There has been a mixed reaction to the trade that has sent outside linebacker Parys Haralson to the New Orleans Saints and rightfully so. Haralson, who was dealt for a conditional 7th round pick, was a valuable member of the 49ers’ defense and started 68 games from 2007-2011. He was working his way back from a torn triceps muscle that cost him all of 2012. While he was no longer a starter, the depth and experience he added is invaluable to a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
To look at what Haralson meant to the current 49ers’ roster you have to take a look at what his role was during the Harbaugh era. In 2011, Haralson started at outside linebacker on one of the best 49er defenses in recent memory. Haralson was excellent against the run but came out of the game in passing situations as the team broke in then rookie Aldon Smith. The combination was lethal as the 49ers excelled against the run and Smith developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league.
As Smith showed early and often that he was going to be a superstar, the writing on the wall became clearer and clearer for Haralson. He would have been regulated to backup duties in 2012 had he not gotten injured. In hindsight, that injury may have cost the 49ers more than you’d think. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio rarely substitutes and the team’s starters play a high percentage of snaps. That’s fine when guys are healthy, but when players start to get beat up towards the end of the season it’s beneficial to have the depth to spell players now and then.
In the case of the the 49ers, injuries to Justin Smith and Aldon Smith may have cost them the championship last season. While neither missed a playoff game, they were both shells of themselves and not anywhere close to 100 percent. Could having Haralson on the team have prevented Aldon Smith from getting banged up? Probably not, but they may have been in a better position to lighten the load or even give him a week off had Haralson been around.
The 49ers only carried three outside linebackers last season and Clark Haggans, the teams only real backup, was well past his prime.
Behind Haralson the 49ers have unknowns. Rookie Corey Lemonier has looked outstanding so far but is probably a year or so away from being able to step in and start. Dan Skuta, who was signed as a free agent, is more of special teams player and has little experience playing outside linebacker as he had previously lined up on the inside when with the Bengals. The loss of Haralson may make room on the roster for Cam Johnson but the second-year player has no experience to fall back on. If Smith or Brooks are out for any kind of an extended period things could get dicey.
Haralson was supposedly on the bubble to even make the roster which is surprising given the fact that he was only due 1.5 million this season. I’m not sure what those savings really mean this year unless they are working on an extension for Mike Iupati (or another player) and needed the extra money now. While Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith will cost the team a fortune, those extensions can’t be done until after this season and Haralson’s cap hit would have had nothing to do with their contracts.
The 49ers front office and coaching staff has proven they know what they’re doing and do deserve the benefit of the doubt. It’s just a but worrisome to me how they can give up on a proven commodity when the other options are so untested.
Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox