Chip Kelly's 49ers look no better than Jim Tomsula's 49ers

Chip Kelly's 49ers look no better than Jim Tomsula's 49ers

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers have proved their preseason critics correct through a four-game losing streak, including a hard-to-watch performance Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium.

“The vibe is frustrating,” center Daniel Kilgore said following the 49ers’ 33-21 loss in front of a national television audience. “We’re 1-4, going down this path again. It sucks. That’s the vibe.

“We have a long weekend now, some days off to get your body healed and come back ready to go. We’re 1-4, but it’s still a long season. Sixteen games. So we have to come back to work ready to go.”

[MAIOCCO: Top 5 takeaways from 49ers' 33-21 loss to Cardinals]

The 49ers finished 5-11 under one-and-done coach Jim Tomsula. And things do not look much different with virtually the same roster -- minus leading receiver Anquan Boldin -- from a year ago.

It was the kind of loss that left coach Chip Kelly openly searching for answers and promising that he and his coaching staff will look at everything, including a possible change at quarterback.

Starter Blaine Gabbert has been practicing better than Colin Kaepernick, Kelly said. The preparations during the week have been fine, he said, but the 49ers have been making critical errors during the games.

“I see a group that’s hurting because they’ve invested so much in this,” Kelly said. “So I think sometimes you worry in those situations when you see a bunch of guys that seem like they just don’t care. If they don’t care then they probably haven’t put a lot into it. I think this group, since we’ve been with them, has put a lot into this and it’s very, very important to them and they work extremely hard at it.

“So I see a group that’s hurting right now and as they should be. I don’t think anybody wants to be in this situation. I think we have a bunch of guys who want to be part of the solution not part of let’s blame somebody else for it.”

Gabbert has struggled. He threw two interceptions on Thursday, but he’s clearly not alone. Tight end Garrett Celek dropped a third-down pass on the game’s opening drive. Chris Davis fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half. The pass protection was the worst it has been all season. Carlos Hyde and Rashard Robinson committed critical penalties, and the defense continues to get pushed around.

“Dropped balls, we got penalties, we got sacks,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “These are things we work on in practice that are very correctable. We had turnovers. You can’t lose the turnover battle 3-0, whether you’re at home or on the road. We put ourselves in a hole right there.”

The 49ers do not have many high-priced players, but most of those who are earning big paychecks are either injured – in the case of NaVorro Bowman – or simply not doing anything.

The 49ers have five players with salary cap figures of more than $7 million. Kaepernick is the highest-paid player on the team at $15.89 million. He has not played a meaningful snap all season.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith accounts for $7.6 million, and he has been an absolute non-factor. On Thursday, he had one pass thrown his way and it was incomplete. In five games, Smith has nine catches for 106 yards.

“It’s just another loss,” Smith. “I don’t know how many losses we have. We’ve got to do better, but we have time. No need to panic yet. I know we’re not playing the way we should be.”

Said running back Carlos Hyde, “We just have to stay at it. We have to stay focused and keep working and don’t give up. It is still a long season and we just have to keep fighting. Things can turn around. We can get one win and the next thing you know, you go on a streak. We just have to stay at it and keep pushing.”

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.”