49ers Mailbag: Quarterback talk dominates offseason

49ers Mailbag: Quarterback talk dominates offseason

This edition of the 49ers Mailbag is all quarterbacks, all the time.

The 49ers have their head coach. They have their general manger. They even added two top personnel executives.

Now, Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch, Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew must come up with a plan for the 49ers to approach the offseason at the quarterback position.

Thanks to those on Facebook who submitted questions. Here we go. . .

What are the chances, if any, that Kaepernick remains with the team?‬‬ (Chris Standart)

Lynch and the personnel department will have a voice. But this decision has to come straight from Shanahan. Here is what Shanahan said during Super Bowl week when I asked him what he values when evaluating a quarterback:

“If you’re born to throw and it’s effortless, you can do it with ease and you don’t have to think about the throwing part because everything else is so hard. And if you have that, you want a guy who’s fearless. If you sit and watch the rush in this league or you’re thinking about getting hit or have any hesitation, you don’t have much of a chance. The game moves too fast and you have to keep your eyes downfield.

“And you got to have a certain amount of intelligence so that you can handle everything. But it’s not just your IQ, it’s being able to handle it under pressure and think fast and react. Once the game starts, your mind has to shut off. It’s got to be a feel and you react, usually based off the preparation you did throughout the week and your natural feel of the game.”

Colin Kaepernick had his best statistical season since 2013, which was his first full season as the 49ers’ starter. Kaepernick is expected to opt out of his contract in early March. If he does not, then the 49ers would be expected to release him to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled $14.9 million pay.

Lynch said whatever the team decides with Kaepernick, it will be a “football decision.” So is he the kind of quarterback with whom Shanahan wants to work? Does he sit in the pocket and go through his progressions in a way that excites Shanahan? Or does Shanahan value the possibilities of having a quarterback who can gain as many yards with his legs as with his arm?

The 49ers have a new head coach and coaching staff. They have a new general manager and personnel department. The question becomes whether they want to hold onto the same quarterback who has started 58 of the 49ers’ past 71 regular-season games? If they believe he is the best option, the answer is yes.

What would the Niners have to potentially give up to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from the Pats?‬ (Ronnie Dominguez)

The answer to that is vague yet simple: The 49ers would have to be willing to give up more than the next team.

If the Patriots decide to entertain trade offers for Garoppolo this offseason, the 49ers are set up beautifully to acquire him. No team in the NFL has as much draft capital as the 49ers. So the only way the 49ers do not acquire him is if another team wants him more.

Shanahan made no secret that he placed a very high pre-draft grade on Garoppolo in 2014. This is how he described him:

“He was a very good thrower. Tough guy, kept his eyes down the field, could get rid of the ball fast. Really liked the person. Had a chance to go out to dinner with him and stuff. He played at Eastern Illinois, and it was a different type of offense where you can’t always evaluate with how quick they get rid of the ball. But I really thought he was a very intelligent, tough player with a good throwing motion.”

Garoppolo enters the final year of his original contract with the Patriots. If New England does not maximize his return in a trade, they would likely lose him as a free agent after the 2017 season. And if that’s the case, there’s only the possibility of the Patriots receiving a compensatory pick (no earlier than the 33rd selection of the third round in the 2019 draft).

What are the chances of landing Kirk Cousins? (Misael Guzman)

This decision is entirely up to Washington. If Cousins’ team places the exclusive franchise tag on him, it’s over. If Washington tags him as their non-exclusive franchise player, then there’s some room for the 49ers to maneuver. It would cost two first-round picks, plus a contract that could make him the highest-paid quarterback in the league. Or the 49ers could try to negotiate a lower price with Washington for a trade. It seems a trade for Cousins ranks as the least-likely possibility for the 49ers to land their quarterback this offseason.

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.”