49ers GM Lynch: Colbert shows characteristics of 'big-time starter'


49ers GM Lynch: Colbert shows characteristics of 'big-time starter'

SANTA CLARA -- Just hours before John Lynch was announced as a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist for the sixth time, he spoke glowingly about a young, promising safety.

Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl performer during his 15-year career. In his role as 49ers general manager, he saw a lot that he liked from seventh-round draft pick Adrian Colbert two weeks ago against the New York Giants.

Colbert, making his first career start, sustained a broken thumb early in the game. He still played every snap on defense, recorded four tackles and showed his range in the deep middle to break up two passes.

“That was a really, really good football game and he displayed some things in that game that are characteristics of a starter and a big-time starter,” Lynch said during a 45-minute session with reporters on Tuesday at Levi's Stadium.

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on free safety Jimmie Ward, whom they appear to view as their starter for next season. But Colbert has a chance to figure prominently in their future, too.

“If he plays like he did last week, you consider a lot of things,” Lynch said.

Here are other things you need to know from what Lynch said on Tuesday:

The 49ers invested the No. 3 overall pick on Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. He appeared in eight games, with six starts, before missing the past two games with an MCL sprain.

Thomas has not been spectacular, recording 26 tackles and two sacks. But Lynch said he is pleased with Thomas’ development.

“I think some people are saying, 'The No. 3 pick, maybe perhaps should be a little more dynamic.' But his play has been solid," Lynch said. "We knew it would be a process. He's a young kid that I think, physically, he's going to grow in stature."

Guard Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, did not distinguish himself during the offseason program or early in training camp. Then, he sustained a knee injury with a lengthy timetable for recovery.

His timetable would have enabled him to play this season. But the 49ers opted to take “the long-term view” and place him on season-ending injured reserve to put him in a better position to realize his potential upon his return.

But, first, that means Garnett had to change his body composition. Lynch said he challenged Garnett and the team’s strength and conditioning staff to put in the work to make Garnett stronger, more agile and in better condition to succeed in the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme.

“We certainly hope he responds,” Lynch said.

Whether it’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Carlos Hyde, Dontae Johnson, Eric Reid, Daniel Kilgore, Aaron Lynch or others, the 49ers have been active in discussing the possibilities of contract extensions.

John Lynch declined to speak about which specific players the organization is trying to extend beyond this season – only to say there are ongoing talks.

“I will tell you there are players we’re talking to their representatives, but I’m going to get into who, when, why,” Lynch said.

The 49ers are allowed to enter into extension talks with Trent Brown after this season. Whether they are able to work out a long-term contract remains to be seen, but Lynch made no secret he hopes he can keep the tackles together into the future.

Left tackle Joe Staley, 33, appears to have at least a couple more season in him. He scored some big points with the organization with his willingness to return to action just two weeks after sustaining a broken eye socket.

“We love Joe Staley -- love the way he plays, think he’s a really good scheme fit for the offense we play,” Lynch said.

Lynch said he likes the idea of keeping Staley and Brown together for the foreseeable future.

“We feel there are a lot of places where we need to improve,” Lynch said. “And you’re always trying to improve, but those two guys are cornerstones for the next couple, few years.”

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead has not produced like a first-round draft pick. And the next time he takes the field for the 49ers, he will be entering his contract year.

Questioning Armstead’s fit for the 49ers’ defensive scheme is reasonable. But Lynch said he believes Armstead has a place with the organization.

“We’re real pleased,” Lynch said. “We think he’s a fit with what we are and who we are, going forward. We think he has a bright future with us.”

Armstead had his best game this season against Washington, a game in which he sustained a broken hand and required season-ending surgery.

“He put it all together,” Lynch said. “It was very encouraging and, at the same time, disappointing.”

The 49ers have 18 players on injured reserve with a variety of physical conditions that knocked them out of action from broken bones to torn ligaments and tendons.

“Some of those things are freak, but, yes, there has been an alarming amount,” Lynch said. “We’re going to study everything. That was part of what I was charged to do, evaluate every facet of the football part of this organization.”

There do not appear to be any obvious answers. Many teams around the league are also experiencing a rash of injuries to star players. On defense, the 49ers lost Armstread (broken hand), linebacker Malcolm Smith (torn pectoral tendon), and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt (broken forearms) for the season.

“Some of it, broken forearms from two safeties and a broken thumb from a safety, I don’t know what the answer is there,” Lynch said.

“We’re going to take a deep dive – we already are – into why and if there are any common threads. We’re studying it hard.”

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future


49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”