was definitely a bonus because I know how much he knows about ball, how much he cares about ball and how much he will invest in the players.”
Coyle played the past three seasons with the Seahawks and is familiar with the defense Saleh plans to run even though he arrived in Seattle after Saleh left for an assistant job in Seattle.
Jones played nine games for Houston last season and tied for the team lead with 11 special teams tackles.