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Kyle Shanahan’s New Offense Is Taking Shape

The 49ers are adding Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garçon

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Deals

New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t wasting any time building his offense in free agency. San Francisco has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with quarterback Brian Hoyer and a deal with wide receiver Pierre Garçon that will pay him in the neighborhood of $16 million in 2017, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The Appeal

The Ringer’s Danny Kelly named Hoyer the best QB of this free-agent class, and for good reason. Playoff debacle from the 2015 season aside, Hoyer has been a solid passer over the past two years, throwing 25 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions in the regular season and completing 62.9 percent of his passes while averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. Over that period, he has a better QB rating (93.7) than Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck.

In Garçon, Hoyer will throw to one of the league’s most consistent receivers. The nine-year veteran has never made a Pro Bowl, and at times last season he seemed like quarterback Kirk Cousins’s fourth option in Washington. Only once did he exceed 100 yards, giving him fewer such games than Marqise Lee, Dontrelle Inman, and Rishard Matthews. And yet, Garçon still led his team in receptions (79) and receiving yards (1,041). He is a dependable receiver who runs routes well and doesn’t make mistakes — he dropped just one out of 80 catchable targets last year, per Pro Football Focus.

Of the 58 receivers who caught at least 50 passes last year, Garçon ranked 13th in catch percentage, hauling in 69.3 percent of his targets. (Brandon Marshall, one of this free-agent market’s other big-name wideouts, ranked last at 46.1 percent, which is poor even for a teammate of Ryan Fitzpatrick.) Garçon also averaged more yards per catch (13.2) than all but one of the receivers in front of him, meaning that he didn’t reach that percentage just by catching check-downs and dump-offs.

The Fit

The 49ers paid four quarterbacks last year, but none is currently on the roster. And Shanahan — who worked with Hoyer when he was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2014 — was always going to want his own QB. With Hoyer in the fold, San Francisco is free to use its no. 2 overall draft pick to address another position of need, or to select a raw quarterback like Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson and let him develop while Hoyer serves as a stopgap solution.

Shanahan also has history with Garçon. When the former served as Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2013, the latter led the NFL in receptions, tallying 113 catches for 1,346 yards with five touchdowns. A Hoyer-Garçon pairing won’t resonate quite like the Matt Ryan–Julio Jones tandem did for Shanahan in Atlanta last season, but it’s a start for a San Francisco team that ranked last in the NFL in passing yards per game. The Niners receiving corps was particularly problematic, as Jeremy Kerley (667 yards) and Quinton Patton (408) led the way. At least with Garçon, this team has a pass catcher who warrants a spot on a fantasy roster.

The Verdict

On the surface, the most remarkable number from this day in 49ers free agency isn’t Hoyer’s passer rating or Garçon’s catch percentage, or even the ratio of San Francisco targets who have worked with Shanahan before (currently at 100 percent, making him the Doc Rivers of the NFL). Rather, it’s Garçon’s price tag, reported at $16 million for the first year of his deal.

Among receivers, only Antonio Brown will earn more in direct cash next season, and only Dez Bryant will cost more against the cap. But this financial figure doesn’t imply that the Niners think Garçon is on those players’ level; rather, it suggests a shrewd use of cap space on the part of new general manager John Lynch. San Francisco entered free agency with around $100 million available, second only to Cleveland, and no matter how many players the Niners sign, they’re still unlikely to contend next season in a division featuring the Seahawks and Cardinals. If Garçon’s contract is front-loaded, the 49ers will gain financial flexibility in the later years of his deal.

Assuming the Niners take this route with Garçon and that Hoyer’s deal isn’t as exorbitant as the one fellow QB Mike Glennon seems likely to command, San Francisco seems to have spent wisely in the first few hours of free agency to make its offense respectable, at the least. If his track record is any indication, Shanahan doesn’t need much more than that to make points fly.