As Mario Manningham looked for a place to land in free agency, he was drawn to the 49ers.
Was it Jim Harbaugh’s West Coast offense? Was it the chance to play with Frank Gore and Alex Smith? Was it the recent signing of Randy Moss that put Manningham over the top?
Well, yes, all of the above. But the biggest selling point for Manningham to come to San Francisco was the 49ers’ defense.
The wide receiver – who’d just won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, another team with a physical defense – saw an opportunity to play on a team with a similar, marquee defense.
“They swarm” Manningham told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “And they hit you. They cover you. I feel like they’ve got the best linebacking corps in the league.”
“If you don’t have a good defense,” Manningham told reporters, “offense can be potent, but there’s really no point.”
So Manningham was looking for a team that can win in 2012, and the 49ers – coming off a 13-3 season and a busy few weeks in free agency – still appear to be just that.
With quarterback Alex Smith now re-signed, the offensive line mostly intact and every defensive starter returning, Manningham should give a boost to a receiving corps that already has added Moss to returning starter Michael Crabtree.
“I feel like I can come there and make an impact and be a great addition to this offense,” Manningham told reporters.
In just his fourth season in the NFL, Manningham made a big impact for the Giants in the postseason after being limited to jus 12 regular-season games because of injuries in 2011. He had just 39 catches for 523 yards and four TDs in 2011, but had proven himself in his previous two seasons in New York, with 60 catches for 944 yards in 2010 and 56 catches for 822 yards in 2009. The 6-foot, 185-pounder also had a huge game in the Giants’ Super Bowl victory, catching five balls for 73 yards – including a highlight, 38-yard over-the-shoulder grab down the sidelines late in the game that helped New York to a 21-17 win over New England.
Manningham signed a two-year deal with the 49ers worth a reported $7.3 million that actually makes him less expensive than Joshua Morgan, the former 49er who signed a free-agent deal with Washington, reports Matt Maiocco of CSNbayarea.com. Morgan signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the Redskins.
Niners GM Trent Baalke says Manningham is “a productive wide receiver with a lot of big-game experience” who should be a complement to the team’s system.
In New York, Manningham was part of a trio of effective wideout that also consisted of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
In San Francisco, he’ll be part of a group that includes Crabtree, Moss, Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams – with possible more additions through free agency or the draft.
Manningham, originally linked to the Rams, said the Niners’ flirtation with Peyon Manning wasn’t a factor in coming to San Francisco. He’s satisfied the 49ers have what it takes.
“We’ve got Alex Smith and I know he’s a great player,” Manningham told Branch. “He played good last year.”