Their biggest move, actually, has been placing a non-exclusive franchise tag on free agent nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, giving them the right to match any offer to one of the league’s premier run-stuffers while also ensuring they’ll be getting primo compensation – in the form of multiple first round draft picks – in case someone else makes Franklin a monster offer. Mostly what it means is that Franklin, by far the team’s most prominent free agent, is virtually a lock to be back doing what he does in 2010.
It’s the other 49ers transaction that’s causing heads to shake and minds to wander around the Bay Area though. I suppose it’s only natural when your team signs a quarterback who’s a former number one overall draft pick. Such a thing is a rarity in itself, but when you already have a guy on the roster who can claim the same thing on his resume?
I think I’ve seen this movie before.
The 49ers – the team who invented the phrase “quarterback controversy” – back in the Joe vs. Steve glory days, seem intent on having another one, just a year after Alex Smith and Shaun Hill traded first team reps throughout training camp and during the pre-season games. Their competition caused a distraction where neither guy got to properly prepare for the regular season the way other starters do. Hill won the battle, but not the war, as Smith took over for him in Week 7 at Houston and remained the starter for the duration of the 2009 season.
Now the 49ers have signed David Carr, formerly of the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, and most recently, Eli Manning’s understudy the past two years with the New York Giants. Carr’s getting the kind of money - $6.25M over two seasons plus another $1.87M possible in incentives – that suggests the team envisions him as more than just an injury fill-in for Smith.
“We are very happy to add David to our roster,” said McCloughan. “We added a player at a position of need and of huge importance to us. David provides depth at the quarterback position and helps make us stronger. He’s a great young man.”
Carr (6-3, 216) enters his ninth NFL season after originally being drafted with the first overall pick by the Houston Texas in the 2002 NFL Draft. Carr has played in 91 career games (79 starts) and has completed 1,346 of 2,251 pass attempts for 14,366 yards and 65 touchdowns, 70 interceptions, and a career QB rating of 75.2.
It’s interesting to read McCloughan referring to quarterback as “a position of need” when Smith is already on the roster, especially since Singletary has repeatedly stated during the past two months that he’s happy with Smith, confident in him, and excited to enter next season with him as the starting quarterback. Smith has yet to play for the same offensive coordinator for two consecutive seasons and this year was supposed to be his chance to master Jimmy Raye’s playbook and find consistency as a franchise quarterback.
Now, all of a sudden, he’s got another skilled, athletic passer to compete with, and if his introductory meeting with the media is any indication, Carr – who signed on with the 49ers partly because Singletary promised him he’d get a fair shot at the top job – will be extremely motivated and not at all in the frame of mind to be a backup. Smith has never been a fast starter in training camp, and who knows if the fans will be in his corner if he throws a few balls off target that first day?
They certainly weren’t last year, as Smith was roundly booed after his first throw of camp.
Get ready for another nerve-wracking August. It promises to be a great time for us reporters, but I’m not at all sure it’s going to be a fun for Smith or ultimately productive for the 49ers. If the competition spurs him onto another level, that’s great, but the whole thing has the potential to backfire in a major way.
Meanwhile the addition of Carr to the roster meant that the 49ers had to say goodbye to Hill, a proud soldier and respected veteran who served the team well over the years. An undrafted free agent out of Maryland, Hill joined the 49ers as a free agent in 2006 after spending four uneventful years as a backup in Minnesota. He started 16 games over the next three seasons and went 10-6. His 49ers career comes to a close with 322 completions in 522 attempts for 3,490 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, with a better-than-you’d-guess QB rating of 87.3.
Ultimately what did Hill in was his lack of arm strength. Unfortunately for him Raye’s offense needs a quarterback mobile enough to execute a bootleg and strong enough to throw bombs off the play-action, and deep out passes along the sidelines. Hill is a poor fit for this system, but he should be a good mentor for young Matthew Stafford in Detroit, to whom he was traded (for a 7th round pick in 2011).
“Shaun is the ultimate competitor,” said Singletary. “He gave everything he had to his teammates, coaches and fans. I admire how Shaun took advantage of his opportunities and got the most out of his abilities. I wish him nothing but the best as he starts a new chapter in Detroit.”
A new chapter will be written in San Francisco as well, but it will look awfully familiar.