49ers sign Darnell Dockett to shore up uncertain defensive line
On Thursday, Dockett signed a two-year deal with the rival San Francisco 49ers worth a reported $7.5 million, with $2 million guaranteed. That's a significant pay cut from the $6.55 million Dockett was scheduled to make in Arizona prior to his late-February release. Interestingly enough, though, his San Francisco deal is about in line with what the Cardinals offered Dockett to return after being cut, per the Arizona Republic: one year at $2.5 million and a chance to push up to $4 million via bonuses.
"We have been very clear about our feelings for Darnell and our desire to have him back," Cardinals GM Steve Keim said when announcing Dockett's release. "After speaking with him and his representatives, we decided that this move today makes the most sense for both the team and the player and allows each to keep all of its options open."
Dockett declined the Cardinals' follow-up offer, then moved west. An ACL injury cost him the 2014 season, but if Dockett is fully healthy again, the 49ers could have ample playing time to offer him. Former San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald was waived in December amid off-field woes, and Dockett may get the first crack at filling that spot in the lineup.
A rotation between all three players could be in order. Dockett's arrival also gives San Francisco a bit of a safety net should veteran Justin Smith opt for retirement. The 35-year-old Smith (two years Dockett's senior) has yet to make a decision about his future, though he has been working out at the 49ers' facility, according to recent reports.
Before having to sit out all of '14, Dockett had missed just two games in his first 10 NFL seasons. Along the way, he proved to be one of the league's better pass-rushing 3-4 defensive ends.
Dockett still has to prove that he has a little kick left—he hasn't played since Dec. 29, 2013, and is even further removed from a dominant 2007-10 stretch that earned him three Pro Bowl bids. For the price at which San Francisco acquired him, however, Dockett's worth the risk.
[daily_cut.nfl]Grade: A-minus. The 49ers have one of the more restrictive cap situations in the league (about $6.5 million under the 2015 cap number prior to the Dockett signing), so it might not be a free-spending off-season in San Francisco. But that's part of why this deal, on paper, seems worthwhile. Assuming Dockett recovers most of his pre-injury form, the $2 million in guaranteed money will be a drop in the bucket.
The 49ers also do not have to ask Dockett to do too much, thanks to the presence of Carradine and others. The ex-Cardinal can fill a valuable role on passing downs, while pitching in elsewhere if need be.
This signing was relatively low-risk, with the potential for a decent reward.