One was the 10th overall pick of the 2011 draft who has struggled as a starter. The other was a second-round pick who had earned a starting spot in the NFL, yet became well-known not for his play but for leaving football.
Today, both Blaine Gabbert, the quarterback who was a first-round pick of the Jaguars, and Jonathan Martin, the former Dolphins starting offensive tackle who left his team because of alleged harassment, are getting second chances with the San Francisco 49ers.
In each, the 49ers are getting players who won’t be counted on for significant roles in 2014, yet could pay big dividends if they can flourish in new environments.
Both additions came on a busy first day of NFL free agency when the 49ers lost starting safety Donte Whitner, signed former Colts safety Antoine Bethea to replace him, re-signed kicker Phil Dawson, released cornerback Carlos Rogers and re-signed backup corner Eric Wright.
This is a big offseason for the 49ers, who are trying to re-tool their roster in order to overtake the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and get back to the Super Bowl. And, among their numerous moves over the coming weeks, the trades for Gabbert and Martin will likely be dwarfed by other transactions and the choices made in the draft in early May.
Yet Gabbert and Martin could be significant pieces for the team in 2014.
Gabbert, who was thrown into the starting role in Jacksonville, never had the impact the Jags had hoped for. He had a 5-22 record as a starter and threw more interceptions (24) than TD passes (22) in 28 games, plus often was sidelined by injuries.
Eventually he lost his starting job to Chad Henne.
But Gabbert, who has one year remaining on his contract, will come to San Francisco with the chance to give the 49ers a solid backup and learn the system while surrounded with much better talent. Plus, under head coach Jim Harbaugh, he’ll have a chance to polish his game and restore the confidence that likely was hammered out of him in Jacksonville.
With Colt McCoy’s contract expired, Gabbert becomes his successor to be Colin Kaepernick’s backup, with the only other QB on the roster being McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Another quarterback likely could be taken in the mid rounds of the draft.
Meanwhile, by getting Martin, the 49ers get a former NFL starter to play the role of swing tackle and extra blocker in heavy offensive sets. The former Stanford standout will be reunited with his former head coach for the Cardinal, Harbaugh, and gets a chance to rebuild his career. If he can, he could become a future starter.
Already, he’s been welcomed into the fold by right tackle Anthony Davis via Twitter, and expressed that he’s “beyond blessed” to get a chance with the 49ers.
“Opportunities are few in the NFL,” he tweeted. “Can’t wait to get to work.”