Less than five months after tearing his left ACL, Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander reportedly agreed to a four-year, $54 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers to become the NFL's highest-paid linebacker.
The athletic former second-rounder, a Pro Bowler only two seasons ago who won't turn 25 until August, latches on with a Niners team that has spent wildly of late in free agency on the likes of Kyle Juszczyk, Malcolm Smith and Jerick McKinnon, among others. Those are a couple of the reasons why perhaps we shouldn't be totally stunned by the monster deal for a talented, if inconsistent defender whose best football certainly should lie ahead.
Here's some more valuable context that helps explain the Niners' thinking and will become relevant again shortly when fellow free-agent ILB C.J. Mosley likely cruises past Alexander's deal:
For all of the explosive front-seven defenders in next month's draft, off-ball linebacker is one of its weaker positions. And the Niners' greater needs come at deeper spots, including edge rusher and wide receiver. Any smart team's goal in free agency should be to address as many needs, ideally aligning them with the strengths and weaknesses of the draft, to maximize its flexibility come April.
With no linebacker worth the No. 2 overall pick, and the likelihood that the Devins — Devin Bush and Devin White — are long gone by pick No. 34, we get the allure of Alexander, assuming, of course, he'll be ready to plug in alongside promising Fred Warner early in 2019, if not in Week 1.
But it's worth noting that two of the Niners' more valuable assets — Garoppolo and, soon, Alexander — are both rehabbing from serious knee injuries. So too is McKinnon, though we stop short of calling him a valuable asset, even if the Niners guaranteed a career backup $18 million (!) last spring.
In addition to feeling confident about Alexander's fit in Robert Saleh's 'D,' Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are entrusting their strength-and-conditioning staff to successfully oversee yet another key player's recovery.
Of course, the Niners are in the ILB market because of their massive miscalculation two years ago in spending the 31st overall pick on Reuben Foster, who was waived in November after yet another domestic violence incident. When teams whiff in the first round, the pressure to connect the next time becomes greater and usually leads to overextending. The Niners are fortunate that they seemingly struck gold in Round 3 last year on 22-year-old Fred Warner, and it's because of that they can afford to splurge on someone they envision as his long-time running mate.
Mosley, who has been to three consecutive Pro Bowls and four in his first five seasons, is probably the biggest winner of all here. He's clearly the superior, more dependable player to Alexander, and at only 27, he'll command a good deal more on the open market. Ditto for Anthony Barr, a 27-year-old four-time Pro Bowler who can wear even more hats than Alexander.
The losers here figure to be a Ravens team that most likely decides it no longer afford its defensive quarterback and leader, and any teams that hoped to secure either Mosley or Barr without not only resetting the LB market but smashing it to smithereens.