Pierre Garcon's role with 49ers goes beyond receptions and touchdowns

The 49ers upgraded at receiver by adding Pierre Garcon but also hope Garcon provides veteran leadership. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Upon signing wide receiver Pierre Garcon to a lucrative contract that will pay him more than $16 million in the first year, the San Francisco 49ers instantly upgraded their receiver corps from a year ago.

In fact, Garcon's two 1,000-yard receiving seasons over the past four years is equal to the number posted by all 49ers receivers in that time frame (Anquan Boldin in 2013 and 2014) and his three 70-plus catch seasons is one more than all Niners receivers managed during that time. Even at 30 years old, Garcon was obviously an upgrade at a position of need.

But while it will be easy to monitor Garcon's impact by simply looking at the fantasy football numbers, the Niners are expecting much more from Garcon. Namely, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will undoubtedly look to Garcon to immediately take on a leadership role in a locker room that was in need of guidance during last year's 2-14 campaign.

It's a task Garcon isn't taking lightly.

"I don’t mind help setting the tone," Garcon said. "That’s what I want to do, too, I have got a lot to prove to myself and for the team and for Kyle, I’ve got to make everybody look good for bringing me here. So I definitely want to set the tone, set the bar high and just make the plays that we’re supposed to make and win games and keep moving forward."

As a nine-year NFL veteran, Garcon has seen both sides of the NFL coin from the consistent, relentless success of the Indianapolis Colts in his first four years to the bumpy, up-and-down rollercoaster of his past five seasons with the Washington Redskins.

Playing with demanding Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning in one of the league's most complex offenses with players like Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison and coaches like Clyde Christensen around to push him helped Garcon understand what it takes to succeed in the NFL. It helped him find success in Washington, even if the team didn't always do the same.

"When we were there [in Indianapolis], they were winning, 14 games, 15 games, going to the playoffs every year, going to the Super Bowl so you can never question what they say or actually do because they have the proof in the pudding," Garcon said. "Having Marvin and Reggie they said you’ve got to do this better, this is what it takes and Clyde was there. It was definitely worth it looking back now."

Talk to just about anyone who was around Garcon in Washington and the word that inevitably comes up most is "tough." He's unafraid to go across the middle and he's a more than willing blocker in the run game. Those are two of the qualities that made Garcon a popular enough leader with the Redskins that quarterback Kirk Cousins made it clear to ESPN's John Keim in December that losing Garcon would be a big blow.

“I love Pierre’s versatility because he can do it all," Cousins told Keim. "You’ve seen him catch the deep ball and run by people. You’ve seen him catch intermediate routes. You see him catch screens. You see him block in the run game. You see him make contested catches. You see him run over people once he catches the ball. There’s a versatility there where ... Pierre has the ability to just step out there and, OK, he can cover it all. That helps as a quarterback; that helps as a playcaller. But his consistency is not to be taken lightly. It’s a great comfort to me. He’s just a phenomenal competitor. He works really hard, prepares really hard. He’s a difference-maker on our team. He has been now for several years. He’s a guy that you’re glad he’s been able to stay healthy and continue to contribute.”

Beyond that, the Niners also expect Garcon to be integral in helping his new teammates learn Shanahan's offense. While Garcon says the Indianapolis offense was actually more complicated than Shanahan's, he acknowledges there are plenty of ways he can help lessen the learning curve for his offensive teammates.

"I have been in offenses that were more complex but once I’ve learned that offense, I can learn any other offense and it was easier to transition to Kyle’s offense coming from Indianapolis but that’s just from being in Indianapolis," Garcon said. "It was a lot more complicated but being here, coming to Kyle’s offense it’s not as complex. But for a new guy coming in it could be difficult because there is a lot of verbiage with different terminology that mean simple stuff but if you hear different things you could be overwhelmed easily."

To that end, Garcon noted that having others like quarterback Brian Hoyer and tight end Logan Paulsen who have been in Shanahan's offense previously will benefit everybody.

"For sure it helps the whole team because we can explain it to the other players," Garcon said. "We can explain it to [Marquise] Goodwin, we can explain it to [left tackle Joe] Staley and how simple it is instead of how wordy it is doesn’t mean too much. At the end of the day, it’s just block this way, block that way instead of saying all the plays the whole play."