49ers

49ers key matchup No. 1: Kaepernick vs. Belichick

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49ers key matchup No. 1: Kaepernick vs. Belichick

This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Patriots matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

49ers QB Colin Kaeperick vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick

Tale of the tape
Kaepernick (7): 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, second season, Nevada
Belichick: 165-62 (.727) record in 13 seasons with Patriots

When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made the decision to replace veteran Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick as his starting quarterback, this game on the schedule loomed large.

It's not necessarily that Kaepernick gives the 49ers the best chance of going on the road and defeating the New England Patriots. And it's not that this a "must-win" for the 49ers, who own a 1 1/2-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West with three games remaining.

In making the switch at quarterback, Harbaugh's actions said he believes Kaepernick will give the 49ers the best chance to win in the playoffs after gaining experience with seven regular-season starts to finish the year.

And Sunday night's game in Foxboro, Mass., should provide Kaepernick with the best learning opportunity any young quarterback can experience.

"It's a big challenge," Harbaugh said. "(It's a) big task for our entire football team. I think everybody looks at it that way."

There's no other way to look at it.

Kaepernick has made four consecutive starts, during which time the 49ers have compiled a 3-1 record. Kaepernick lit it up in his first NFL start, a 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Kaepernick's passing yards have fallen in each start to 231 at New Orleans, to 208 at St. Louis, to 185 against Miami. He did not throw a touchdown pass in the past two games. But he also did not throw an interception, either.

He has proven to be as much of a threat with his legs. Kaepernick has rushed for 351 yards (7.6 average) and five touchdowns on the season.

"He's an explosive player, he can make big plays," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "The offensive system they run with him in there has the element of the option, the pistol offense, that type of thing. It's another thing to prepare for."

And there is little doubt the Patriots (10-3) will be prepared. In fact, the 49ers need New England to be at its schematic best on Sunday to prepare Kaepernick for anything he could face once the playoffs begin.

"They give you a lot of different looks on defense," Kaepernick said. "You just have to be prepared for it. You have to be ready for their disguises and different coverages, different fronts they're going to give you.

"It'll be a great challenge. It's a great opportunity to show what we're capable of."

After averaging 14.8 yards per pass completion in his first two starts, Kaepernick was limited by the Rams and Dolphins to mostly underneath pass that averaged only 10.1 yards per completion.

The Rams pressured Kaepernick, preventing him time in the pocket to showcase his powerful arm with passes down the field. Belichick is sure to come up with a plan against Kaepernick that will provide a valuable lesson for the remainder of the season.

An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations

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An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations

If the 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are unable to reach a multi-year contract extension by March 6, the 49ers have no other choice but to designate him as their franchise player.

The estimated one-year salary for the franchise tag would be $23.307 million, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry, whose work now appears at CBS Sports. (That is assuming a 2018 league-wide salary cap of $178.1 million per team.)

There is a lot to consider for both sides as they look to enter into a long-term contract. Corry said if a deal is struck, he would expect it to be in the neighborhood of Derek Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason.

“And then there’s the other dynamic, which I would not undersell or I think may not be appreciated as much as it should be,” Corry said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “(Garoppolo’s agent) Don Yee has a reputation – no fault of his own – of doing team-friendly deals.”

Yee also represents New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose average of $20.5 million annual pay ranks 15th among NFL quarterbacks. Brady is underpaid by design, Corry said, because one of the great quarterbacks of all-time realizes it helps the Patriots to maintain a strong supporting cast.

“That’s because Tom Brady dictates, ‘I want to do something good for the team, take less money so we can improve the roster to win Super Bowls.’ That’s not Don Yee who wants to do that,” Corry said.

“The agent works for the player, so he’s executing Tom Brady’s wishes. But he gets that held against him in recruiting. So this is his opportunity to erase that perception if Garoppolo allows him to do his job and gives him latitude to strike the deal that he feels is appropriate.”

For more on the potential negotiating strategies of both sides, listen here to the 49ers Insider Podcast.

49ers linebacker Foster named to NFL All-Rookie team

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49ers linebacker Foster named to NFL All-Rookie team

Linebacker Reuben Foster was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team in voting conducted by the Professional Football Writers of America.

Foster started all 10 games in which he appeared for the 49ers after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick out of Alabama. Foster finished second on the 49ers with 72 tackles. He had seven tackles for loss, ranking No. 2 on the team behind rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

Foster was one of three linebackers selected as an all-rookie performer. Thomas, the No. 3 overall draft pick, was not among the four defensive linemen honored.

[MAIOCCO: Ex-agent says Reuben Foster's arrest could void salary guarantees]

Foster was selected as the winner of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for November. He missed five games early in the season with a high ankle sprain and another game with a ribs injury.

The NFL’s top defensive rookie was New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who recorded five interceptions and scored a touchdown while making 13 starts.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
CO-OFFENSIVE ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs and RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints

2017 PFWA ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
Offense
QB – Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
RB – Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
WR – Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams; Juju Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
TE – Evan Engram, New York Giants
C – Pat Elflein, Minnesota Vikings
G – Dan Feeney, Los Angeles Chargers; Jermaine Eluemunor, Baltimore Ravens, and Ethan Pocic, Seattle Seahawks (tie)
T – Garett Bolles, Denver Broncos; Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints

Defense
DL – Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles; Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals; Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants
LB – Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions; Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills
S – Jamal Adams, New York Jets; Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

Special Teams
PK – Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs
P – Rigoberto Sanchez, Indianapolis Colts
KR – Ryan Switzer, Dallas Cowboys
PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions
ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals