San Francisco 49er signed Ray-Ray McCloud. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The San Francisco 49ers added their one big-ticket item in free agency early during the process, signing Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward to a three-year, $40.5 million contract.
This addressed a major area of need for general manager John Lynch and Co. However, some fans have been thrown off by San Francisco’s lack of urgency in free agency despite the team not having a ton of cap room.
With high-priced quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still on the books, these 49ers used their limited financial assets to upgrade a troubled area — special teams.
That includes bringing in three core special teams players in linebacker Oren Burks, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud and safety George Odum on team-friendly deals.
For San Francisco, it’s all about upgrading a special teams unit that struggled big time a season ago before coming through in the team’s NFC Divisional Playoff win over the Green Bay Packers. Below, I look at what these three moves mean for the 49ers moving forward.
Ray-Ray McCloud Gives San Francisco 49ers Legit Return Threat
San Francisco 49ers added Ray-Ray McCloud to return kicks and play slot. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Throughout pretty much the duration of Kyle Shanahan’s five-year tenure in San Francisco, this team has not had a reliable return man. In fact, it had to use Brandon Aiyuk on punt returns last season.
McCloud, 25, changes this big time. The former Buffalo Bills’sixth-round pick out of Clemson led the NFL in punt returns (38) and return yards (367) a season ago. He averaged a healthy 9.7 yards per return. Meanwhile, the speedy 5-foot-9 wide receiver added 776 kick return yards for an average of 22.2 per. For comparison’s sake, the 49ers tallied a total of 279 punt return yards a season ago.
In an interesting turn, McCloud also played in 48% of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive snaps in 2021. He recorded 39 receptions for 277 yards whle catching 59% of his targets. The expectation is that he will see time in the slot with the 49ers pretty thin at wide receiver right now. McCloud’s deal is for two years and worth up to $10.4 million.
San Francisco 49ers add Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Safety George Odum
San Francisco 49ers signed George Odum for special teams and to be backup safety. (AP Photo/Eric … [+]
An undrafted free agent of the Colts out of Central Arkanas back in 2018, Odum was highly-respected wthin their locker room. He also took on a much larger role on defense last season, starting seven games at safety.
While the 49ers might rely on Odum to play strong safety at times in 2022, his meal ticket is special teams. That included the 28-year-old earning All-Pro honors back in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, he recorded the second-highest special teams grade that year. He’ll act as a gunner under new special teams coach Brian Schneider following the firing of Richard Hightower.
In terms of what Odum brings on defense, he’ll be the fourth safety behind Jimmie Ward, Talanoa Hufanga and Tarvarius Moore — likely signaling the end of Jaquiski Tartt’s career in San Francisco. Last season saw Odum record 55 tackles, two passes defended and an interception. He also yielded three passing touchdowns and a substandard 122.9 QB rating when targeted. Odum’s deal comes in at $10.95 million over three years.
Oren Burks Provides San Francisco 49ers With Depth And A Special Teams Ace
San Francisco 49ers brought in Oren Burks for depth. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)
A third-round pick of the Green Bay Packers out of Vanderbilt back in 2018, Burks never panned out in Wisconsin. The soon-to-be 27-year-old linebacker recorded a total of 92 tackles on defense while starting seven games in four seasons.
However, this deal is more about what Burks brings to the 49ers’ special teams unit.
“Special teams throughout my career, that’s been something I can hang my hat on. And kind of got some notice around the league for that,” Burks told reporters during his introductory press conference.
Last season saw Burks play in 75% of Green Bay’s special teams snaps. He led the Packers in special teams tackles during his time with the team. Burks will also serve as a reserve linebacker, joining a group headed by the likes of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair. His deal is said to come in at $5 million over two years.