Before the NFL’s free agency period began, new 49ers general manager John Lynch promised to be very active. He had a message for fans.
“Stay awake,” he told reporters. “We need players.”
Then Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan went to work, adding a dozen players, including quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, wide receivers Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end Logan Paulson and linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Now the writers who cover the NFC West for ESPN.com have pointed to the Niners as the most improved team in the division based on what Lynch and Co. have done in free agency.
After a 2-14 season, they see the 49ers as having the chance to take a big step in 2017.
“Yes, the Niners still have a long, long way to go,” wrote Alden Gonzalez, who covers the Los Angeles Rams. “But going from two wins to five qualifies as significant improvement, doesn’t it?”
Wrote Sheil Kapadia, who covers the Seattle Seahawks: “The 49ers handed out some big-money contracts, but the goal in Year 1 under Shanahan should be to start to get the personnel in place who can execute his system. Even though the signings were costly, San Francisco at least began to do that with the additions of guys such as Garcon and Juszczyk. And, the 49ers were wise to hold off on making a drastic move at quarterback. They are not built to win now, so why panic and pour valuable resources into the position?
“Instead, Hoyer can serve as a bridge option until Shanahan finds more of a long-term solution.”
Bleacher Report, however, picked the Rams as the division’s most improved team so far, pointing to the addition of Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth to help protect young quarterback Jared Goff and young, dynamic receiver Robert Woods. Bleacher Report picked the 49ers as the second-most improved team through free agency, but said the Niners took a “quantity-over-quality approach” to its signings.