With no extension for Cousins, a look at 49ers' QB options for 2018


With no extension for Cousins, a look at 49ers' QB options for 2018

The 49ers, under general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, are attempting to build for the future.

Rather than aggressively pursue a veteran quarterback via trade, the organization opted this offseason to keep their coveted draft picks and build out as much of the roster as possible.

It made no sense for the 49ers to be willing to pay the steep price that would only begin the conversations with the teams – Washington and New England – who had intriguing quarterbacks set to become unrestricted free agents a year from now.

The 49ers are in no position to compete for the playoffs this season. So the 49ers could afford to take it slow at the quarterback position while trying to add as many accessory pieces as possible.

Why not wait to get the quarterback of the future until the price is right and the quarterback has a better chance to succeed with better players around him – on both sides of the ball?

The team added their man target, Brian Hoyer, at the opening of free agency. Once Matt Schaub opted to remain in Atlanta, the 49ers secured Matt Barkley as the backup.

Lynch took a very public approach to his evaluations of the top quarterbacks available in the draft. He gushed over Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and others. Of course, he never mentioned C.J. Beathard, whom the 49ers traded up to select in the back end of the third round.

The 49ers carried out the strategy in the first round of the draft by, in essence, turning their picks in the first and second rounds into defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster and a third-round pick next year. Along the way, the 49ers also picked up an additional second-round pick for next year.

The 49ers already have a long-term plan in the place. It would be inconceivable that the organization did not look three years in advance when charting the plan for this offseason. But, as always, that plan remains flexible.

A lot can happen in a year, but there are moving parts the organization will monitor before the plan is enacted.

Hoyer enters training camp as the starting quarterback. His performance this season will not be open to any kind of interpretation and projection. He gets the first chance to prove he should be the long-term starter.

Hoyer signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the 49ers. The onus is on him to take the starting job and hold onto it – give the organization no reason to look to upgrade.

Hoyer, who turns 32 in October, has shown to be a solid quarterback. But he also has not proven to be a dependable presence. After all, he has started 10 games or more only once in his career.

It is difficult to envision the 49ers would come out of this season convinced either Barkley or Beathard is the quarterback of the future. So short of a Pro Bowl-type season from Hoyer, the 49ers would likely be determined to add a long-term answer during the 2018 offseason.

Of course, this is the Topic du jour because of Washington’s failure to reach a multi-year extension on Monday with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

It is simple to connect the dots. Cousins broke into the NFL in 2012 under Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator under his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins is the kind of quarterback who fits what Shanahan wants.

Only Tom Brady has posted a better passer rating in both seasons since Cousins took over as the full-time starter. Shanahan likely believes Cousins could be even more productive in his system with his play-calling.

Cousins turns 29 in August, but that still leaves him at least a six-season window – if healthy – that he can remain in his prime.

Washington could place the franchise tag on Cousins again, of course. But Washington was unwilling to pay Cousins an average of the $23.94 million he is set to receive on this year’s franchise tag, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported.

Next year, the one-year franchise tag would jump to $34.47 million. The 49ers currently have $66.8 million in cap room and will carry over all unused space this year into 2018. The 49ers can essentially go as high as they feel is necessary to get the quarterback they target.

Cousins is not the only veteran option for next year. Shanahan said he had a high draft grade on Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. He enters the final year of his contract with New England. The Patriots will have a difficult decision next offseason. Can they retain both Tom Brady and Garoppolo?

Of course, Garoppolo remains mostly an unknown. He performed well in two starts last season during Brady’s suspension before sustaining a shoulder injury. Garoppolo turns 26 in November, and should have a lot of football ahead of him.

This is the last option -- coming nearly two months after the open of free agency. It is also the one option that is always the biggest unknown. After all, a year ago at this time Mitchell Trubisky was not even considered a draftable player – let alone the No. 2 overall pick.

Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Josh Rosen (UCLA) project as three of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft. But whom will Shanahan envision as the best fit for his scheme?

Then, will the 49ers be in a position to draft the quarterback Shanahan might target? Unless the 49ers lose every game this season, they may not be able to fully control which player to choose in the draft.

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.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”