The San Francisco 49ers generated quite a stir in the first wave of NFL free agency. On the first day alone, they signed a couple of major stars. Of course, they also had a few brilliant under-the-radar acquisitions. Here we'll look at the absolute sneakiest signing of the 49ers during the first wave of 2023 NFL free agency.
During the very first day of free agency, the Niners didn't waste any time at all. They swiftly addressed two of their biggest needs. They did this by signing two free-agent contracts with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and quarterback Sam Darnold. Hargrave secured a substantial four-year, $84 million deal. Meanwhile, Darnold inked a one-year contract worth $4.5 million.
Without a doubt, the acquisition of Hargrave is a significant move for the 49ers. It almost single-handedly transforms a previously uncertain position group into a strength. Interestingly, enough, it also kinda weakens his former team. We're talking, of course, about the returning NFC champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. With Hargrave joining Arik Armstead at defensive tackle and Nick Bosa on the edge, the 49er's front four resembles the potent unit from the 2019 season. Additionally, Hargrave's durability, having missed only three games throughout his career, is an often overlooked but valuable asset. Don't forget that he had an outstanding 2022 season with 60 tackles, 11.0 sacks, and 16 quarterback hits and appeared in Super Bowl LVII.
Javon Hargrave has 5 sacks in the last two games pic.twitter.com/y60SfN0I07
— Brenden Deeg (@BrendenDeeg_) November 4, 2022
As for Darnold, remember that San Francisco GM John Lynch acknowledged the 49ers' interest in acquiring a veteran quarterback. He cited the need to have a reliable option while Brock Purdy recovered from UCL surgery. The team reportedly made an offer of a first-round pick for Sam Darnold, whom Kyle Shanahan had been interested in for some time. Despite the Jets' refusal, Darnold was eventually signed by the 49ers to compete with Trey Lance in training camp. Darnold, of course, has intriguing potential, and the team possesses a strong receiving corps. This combination means there is hope he can follow in the footsteps of Geno Smith and revive his career. At the very least, he provides insurance for a team that went through four QBs in 2022.
As great as those two acquisitions are, though, let's now look at the sneakiest signing of the 49ers during the 2023 free agency.
The initial excitement of the NFL free agency has waned since the start of the new league year. Keep in mind that most of the prominent free agents have signed with teams for the 2023 season and beyond. The 49ers themselves made several high-profile acquisitions during the first wave of moves. We've already discussed the addition of Javon Hargrave and Sam Darnold. There are also the key acquisitions of Clelin Ferrell to their defensive line, as well as Isaiah Oliver to their secondary. They also kept several players from their 2022 NFC Championship Game roster. Remember also that during the second week of free agency, the team signed Myles Hartsfield and Jon Feliciano.
On the other hand, the 49ers lost several key players from their 2022 team. These include Mike McGlinchey, Jimmy Garoppolo, Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, Tarvarius Moore, Daniel Brunskill, Azeez Al-Shaair, Charles Omenihu, Hassan Ridgeway, and Samson Ebukam. Despite those departures, we can still say the 49ers had a really solid performance in the first stage of free agency.
That said, we believe that the 49ers' most awesome sneaky good free agency move was re-signing safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. For us, Gipson is such an underrated but seasoned defensive asset. Recall that he signed a one-year contract worth up to $2.9 million, allowing him to stay in San Francisco for another year and mentor his eventual replacement. Don't forget that in 2021, many believed he would fill in for Jimmie Ward until he was healthy, Ward did not return as a free safety. Gipson then recorded five interceptions in 2021. That was the second-most in the NFL that year. Now, his re-signing will stabilize the team's back end.
Over his 11-year NFL career, Gipson has played for the Browns, Jaguars, Texans, Bears, and 49ers. He has appeared in 157 games (149 starts) and recorded 620 tackles. He has also tallied 65 passes defensed, 32 interceptions, three fumble recoveries, three touchdowns, 1.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. In 2022, he started all 17 games for the 49ers, finishing with 61 tackles, eight passes defensed, five interceptions, and 0.5 sacks. He also started all three postseason games, contributing seven tackles.
More importantly, though, he will continue to mentor Talanoa Hufanga and serve as a placeholder for the future free safety. Again, this isn't a high-profile signing at all. However, it makes their trademark defense that much more reliable.