49ers

49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

On the first day of the new league year, the 49ers reached contract agreements with nine unrestricted free agents, including seven offensive players and a kicker.

General manager John Lynch went from the “liberating” feeling of having no quarterbacks under contract to placing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the depth chart.

While Colin Kaepernick remains available at a fraction of his previously scheduled $14.9 million salary, the 49ers prioritized signing two quarterbacks who opened last season as reserves to Jay Cutler with the Chicago Bears.

The past four seasons the 49ers have ranked 32nd, 29th, 30th and 30th in passing yards. Under new coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers seemed intent on adding players to help improve their passing game.

[RELATED: Report: Kirk Cousins says 'I'm going to be a 49er' eventually]

Neither Hoyer nor Barkley is likely be viewed as a long-term answer at quarterback, so the 49ers remain open to using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback such as Mitchell Trubisky or patiently waiting for Kirk Cousins to become available at a reasonable price. The 49ers' best option could be to wait after this season to obtain him at no compensation to Washington.

Cousins officially signed his exclusive franchise tender with Washington on Friday, according to his agent. With that formality, Cousins can now be traded. But Washington has shown no inclination to deal Cousins, who could walk a year from now as a free agent.

Here is a look at the players who saw action for the 49ers last season at the offensive skill positions, and how things look after the first day of free agency:

Quarterback
2016: Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert
2017: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley
The 49ers must keep all their options open at quarterback, but it’s unclear whether they remain in the market for another veteran to add to the mix unless an obvious starter becomes available.

Hoyer was clearly the 49ers’ top target among the available quarterbacks. Shanahan worked with him for a season with the Cleveland Browns. Hoyer averaged 329.5 yards passing in his four full games with the Chicago Bears last season before sustaining a season-ending broken left arm.

The 49ers, meanwhile, averaged a league-worst 181.9 yards passing per game.

Barkley is now with his third team in his short career after beginning with Philadelphia Eagles during the Chip Kelly era. Barkley will enter training camp competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Whether the 49ers keep two or three quarterbacks remains to be determined.

Running back
2016: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
2017: Carlos Hyde, Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
The 49ers are certainly in the market to add to the running back position. Carlos Hyde remains a work in progress but the clear choice to be the team’s top runner.

“Right now, I see Carlos being our back,” Shanahan said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We’ve studied a lot of the guys on tape. He’s the guy that’s got the most. Carlos is a guy who I was a fan of coming out of college. He had a real good career there. I looked at him hard when I was in Cleveland at the time and had a good feeling he was going to be a great back then. I don’t think he’s a finished product. I think there’s a lot more to his game and I look forward to us helping him bring that out.”

The 49ers now have a fullback with the addition of Juszczyk. He is a highly versatile player who can line up all across the formation to provide Shanahan with many options to find the best matchups. In the past two seasons with Baltimore, Juszczyk caught 78 passes for 587 yards. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Ravens.

Wide receiver
2016: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Chris Harper
2017: Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson, Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, DeAndre Carter, Rashad Ross
The 49ers released Smith this week and are obviously allowing Patton to leave as a free agent. After signing Kerley to a contract extension last week, the 49ers struck in free agency with the additions of Garçon, Goodwin and Robinson.

Here is what each of those players produced last season for their respective clubs:
Garçon (Washington): 16 games, 79 catches, 1,041 yards, 13.2 avg, 3 TDs
Kerley (49ers): 16 games, 64-667-10.4-3
Goodwin (Buffalo): 15 games, 29-431-14.9-3
Robinson (Atlanta): 16 games, 20-323-16.1-2

The 49ers should also look to add a potentially dynamic receiver within the first two days of the draft.

Tight end
2016: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm, Jim Dray
2017: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm
In one of Trent Baalke’s final moves as general manager, the 49ers awarded McDonald with a contract extension that basically amounts to three years for $19.7 million.

The 49ers on Thursday added Paulsen, who is considered more of a blocking tight end. He can be kept in for pass protection or he can be a vital component in the run game. Paulsen’s best seasons as a pass-catcher came with (surprise!) Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in Washington. Paulsen combined to catch 53 passes for 575 yards and four TDs over the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

Kicker
2016: Phil Dawson
2017: Robbie Gould
The 49ers have said their good-byes to Dawson, who had a strong four-year run with the organization and is remaining in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals. Dawson, 42, was named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the team MVP in 2015.

Gould, 35, appeared in just 10 games for the New York Giants last season. He made all 10 of his field-goal attempts but missed three of his 23 extra-point tries. Gould ranks seventh all-time with a field-goal accuracy percentage of 85.886.

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

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USATSI/AP

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns. 

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.