49ers

Garoppolo, 49ers playing to a new, winning tune

Garoppolo, 49ers playing to a new, winning tune

HOUSTON -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 26-16 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 14 on Sunday:

1, PLAYING TO A NEW TUNE

There is most certainly a different vibe around the team these days. That was apparent on Sunday when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led the team out of the locker room flanked by Nick Kray, the administrative assistant to the head coach and DJ in charge of music.

On Kray’s right shoulder, he held a large boombox that pumped out music as the team gathered in the tunnel before taking the field. It has become part of the team’s routine.

And so has winning.

“You can feel it in our building,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Guys are gaining that confidence.”

The 49ers have won three of their past four games after losing their first nine games to open the season. The 49ers won back-to-back road games for the first time since the 2014 season (Nov. 9 at New Orleans; Nov. 16 at the New York Giants).

Garoppolo led the 49ers on five consecutive scoring drives in the second and third quarters. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 334 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“I’ve only been here for a short time, so I don’t know exactly what’s changed or what hasn’t,” Garoppolo said. “I think we got a little bit momentum with us right now, and we just need to keep plucking away day by day, and just keep getting better.”

When asked if Garoppolo has elevated the play of everyone, receiver Marquise Goodwin answered, “One hundred percent.”

Goodwin explained, “Jimmy is a great guy. He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t struggle at any point in the game. When you see that in a position that he’s in, it gives you extreme confidence. When you look at him in the third quarter or in the second quarter and you’re down by one, you’re up by one, you feel that sense of hope.”

2. DEFENSE BENEFITS, TOO


The 49ers’ production on third downs was not as good as a week ago, but the team’s offense still controlled the clock to help out the defense.

The 49ers’ defense surrendered a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, but that was all the scoring the Texans did in the second half.

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge day for the Texans, including two touchdown receptions. But after Hopkins’ second touchdown, the 49ers’ defense clamped down.

“We knew he was going to have his,” Shanahan said of Hopkins. “Just thought we played them better the rest of the game. We didn’t let them get by us. Caught a few things in front of us. If you can bend but don’t break against him, then you’re usually doing a good job.”

Safety Adrian Colbert got the last word against Hopkins when he forced a takeaway in the fourth quarter that led to Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal, giving the 49ers a 26-16 lead with less than four minutes remaining.

When I see something, I go full speed, and I saw (No.) 10,” Colbert said. “I was trying to hit (No.) 10 all game and I finally got my opportunity.”

3. JOHNSON’S LEARNING EXPERIENCE


The day could not have gone much worse for cornerback Dontae Johnson, who is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season. He was solid while starting the first 13 games of the season.

But never was he assigned a wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins. And never has he struggled to the point of getting benched. Hopkins caught 11 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns. Most of the damage came against Johnson, who was also flagged three times.

“It’s one of those things,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player. A few of the calls, I thought were a little questionable. At the same time, I just got to compete. He won the one-on-one matchups when it’s all said and done. Great player. Great catch radius. Great hands. Great player.”

Greg Mabin replaced Johnson at right cornerback after Hopkins caught a 29-yard touchdown pass against him early in the third quarter. Johnson threw his helmet to the ground upon coming to the sideline.

But Johnson was forced to return to the game in the fourth quarter when Ahkello Witherspon went down with a knee injury. Witherspoon is scheduled for an MRI examination. His return for the final three weeks of the season is uncertain.

So Johnson is likely to retain his starting job.

“Every time I step out there, it’s a great learning experience,” Johnson said. “I chalk this one down as performance I’d like to give back and do it again. But I’ll watch the film, learn from it, and just move on.”

 

Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts

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Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts

The 49ers recently re-signed eight of the 10 players who finished the season on the team’s practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who was not among the first wave of 49ers signings to 2018 contracts, signed Wednesday with the Indianapolis Colts, ending his three-season association with the organization.

Smelter was one of general manager Trent Baalke’s redshirt draft picks. The team selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft despite a torn ACL that ended his final season at Georgia Tech.

Smelter spent his first season on an injured list. He was waived at the beginning of the past two seasons, finishing both years on the 49ers’ practice squad. Smelter appeared in two games in 2016 and caught one pass for 23 yards.

Last season, the 49ers signed wide receivers Louis Murphy and Max McCaffrey to spots on the 53-man roster instead of Smelter, who remained on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Carter, who also spent the entire season on the practice squad, was signed recently to the team’s 90-man roster.

Others who finished the season on the 49ers practice squad to remain on the team’s offseason roster are: quarterback Nick Mullens, tight end Cole Wick, offensive linemen Andrew Lauderdale and Pace Murphy, linebacker Boseko Lokombo, and defensive backs Trovon Reed and Channing Stribling.

The 49ers also signed fullback Malcolm Johnson, who spent last season on injured reserve with the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson appeared in 19 games over the 2015 and ’16 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He was a sixth-round draft pick in ’15.

Offensive linemen Cameron Hunt, who finished the season on the 49ers’ practice squad, remains unsigned. Guard JP Flynn is also unsigned. He sustained a torn patellar tendon in November and underwent surgery that was expected to keep him out up to nine months.

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.