49ers

After Garoppolo signing, what's next for 49ers?

After Garoppolo signing, what's next for 49ers?

Now, Phase II of the 49ers’ offseason plan begins.

The 49ers have accomplished their No. 1 priority: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is locked up on a five-year contract, through the 2022 season, on a deal that could pay him up to $137.5 million.

The first problem is solved. Now what?

The 49ers next priorities are to support Garoppolo – protect Garoppolo.

It’s funny how this works, but the offensive line looked a lot better after Garoppolo, with his pocket presence and quick release, took over as the team’s starting quarterback for the final five games of the season.

Still, the line will require a lot of attention in free agency and, six weeks later, when the NFL draft begins.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ situation on the offensive line:

Left tackle
Joe Staley earned his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl. And, yes, he earned it. After a rough start to the season, Staley had a midseason talk with coach Kyle Shanahan. He got refocused, re-energized and ended up playing at a high level in the second half of the season.

Staley turns 34 just before the start of the season. He will be entering his 12th NFL season. He feels good physically and mentally, and he believes he can play at a high level for multiple seasons.

The 49ers have every reason to look at the upcoming season with no concerns about the starter who is entrusted with protecting Garoppolo’s blind side.

Right tackle
Trent Brown is an immensely talented individual. But he underwent shoulder surgery and still faces a lengthy offseason rehabilitation. Moreover, Brown faces an uncertain future with the 49ers beyond this season.

Brown is eligible to sign a contract extension this offseason. However, it is a long shot that will occur. Brown could command a big pay day. His next contract – either from the 49ers or another NFL team – is likely to be a huge deal.

The 49ers have enough questions about Brown’s future that it does not appear likely they will produce an attractive-enough contract offer that locks him up for multiple seasons. And in the expected event Brown is allowed to hit the open market as a free agent a year from now, it can be assumed that some team will throw big bucks at him.

Therefore, it would be wise for the 49ers to head into this season planning for a year from now. Due to Staley’s age and Brown’s contract status, the 49ers have to look to the not-so-distant future when considering their depth at both offensive tackle positions.

Left guard
As the season went on, the 49ers saw a lot of reason for optimism for the future of Laken Tomlinson. Remember, he did not have the benefit of the offseason program or training camp in the 49ers’ system. The 49ers acquired Tomlinson in a trade with the Detroit Lions after the final exhibition game.

Zane Beadles started the first game at left guard, then Tomlinson took over and started the final 15 games. It was rough at the beginning but steadily got better. Tomlinson has talent – as evidenced by the Lions’ decision to select him with the No. 28 overall pick.

Tomlinson, who enters the final year of his rookie contract, is eligible for an extension, but the 49ers might want to see more from him in the offseason program before making that commitment.

It’s not that Tomlinson is guaranteed a starting spot for 2018, but at least the 49ers feel they have a player who has a chance to be a solid performer once he is comfortable, plays naturally and does not overthink what he’s doing.

At the same time, the 49ers have a lot of flexibility. The 49ers can be expected to have salary-cap space of $85 million or so even after the numbers come in on Garoppolo’s contract. If they want to pursue a top guard, such as Carolina free-agent guard Andrew Norwell, they have the resources.

Right guard
Veteran Brandon Fusco gave the 49ers what they wanted last season. And, like the rest of the offensive line, his play got better later in the season. Then, there’s Joshua Garnett, a first-round draft pick in 2016.

This is the spot that figures to have the most competition. Fusco is scheduled to be a free agent. Garnett will not be given anything. If Garnett wants to become the starter, he will have to earn it. The 49ers are not sold on Garnett. He will have to prove himself in order to open the season as the starter. And he will unquestionably face stiff competition.

The 49ers could use an early draft pick on one of the top tackles and break in that player slowly at guard before ultimately transitioning him to one of the tackle positions. On Day 2 or 3 of the draft, the 49ers could target a player such as Humboldt State’s Alex Cappa to compete for a starting spot on the inside.

Center
Daniel Kilgore is scheduled for free agency. The 49ers talked about a contract extension with him during the season, but those discussions never got very far.

Kilgore is a favorite of the coaching staff for his ability to absorb and disseminate the offensive plan and line calls to his teammates. Garoppolo works well with him, and they seemed to form a very strong bond and trust in a short period of time. Kilgore was named the winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award for exemplifying the dedication, excellence and commitment of the long-time offensive line coach.

One line of thinking is that Kilgore is solid, and the 49ers could bring him back without a blockbuster deal and then work to improve the guards. That would take some weight off Kilgore’s shoulders and allow him a better opportunity to thrive.

In any event, the 49ers appear determined to increase the competition along the offensive line. All positions must be earned, as the 49ers look to protect their $137.5 million investment.

Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'

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USATSI

Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'

The 49ers’ coaching staff made its feelings known to center Daniel Kilgore throughout the season.

But, in the past, that would not have necessarily meant everyone in the organization had the same thoughts about Kilgore, who was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

“The whole season, coaches and I had a good relationship,” Kilgore said Wednesday on conference call with Bay Area reporters. “Just talking and having one-on-ones with various coaches, I had a positive outlook for the future.

“But that’s just one thing. The coaches have an opinion of you, but then there’s also the front office. That’s two totally different things. And I think for the first time in a long time, our coaches and the front office are on the same page.”

Kilgore was working out back home in Tennessee on Wednesday when he signed a three-year contract to avoid hitting the free-agent market. Kilgore, 30, a seven-year NFL veteran, described the contract as a team-friendly deal.

The 49ers presented Kilgore with a contract offer during the season but negotiations did not get serious until just recently. While the 49ers expressed interest in retaining Kilgore, he said he did not know what the future held for him when he packed his belongings from the locker room on the day after the season ended.

“It kind of makes you nervous because in this profession, people like the younger guys,” Kilgore said. “You just never know what will happen at any time, any given day, in the NFL. So toward the end, that last day of clearing out the locker, I didn’t know if I’d be back. I didn’t know if the Niners would want me back.”

Kilgore was named the winner of the organization’s top honor for an offensive lineman. Kilgore won the Bobb McKittrick Award for best exemplifying the dedication, excellence and commitment of the long-time 49ers offensive line coach. Kilgore started all 29 games in which he appeared the past two seasons, including a career-high 16 games last season.

"I've been here seven years and I consider the Bay Area my second home,” Kilgore said. “To be able to extend my career wearing the 49ers jersey was special to me. This team is heading in the right direction, I wanted to be a part of it."

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

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Matt Maiocco

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

When Jimmy Garoppolo signed a contract that could pay him up to $137.5 million over the next five years, he was asked what convinced him during his nine weeks with the organization that he wanted to be with the 49ers for the long term.

“I think it was a number of things,” Garoppolo said last week. “The team, the acceptance that they had of me when I first got here from the get-go, the coaching staff, Kyle and Rich. It was a very welcoming environment, and I really liked that. We had some success down the stretch, and you could see that pieces were falling into place. We've got a long way to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction.”

Kyle, of course, is head coach Kyle Shanahan. Rich Scagarello is the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach, and the person from whom Garoppolo spent the most time after arriving in Santa Clara on Oct. 31 after a trade with the New England Patriots.

Garoppolo earned $3.5 million in his first four NFL seasons. His new contract makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player, making an average of $27.5 million per season, with $48.7 million fully guaranteed.

Scangarello, appearing this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast, talked about what he learned about Garoppolo from working so closely with him to teach him Shanahan's offense. Scangarello said there is no question in his mind the money will not change Garoppolo’s approach to his work.

“That’s why it was easy for the organization and everyone to invest in somebody like Jimmy Garoppolo,” Scangarello said. “I just think that’s not the kind of person he is. If you met his family, you know where he comes from, what he’s about. His brothers, his parents, are just good, solid people people. He’s made of the right stuff and I just don’t see that affecting him in that way.

“It’s just not who he is. That’s the fun part of working with somebody like that every day. When they’re really talented and they appreciate everything and they work at it, you have a chance to be a successful organization and they can be a great player. And I don’t think those things will ever affect him.”