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49ers spending money like Nicolas Cage in a museum, but will it pay off?

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Islands, rare snakes, pyramid tombstones, nine Rolls Royces, Superman 1, and dinosaur skulls. If it was for sale, Nicolas Cage bought it. These spending habits nearly ruined Cage financially, and perhaps will totally destroy him one day if he doesn’t manage to steal the constitution and sell it; oh wait, he’d be the only one stupid enough to buy it. Apparently John Lynch doesn’t keep up with pop culture news.

The first-year GM of the San Francisco 49ers was the most active player on the market Wednesday, reportedly agreeing to deals with wide receiver Pierre Garcon, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, and quarterback Brian Hoyer. These came after a three-year, $10.5 million deal for receiver Jeremy Kerley, and perhaps ahead of a trade for quarterback Kirk Cousins, depending on whatever most recent rumor about it has hit within the last three seconds.

Of course, the 49ers are about $100 million under the 2017 salary cap before they officially ink these deals on Thursday when free agency opens, and they were one of the worst teams in the NFL last season, so improvements were necessary and money is somewhat relative. But that doesn’t make it good business sense. Just because you have some blank checks doesn’t mean you should just be handing them out to anyone.

The last time someone did that, Preston Waters wound up with a slide coming out of the side of his house and learned a valuable lesson about money. (But at least he got to kiss a woman 18 years older than him?)

The valuable lesson that Lynch is about to learn is that throwing money at San Francisco’s problems in the form of 30-year-old receivers and H-backs is that going from 2-14 to 4-12 won’t do much more than keep you from drafting first overall while still being equally undesirable to free agents as you are now, forcing Lynch to continue overpaying for players in 2018 and 2019. Consider the moves that Pete Carroll and John Schneider made when they took over the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, and for the most part continue to make today.

And the Seahawks were at least as untalented then as the 49ers are now.

Much of the onus on rebuilding was put on the draft, having faith in scouting that resulted in good-to-premier players at quarterback, free safety, strong safety, cornerback 1, cornerback 2, middle linebacker, will linebacker, wide receiver 1, wide receiver 2, left guard, left tackle in their picks from 2010-2012. How San Francisco does in the draft under Lynch remains to be seen, maybe that will be a strength, but we can already see them placing a higher-than-normal value on free agency.

Nobody else was making moves prior to Thursday at the rate, or at the rumored price tags, like San Francisco was making.

In that same era of Seattle football, they did sign players to considerable contracts and make trades, but consider some of the differences: Garcon is 30. Sidney Rice was 25 when he signed with the Seahawks in 2011. Zach Miller was 26 when he signed that same year. Mike Williams was 26 when he signed in 2010. Marshawn Lynch was 24 when they dealt two midround picks to the Buffalo Bills for him and then upped him in 2012 for $31 million over four years. Chris Clemons was 29 when they traded for him in 2010. Percy Harvin was 25 when they traded for him in 2013. Cliff Avril was 27 when they signed him that same year, Michael Bennett was 28. These are targeting players who should be entering their prime and for the most part bringing them in at a low value. The biggest exception being Robert Gallery in 2011, who was 31 at the time and signed a three-year, $15 million deal, but he was released in 2012 without much in the way of dead money left over.

I realize that the Niners moves so far are of a small sample size, and maybe not totally insane on the surface, but consider for a moment if this is only the tip of the iceberg. What if behind this painting of the Mona Lisa is actually a cavern that leads to King Tut’s tomb, which is in a bunker under Nic Cage’s home? I’ve gotten sidetracked.

Garcon is reportedly going to make $16 million in 2017 on his new deal. Yes, I realize that this is not his annual value, it’s just one year, but still ... that’s more than any receiver in the entire NFL next season save for Dez Bryant. Even if Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Stills and Terrelle Pryor all get more than that for 2017, Garcon would still be one of the five highest-paid receivers in the league next year. Garcon, a receiver who I like a lot, is not one of the five best receivers. He’s not one of the 10 best. He’s not one of the 20 best. He might be one of the 30 best, but I’m willing to listen to/make the argument that he’s not one of the 30 best.

For the sake of it, let’s say that Garcon signs a four-year deal worth $46 million, putting him $16 million against the cap in 2017 and $10 million against the cap in each of the next three seasons. Even from 2018-2020 Garcon would be getting paid like a top-20 receiver, and these would be in his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons. That’s a $10+ million salary for a receiver who caught three touchdowns last season on 114 targets from a pretty good quarterback in a high-volume passing offense. There were 84 players who caught at least four touchdowns last season. Not that this is anything new to Garcon, who caught just 21 touchdowns total in five years with the Washington Redskins and 16 in his previous four with the Indianapolis Colts. I’ve heard a lot of people making the connection to Kyle Shanahan by saying that Garcon had his “best” season with Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in 2013, but that 1,346 yards came on an insane 181 targets.

If you’re throwing the ball to Garcon 181 times in 16 games, that tells me you’ve got some pretty significant issues with your roster on offense and perhaps even with (gulp) your offensive coordinator. The Redskins went 3-13 that year by the way and Garcon caught five touchdowns, giving him an average of one touchdown for every 36 targets. Imagine Russell Wilson throwing to Doug Baldwin 36 times before scoring. (Baldwin averaged a touchdown once every 17.8 attempts in 2016 and once every 7.3 attempts in 2015.)

(Baldwin makes $11.5 million a season and the extension came before he turned 28.)

I mean, we obviously should know by now that San Francisco did not sign Garcon to actually be their number one receiver but they paid him like one anyway. All Shanahan would have to do to explain to Lynch that Garcon is not a number one receiver is literally just point to his 3-13 experience in 2013, the season that caused them to go out and sign DeSean Jackson the next year. Maybe the early reports on Garcon are actually incorrect, but let me at least pretend that they aren’t.

If true, the contract is bad. I don’t care if the team is desperate or the team is bad, a bad contract is a bad contract no matter where it comes from. If Lynch is handing out bad contracts now, it should be indicative that he’ll be handing out bad contracts two years from now, one year from now, one month from now, one week from now, and perhaps 24 hours from now. Plus, Garcon is not the only example we have.

The early reports on Juszczyk are that he’s signing a four-year, $21 million contract on Thursday. This would not just be a record contract for a fullback, but it would destroy and eat for lunch any previous deal for a fullback. Comparatively speaking, Anthony Sherman of the Kansas City Chiefs had the previous biggest contract at the position, and he’s one a three-year, $6.3 million deal. The news is that Juszczyk is “not just a fullback” though, that he’s an H-back, and a pseudo tight end, a player who has caught 78 passes over the last three seasons.

And I would certainly hope he’s not a fullback if I’m a San Francisco fan, because that would just mean he became the richest at the position in history despite never carrying the football. Like, never. Seven carries in four seasons. Stop the Larry Centers comparisons. An insult to a player who carried it 102 times per year from 1994-1997, while also catching 83 passes per season, with 22 total touchdowns.

That’s a four-year period for Centers when he had 331 receptions, 2,784 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns, 410 carries, 1,291 rushing yards, and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Juszczyk’s four-year career: 97 receptions, 769 yards, five receiving touchdowns, seven carries, 25 yards, one rushing touchdown.


Others say, “Well, he’s the new Delanie Walker for them.” Okay, so he’s the new guy who catches like 20 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns? Cool. So, you paid how much for that? Nice. He makes more per season than what Martellus Bennett got last year? Tight. Tight. More than Vernon Davis, Gary Barnidge, Brett Celek, Rishard Matthews, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenny Britt, Anquan Boldin, Gio Bernard, Darren Sproles, C.J. Anderson, Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Mark Ingram, and Danny Woodhead? That’s dope, that’s dope.

For 20 receptions, 275 yards, two touchdowns, some blocking, he’s getting paid like a starting right tackle.

Maybe even more concerning for me though (if I wanted the 49ers to be good, even though I am obviously fine with them being bad) is the three-year, $10.5 million deal for Kerley. This is a 28-year-old, 5’9, 188 lb receiver who only two seasons ago had 16 receptions for 152 yards in a full 16 games with the New York Jets. He did have 64 receptions on a poor San Francisco offense last season, but his 10.4 yards per reception, 5.8 yards per target, four interceptions on passes thrown his way against only three touchdowns, could not have possibly been worth $3.5 million a year. The front office had literally no faith they could find the next Jeremy Kerley on day three of the draft or even as a UDFA?

None? Imagine signing Jermaine Kearse to the deal he signed after 2015 but doing it after the horrid season he just had. That’s akin to what the Niners just did for Kerley. He was a huge liability on third downs and in the red zone but this is the guy they’re locking onto as one of their top three receivers next season, if not the number two.

I mean, I think Torrey Smith obviously had to go (he was released to save $4.8 million) but if you told me they were going to turn around and give that much to Kerley, I’d just as soon keep Smith instead of him. I don’t know what they gave to Marquise Goodwin, but I can tell you that I sent a list of free agents to writers who cover every team and asked them to mark any players who were just downright awful (among other things) and the one who covered the Buffalo Bills marked down Goodwin in that category.

I highly doubt this is your next Taylor Gabriel, Shanahan.

On the other hand, I actually like the deal for Hoyer for them, especially if it means they’re going to hold off negotiations for Kirk Cousins until at least 2018. It’s a two-year contract for a quarterback who should not, and would not, be expected to win more than four games. If they want to draft Deshaun Watson and let Hoyer play out the season, that seems like a good plan to me, and much more of a “Carroll-Schneider-esque” plan, when they took shots at Charlie Whitehurst and Matt Flynn before landing on Wilson.

That being said, Hoyer is definitely more of a Matt Hasselbeck in this analogy than he is a Charlie Whitehurst.

Overall, it sounds to me like the San Francisco 49ers are going through the growing pains that you might expect from a GM who has never worked in a front office before and a first-year head coach. People are free to disagree with me that these are massive mistakes, but if the 49ers weren’t coming off of a 2-14 season and didn’t have $100 million in cap space, would you still say these are good moves? You should be able to judge them separate of the past and the circumstances and instead ask yourself, “What are the Niners trying to do next season?” If they’re trying to get to the playoffs, that’s ridiculous. If they’re trying to build for 2019, what would that have to do with paying a 31-year-old Pierre Garcon $16 million in 2017? Like with the Seahawks in 2010-2012, the only plan should be to add core players who will be able to contribute when you’ve got enough talent to compete, not to add old players who fit the system of the new coach because he wants to have guys who know how to run his offense despite the fact that they’re shooting for a 5-11 record at best.

I have no idea what Garcon and Kerley have to do with the future of the 49ers or a rebuild for a franchise void of talent. If they were overpaying Terrelle Pryor, Brandon Williams, and A.J. Bouye, I could wrap my head around that. Those are guys I still expect to be good in three years. Throwing top five money at an over-30 receiver and giving a roster spot to an inconsistent, aging, number four receiver, makes no sense to me.

At least I know where Garcon can live. Here’s a beautiful San Francisco mansion that is currently up for sale. It’s one that Nicolas Cage owned but had to sell for a $1 million loss.

Funny how poor spending comes back to bite you.

Update: This article was written Wednesday night. Here is some more news from Thursday.

Malcolm Smith, LB, five years, $26.5 million, $13 million guaranteed

Smith won Super Bowl MVP in 2013 for the Seahawks and signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders to become a starter. He racked up a lot of tackles for the Raiders but most consider him a below-average linebacker at best. Potentially even a fringe starter who could have been on the market for a one or two year deal similar to the one he signed with Oakland. The 49ers just paid him like a legit starter and not one who is a liability on the defense. So that’s one thing.

Logan Paulsen, TE

San Francisco is signing Paulsen, who played for Shanahan in Washington. He spent 2016 with the Chicago Bears, catching three passes. Let’s see how the contract turns out.

Pierre Garcon, contract details

We still don’t have all the details, but Thursday it was reported that Garcon will get three years and a $12 million signing bonus (spread out over three years, that’s $4 million/year) with $23 million going to Garcon total in the first two seasons. Speculation would lead to an APY of $9.5 million over the first two years, with at least a dead cap hit in 2019 if he’s released before then.