$84 Million 49ers Star Named Worst Free Agency Signing of 2023

The San Francisco 49ers know the importance of taking risks, but that doesn’t mean those gambles always payout. For every slam-dunk success like the trade for RB Christian McCaffrey, there are also misses like the signing of Javon Hargrave.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan

Fans shouldn’t be too quick to bury Hargrave, though, as he has only finished his first season in San Francisco. However, SI.com’s Gilberto Manzano believes that Hargrave is the worst free agency signing of 2023.

“The 49ers likely expected more from Hargrave, who signed one of the most lucrative contracts of last offseason,” Manzano wrote on March 6. “Hargrave had a dominant 2022 season during his last year in Philadelphia, but the 49ers’ decision to add him was a gamble since he was on the wrong side of 30.”

While Manzano has a point, Hargrave was far from a liability in 2023. Where his point lives though is that Hargrave should’ve been at the peak of his powers in 2023. Instead, he regressed from his 2022 season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Considering the plethora of talent lining up next to him, it isn’t a positive sign.

Now, San Francisco will likely look for an improvement. But saying Hargrave was a flop in 2023 feels like an exagerration.

Hargrave Goes from Steelers to Eagles to 49ers

While some players burst onto the scene as rookies, Hargrave is the definition of a “slow burn.” After being drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hargrave earned just 4 sacks and 9 tackles for loss over his first two seasons.

2018 marked a significant upturn in pass-rushing effectiveness, as Hargrave totaled 6.5 sacks and added a swatted pass. After a decent 2019 (4 sacks, 7 TFLs, 1 forced fumble,) the South Carolina St. product left Pittsburgh for the Eagles in free agency.

Over his three seasons in Philadelphia, Hargrave properly introduced himself to national audiences. He upped his sack total in each season, but exploded for 11 sacks and a forced fumble in 2022.

And as mentioned above, Hargrave regressed in 2023 but he was far from ineffective. He racked up 7 sacks, the third-highest season total of his career. He also added two PDs and 8 tackles for loss.

Hargrave’s Deal Only Gets More Expensive

The only reason why there should be concern about Hargrave’s contract is his age. If his best years are behind him, then the contract San Francisco gave him could age very poorly.

According to Spotrac, Hargrave’s $84 million deal is back-loaded, meaning that it will pay far more as time goes on. In fact, Hargrave only counted as a $6.62 million cap hit in 2023 due to his $23 million signing bonus being spread out over the four-year deal.

In 2024, Hargrave’s salary jumps to $8.89 million and he will count as a $15.4 million cap hit. His future salaries in 2025 and 2026 are eye-watering, as he will be set to make $19.9 and $21.7 million respectively.

But as expensive as that seems, only his 2024 salary is guaranteed. If Hargrave doesn’t step it up, the 49ers can bail and cut him next offseason. San Francisco would have to swallow $18.6 million in dead cap, but that taken cap space would be spread out over the next 5 years.

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