SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — While there were doubts whether any team would give Jonathan Martin another chance, the NFL coach who knows him best considered it an easy call.
San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh once sat in Martin’s living room to recruit him, coached him for three years at Stanford and developed Martin into an All-American and a second-round draft pick, then stood by him from afar as Martin accused a Miami teammate of bullying last year.
“I believe everybody deserves an Etch-A-Sketch opportunity and an opportunity to start a new chapter,” Harbaugh said Wednesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Because of my relationship recruiting Jonathan, and (I) coached Jonathan for three years at Stanford, I’m confident he will be committed to the mission and the organization. Very excited about it.”
Martin is back in a place he can feel safe as he starts over on the football field. Harbaugh’s 49ers acquired the offensive tackle in a trade with the Dolphins on Tuesday night, with a physical scheduled for Thursday to finalize the deal.
Martin is just the latest player to receive a new start under Harbaugh with the Niners. From 2005 No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith resurrecting his career under the former NFL quarterback to Randy Moss’ return in 2012, two years after three teams let him go, and even San Francisco standing by Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver during their off-field transgressions, the 49ers have provided second chances in many different forms — including for serious off-field instances.
As long as he proves he can perform, Martin certainly will be welcome in a close-knit locker room of players who support each other through highs and lows. A year after their Super Bowl defeat, the 49ers lost in the NFC championship game to the division rival and eventual champion Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m sure Jonathan will be ready to go. He will help our team,” right tackle Anthony Davis posted on Twitter.
This past season, star linebacker Smith spent a five-game stint away from the team to attend rehab for substance abuse then returned to teammates who were thrilled to have the menacing pass-rusher back on one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. Cornerback Culliver was forgiven for making anti-gay remarks on Super Bowl media day last year and was supported by the front office on down as he reached out afterward to the Bay Area’s large lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Even quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall draft pick in 2011 out of Missouri, is getting a new look as Colin Kaepernick’s apparent backup after the 49ers acquired him from Jacksonville on Tuesday. The Jaguars benched Gabbert after three games last year.
Now, there’s Martin, eager for a fresh start out West after accusing former Miami teammate Richie Incognito of bullying in a scandal that overshadowed the Dolphins’ 8-8 year and late-season collapse.
An investigation for the NFL determined last month that Incognito and two other offensive linemen engaged in persistent harassment of Martin, another offensive lineman and an assistant trainer.
In November, Harbaugh publicly expressed his support for Martin and called him a “personal friend” while declining to comment on specifics of Miami’s situation. Martin left the Dolphins in late October and underwent counseling for emotional issues. Incognito was suspended for the final eight games.
“The goal for this transaction is a win-win. ... It’s a great opportunity for Jon to demonstrate to the football world that he’s a football player and worthy of his high draft status,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s a great opportunity for our organization to add a second-round pick.”
Harbaugh planned to meet with his new — and, well, old — player either Wednesday or Thursday depending on when Martin was able to take his physical at team headquarters. He is nearby taking classes at Stanford, about 20 miles away.
Once San Francisco’s formal offseason schedule begins, Harbaugh expects Martin to find his way in a hurry. After all, Martin already knows many of the coaches who worked under Harbaugh while he was turning around the Cardinal program.
How he fits in on the depth chart is still to be determined.
“That will all be a process. Jon’s a very intelligent football player and has familiarity with our system,” Harbaugh said. “I think that will be a very smooth transition for him.”