The San Francisco 49ers landed a headline name on the first day of free agency. However, he didn't arrive via free agency and the headlines he made had nothing to do with his ability as a player.
The 49ers announced Tuesday they acquired offensive tackle Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins in a trade that will be for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015. The 49ers give up the pick if Martin is on the opening-day 53-man roster.
Martin, who played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when they both were at Stanford, was originally selected in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dolphins. He has started all 23 games he has appeared in -- 13 games at right tackle and 10 at left tackle.
However, he was less than spectacular on either side so the trade is probably a contingency deal, meaning the cost to the 49ers is dependent upon Martin making the team.
Martin is best known as the player who walked away from the Dolphins last October, citing bullying by teammates, notably offensive guard Richie Incognito. Martin reportedly sought treatment for emotional distress.
The Dolphins eventually suspended Incognito, and the NFL launched an investigation into the working environment in the Miami locker room.
The report by investigator Ted Wells, released in February, indicated that Incognito and two other players engaged in a bullying campaign against Martin and others in the locker room. The Dolphins eventually fired offensive line coach Jim Turner and head athletic trainer Kevin O'Neill over their alleged involvement in the harassment.
Harbaugh served as a character witness for Martin in Wells' investigation.
According to the report, "(Harbaugh) told us that he had never doubted Martin's tenacity, work ethic and dedication to the game, and that he had never seen Martin exhibit problems with social adjustment. Coach Harbaugh told us he believed that Martin likely could continue to have a successful career in the NFL. It appears that Martin was up to the challenge of dealing with physical or verbal intimidation by opposing players during NFL games, but fell victim, at least in part, to persistent taunting from his own teammates."
Asked last November about the Martin-Incognito controversy, Harbaugh said, "As far as that situation, there's only one thing I can intelligently comment on and that's knowing Jonathan Martin. I know him to be a fine person and his family. (Martin was a) great contributor as a student and an athlete at Stanford, epitomizes the student-athlete model and a personal friend. I support Jonathan."
After acquiring Martin, Harbaugh told USA Today, "I can't wait to give him a big hug."
He added, "The goal with this transition is win-win. It's an opportunity for Jonathan Martin to prove to the football world that he is worthy of his high-round draft status. The goal is for this to be win-win. As far as the other thing, I think everybody deserves an Etch-A-Sketch opportunity for a second chance."
The trade was finalized Thursday when Martin passed his physical and he said, "I think it worked out great, once again playing for coach Harbaugh, once again playing in the Bay Area. It's a blank slate for me. I'm looking forward to revitalizing my career, getting back to playing.
"I want to do whatever I can to contribute to this offensive line. It's a great O-line already."
Martin realizes he will have to prove to the 49ers that he belongs.
"The way I'm approaching it, I have to earn my spot on this team," Martin said. "I'm looking forward to the future and getting back to playing football."
Said general manager Trent Baalke, "Any time we acquire a player we give him a clean slate, along with every opportunity to demonstrate his value to our organization, both on the field and in the community. It will be no different in Jonathan's case. As a former Stanford student-athlete, we are very familiar with Jonathan and look forward to working with him."
--Meanwhile, back on the free agency front ...
The 49ers entered the free-agent signing period after already taking care of their top priority: bringing back receiver Anquan Boldin.
They did so by extending Boldin to a two-year, $12 million deal (the deal is actually for five years, but voidable after two) before he hit the open market. Better yet for the team, the structure of his deal says he accounts for just $2.364 million against the salary cap for the coming season.
With Boldin signed, it left the 49ers three defensive starters in their secondary poised to hit the open market when it opened at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Safety Donte Whitner signed with the Cleveland Browns while cornerback Tarell Brown left for the Raiders. Carlos Rogers was released, taking his team-leading $8.1 million cap figure off the books for the coming season which would give San Francisco upwards of $16 million in cap space to work with.
In the background at the start of free agency is a talented group of players entering the final season of their rookie contracts.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, outside linebacker Aldon Smith and offensive lineman Mike Iupati could all be free agents next year, putting a premium on salary cap space going forward. In other words, don't expect San Francisco to bust its gut in free-agent spending this spring.
The 49ers have begun preliminary discussions on a deal for Kaepernick that could make him one of the league's highest paid signal callers. The team met with his representatives in Indianapolis during the combine setting the floor for a new deal at $18 million per season, according to reports. That number would fall seventh in the NFL among quarterbacks. Expect those negotiations to drag out. Kaepernick is set to make $1.54 million in 2014.
San Francisco is waiting to see what kind of season Crabtree has in his first full campaign since adding Boldin to the mix. The team liked what it saw from the passing game in the playoffs with Boldin and Crabtree together at full strength, but they still expect to see Crabtree's top-end speed to improve after missing 11 weeks while rehabbing an Achilles tear suffered in May.
Crabtree held out for the first five weeks of his rookie year in 2009. And should he have another year akin to 2011 (85 receptions, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns), he will likely ask for something close to franchise-type money in the $10-12 million dollar per season range going forward.
With Smith, the 49ers could pick up his fifth year option in May, paying him the 2014 franchise number for linebackers in 2015. That allows the 49ers some more flexibility while deciding whether or not Smith is worthy of a long-term extension. He missed five weeks in the middle of the regular season to receive treatment for a substance abuse issue after getting arrested for alleged DUI two days before Week 3's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He's also facing federal gun charges stemming from a house party gone awry in June of 2012.
That leaves Iupati, who could become one of the league's highest-paid guards when he hits his free agency. Tampa Bay's Carl Nicks ($9.5 million APY) and New England's Logan Mankins ($8.5 APY) are currently top the NFL at the position and could set the market for Iupati. If he commands that type of salary, the 49ers will likely move on and find cheaper in-house replacements. The team is unlikely to pay more for Iupati than they would their bookend tackles. Joe Staley will make an average of $5.413 million against the salary cap over the remaining four seasons of his contract. Right tackle Anthony Davis will make roughly $6.4 million over the next six years.
With the salary cap expected to jump over the $140 million mark in 2015, the 49ers will have some trimming to do in order to get their key cogs locked up. But they've prepared to absorb a franchise-quarterback-type contract for years by locking up their key players early. Patrick Willis is the only player on the roster currently making eight digits at $10 million per season.
Kicker Phil Dawson Tuesday tweeted "Very excited & grateful for the opportunity to return to my team & be a part of chasing the quest for six! Go niners!" indicating that he will return in 2014. Dawson made 32 of 36 field goal tries in the regular season, including a franchise record 27 straight. He was also perfect in the playoffs, making all seven of his kicks.
--In addition to the Jonathan Martin deal, the 49ers traded a sixth-round pick in this year's draft and a conditional choice next year to Jacksonville for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The 10th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Gabbert has a guaranteed salary of $2.011 million this season, more than the $$1.073 million that starter Colin Kaepernick is being paid.
General manager Trent Baalke said of the Gabbert deal, "We thought highly of Blaine as an early entry into the 2011 NFL Draft. He is a high-character individual that will be given every opportunity to develop within our system and we are looking forward to working with him."
--The 49ers had the league's No. 6 passing defense when it went to the Super Bowl in 2012. There's a chance the entire starting secondary from that team will be gone for the coming season. Dashon Goldson (signed with Tampa Bay in 2013), Whitner (set to sign with Cleveland), Rogers (released) and Brown (free agent) could all be playing elsewhere.
But even without Goldson this past season -- who was replaced by first-round draft pick Eric Reid -- the 49ers ranked seventh in the league in pass defense. But secondary coach Ed Donatell could face his toughest challenge yet in 2014 when he'll be faced with acclimating a new starting safety and a new group of cornerbacks into the fray.
There is a chance the team could bring back Brown, although the market might price him out of range. And with Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver (who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL suffered in training camp) ready to take over the two starting jobs, San Francisco could use its collection of 12 draft picks this spring to address the position. And since Donatell has taken over, the 49ers have done very well in developing players in their secondary.
Another position that will be under the microscope this offseason is inside linebacker after NaVorro Bowman suffered tears to his ACL and MCL in his left knee in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers tendered a one-year deal to exclusive rights free agent Michael Wilhoite, who is the early favorite to replace Bowman if he has to start the season on the PUP list forcing him to miss the first six weeks. WiIhoite played well in Patrick Willis' stead in Week 4's 35-11 win over the Rams, making 11 tackles after Willis was forced to miss the game with a groin injury.
The 49ers could bring in a free-agent middle linebacker to compete with Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody for playing time. Wilhoite went undrafted in 2011 after playing safety at Washburn while Moody was a sixth-round pick last year after playing safety for the majority of his time at Florida State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Like we've always maintained, our No. 1 objective in the offseason is to take care of our own guys -- to identify the guys that we feel we need on our football team moving forward, then find a way to make it work. Then find a way to make it fit from a financial standpoint." -- General Manager Trent Baalke
"The simple answer is there's no reason it can't be. We're in good shape from a cap standpoint. So the decision on that, there's really no decision to be made. We can move forward exactly as is if that's what we prefer to do." -- Baalke on whether or not Frank Gore -- scheduled to count for $6.45 million against the cap in 2014 -- needs to take a pay cut
And, finally ...
"We played our last game, and we came to the facility and his car was already in the lot when I got there. He worked out the next week and now he's down in Florida working out again so I'm never going to have any questions about Colin Kaepernick's work ethic and desire to be great. He already is pretty darn good. I don't know that there will be dramatic increases when you're that good. He'll find a way to get a mile-an-hour faster, that's just the way he trains and the way he thinks." -- Jim Harbaugh on Colin Kaepernick
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Safety Antoine Bethea is glad to be with the 49ers. He has one Super Bowl title from his time with the Colts, but wants more.
He said, "I wish I had two Super Bowl rings instead of one. That's one of the reasons I'm here in San Fran. It's a great opportunity to try to get another ring. That's what I'm here to do."
"Antoine is a durable, experienced player who has competed at a high level throughout his career in the National Football League," general manager Trent Baalke said. "He has proven to be a man of high character and is a welcome addition to our team and the Bay Area community."
CORNERBACK: The team feels good about their young players Chris Culliver and Brock stepping into starting roles next season, but the depth at corner is set to take a serious hit. The team has speedy undrafted player Darryl Morris who could take on an expanded role, but he won't prevent cornerback from becoming a top priority in the offseason.
QUARTERBACK: The team wasn't enamored with Colt McCoy last season, bringing Seneca Wallace and John Skelton for cups of coffee with the team before deciding on the untested McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the team's reserve quarterback. McCoy is a free agent and the team is unlikely to bring him back after the addition of Blaine Gabbert.
--SAFETY: With Donte Whitner leaving for the Browns, the 49ers will have to find a starter at strong safety or move Eric Reid from free safety and plug in a new player there. C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl are the current in-house candidates, but look for San Francisco to add to the competition and look for a viable starting option through the draft or free agency. They did that, signing veteran Antoine Bethea from the Colts.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--CB Perrish Cox (not tendered as RFA) played all snaps but one in the win over the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs, beating out Eric Wright for playing time during the week of preparation. Cox is an athletic and physical corner that could return to the 49ers cheaply and play in sub-packages. But he was non-tendered and might garner more on the free-agent market than the 49ers are willing to give.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--C Jonathan Goodwin, 35, started every game as a 49er since coming over from the Saints in 2011. But his age began to show late in the season, particularly against Seattle's physical front in the conference title game. San Francisco gave backup Daniel Kilgore a three-year extension this offseason, making him the favorite to start at center next season. Goodwin said during the season he plans on testing the market before seriously considering retirement, but there might not be many suitors for a player of his age.
--WR Mario Manningham isn't likely to return to the 49ers after ending his second straight season on injured reserve after suffering a setback to his injured knee. Manningham played in just 13 games after joining San Francisco on a two-year deal to complement Michael Crabtree. He appeared in just six games last season after starting the year on the PUP list following his ACL tear suffered in December of 2012 in Seattle. He made nine receptions for 85 yards and was never able to get going with Colin Kaepernick under center.
--QB Colt McCoy played just 22 snaps for the 49ers last season in mopup duty behind Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers never appeared happy with McCoy and forced him to take a pay cut in the preseason in order to make the roster. McCoy is unlikely to stick around after the 49ers acquired Blaine Gabbert.
--WR Kassim Osgood had an outstanding season on special teams coverage for the 49ers after the former three-time Pro-Bowler joined the team on a one-year deal. The 49ers would love to have Osgood back for another season, but with the team expecting to address the receiver position in the draft and free agency, Osgood would have a hard time cracking the roster if he were to stick around.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--DL Demarcus Dobbs (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation) played well in his reserve role along the team's defensive line while giving rest to starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Dobbs missed the first game of the season due to a one-week suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, but figures to compete for playing time going forward with the team's deep group of defensive lineman.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--LB Michael Wilhoite (tendered at $570,000) made one start in 2013 in place of Patrick Willis and played well against the Rams. He is the favorite to replace NaVorro Bowman if the former All-Pro is forced to miss any time after tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee.
--WR Anquan Boldin: Potential UFA; $12M/2 yrs, $9M guaranteed.
--K Phil Dawson: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Eric Wright: UFA; $900,000/1 yr.
--S Antoine Bethea: UFA Colts; $26M/4 yrs.
--CB Chris Cook: UFA Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Blaine Gabbert (trade Jaguars).
--T Jonathan Martin (trade Dolphins).
--WR David Reed: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--CB Tarell Brown: UFA Raiders; $3.5M guaranteed/1 yr.
--RB Anthony Dixon: UFA Bills; terms unknown.
--CB Carlos Rogers (released/post-June 1 designation).
--S Donte Whitner: UFA Browns; $28M/4 yrs, $13M guaranteed.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jonathan Martin
- Michael Crabtree
- Colin Kaepernick