Niners making first move in free agency

Talk is cheap, and now it's time to see if the 49ers truly are willing to spend. With a new coach, reshuffled management structure, fresh approach and optimistic outlook, the Niners have provided new hope over the past six weeks, adding to the enthusiasm by saying they plan to spend in free agency within the largesse of space they have under the NFL's salary cap. But action speaks louder than words, and the team's pursuit of veteran Jonas Jennings on Wednesday is saying volumes.

Jennings - one of the top offensive tackles available on the open market - traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday to meet with team officials. Team sources said negotiations between Jennings and the Niners were continuing Wednesday evening and, while a deal wasn't necessarily imminent, it might be by Thursday.

Some reports Wednesday evening speculated Jennings already had been offered a deal that included a $12 million signing bonus and he accepted. The team did not confirm those reports Wednesday evening.

Signing a quality product such as Jennings early in free agency to fill a significant void is exactly what the 49ers need to do.

Considering they're a club with more cap space than most NFL teams, the Niners needed to make a big initial splash in free agency before some of the top names started being snatched up by other teams.

Coach Mike Nolan said last week that making such a splash isn't necessarily how the 49ers were prepared to proceed.

When Nolan was asked if he intended to make an immediate move at the onset of free agency, he responded, "The objective… I know it would be nice if we had the objectives to make a splash, but our real objective is to make sure we get our kind of guy."

That kind of comment can be perceived a few different ways. What's the 49ers kind of guy? A free agent that comes on the cheap?

It appears that, while the 49ers indeed are looking to spend real money in free agency for the first time since 2002, they also are looking for bargains.

Jennings will not come at a bargain price, and that the team already is in serious negotiations with him - and that he's apparently seriously considering San Francisco's offer - is yet another sign that Nolan has the team headed in the right direction and the Niners are going about rebuilding their roster in the right manner.

Jennings is a top player, among the cream of the crop at offensive tackle, and that would be a "big splash" for the 49ers if they were to sign him.

His price tag will be high - if he does receive a $12 million bonus as reported, it likely will be spread out over a deal of at least five years - and that is the kind of big money the Niners need to spend to acquire a veteran who immediately can be plugged into a hole in the starting lineup and be expected to produce from Day 1 with the team.

The 49ers have been identifying other free agents they would like to go after for the past month. Now is the time to go out and get them – at least a select few – before they are snatched up by other teams.

The 49ers weren't even able to come to an agreement with any of their own unrestricted free agents, all of whom hit the open market Wednesday. And some of them, such as kicker Todd Peterson and receiver Cedrick Wilson, have value to the team. Peterson, in particular, might be difficult to replace.

In getting "our kind of guy," Nolan said, "if that means early participation and getting a guy right off the bat, then that is what would occur. But I'm not going to guarantee that is going to happen. He has to be the guy we want."

Jennings, obviously, is a guy the 49ers want. And it looks as though they are about to get him.

That's an infinitely good sign, because the Niners have made overtures in recent weeks to some of the top players at their positions of need, but have found the asking price much higher than they'd like to pay for particular players.

That has caused some slight readjustment in the team's approach, because a significant portion of that liberal cap space will have to be reserved for the huge class of college prospects the team drafts in April.

"I know this much," Nolan said. "We're certainly looking at not only the top-level guys, but to get the solid players and those second-level guys."

If the Niners indeed lock up Jennings, they then can start focusing on second-level guys, because they've already addressed one of their most glaring needs with one of the top-flight FAs available at one of the game's most important positions.

Though the Jennings deal would eat up a significant chunk of the dollars the team has to spend in free agency, the pursuit of the veteran tackle could mean the Niners are just getting started.

"We want to make sure that we do a good job in free agency to the point that we also sign the solid players so it takes pressure off of us in the draft," Nolan said. "Even though we have a lot of picks and we have high picks, it would be nice to be able to sit there and every pick say, ‘Here is the best guy. Let's take this guy,' as opposed to, ‘Geez, I would sure like to go down three or four steps here and grab this guy only because we need him.' If we can supplement some things in free agency, it will do everything to strengthen our draft."

Jennings, it seems, is an exceptional start in that direction.


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