49ers inactives: Ponder replaces Gabbert as backup QB


49ers inactives: Ponder replaces Gabbert as backup QB

ATLANTA – Christian Ponder will suit up for his first game of the season on Sunday when the 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Coach Chip Kelly made the move to promote Ponder into the backup position ahead of Blaine Gabbert and behind 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Ponder beat out rookie Jeff Driskel for a roster spot with a solid exhibition season after signing with the 49ers on Aug. 16 to replace injured veteran Thad Lewis. Ponder has not appeared in an NFL game since 2014 with the Minnesota Vikings. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 222 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Gabbert started the first five games of the season before getting benched. Gabbert completed 91 of 160 pass attempts (56.9 percent) for 925 yards with five touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 68.4. The 49ers were 1-4 in Gabbert's starts. The team's lone victory was a 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 at Levi's Stadium.

Ponder, originally the No. 12 overall pick of the Vikings in 2011, appeared in 38 games with Minnesota, including 36 starts.

In his career, he has completed 59.8 percent of his attempts with 6,658 yards, 38 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

Inside linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started the past seven games, will not suit up. There was no immediate word on what prompted the demotion. Michael Wilhoite will start in place of Hodges, leaving the 49ers with only two inside linebackers. Nick Bellore will start alongside Wilhoite.

The 49ers announced rookie wide receiver Aaron Burbridge will start in place of Torrey Smith, who did not make the trip to Atlanta due to a concussion. Chris Harper and Rod Streater are also expected to see significant playing time, alongside starter Quinton Patton and slot receiver Jeremy Kerley.

Left tackle Joe Staley was also announced as an inactive player due to a hamstring strain.

There will be just two 49ers starters in uniform from the team’s last trip to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game in January 2013: quarterback Colin Kaepernick and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Only three of the 49ers’ backups from the Super Bowl season are still around: tight end Garrett Celek, cornerback Tramaine Brock and linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

QB Blaine Gabbert
RB Mike Davis
OL Josh Allen
LB Gerald Hodges
T Joe Staley
WR Torrey Smith
DL Tony Jerod-Eddie

WR Julio Jones
WR Nick Williams
DB Robenson Therezie
DB Jalen Collins
OL Wes Schweitzer
TE J.D. McKissic
DE Adrian Clayborn

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.”