One decision 49ers must make on Reuben Foster


One decision 49ers must make on Reuben Foster

With the free-agent signing period scheduled to begin in a month, it is clear the 49ers must make a decision on Reuben Foster.

It does not have to be a dramatic decision. After all, it appears the 49ers are willing to take their time to let the investigation unfold before determining whether Foster will still hold a spot on the team’s roster.

The 49ers must approach free agency and the draft as if Foster is a person who can no longer be counted upon to be a long-term member of the organization.

Foster talked multiple times on the phone and in person on Monday with 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, according to a source. He is also said to be cooperating fully  with the investigation – both at local law enforcement and NFL levels.

The 49ers acted swiftly a year ago when Lynch and Shanahan were faced with a decision after Tramaine Brock’s arrest after an alleged domestic incident. Shortly after meeting with Brock, the organization released Brock. (Brock did not face formal criminal charges after the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office concluded it lacked sufficient evidence to seek prosecution.)

The organization has not been as decisive with Foster, a player in whom the 49ers invested a first-round draft pick to acquire. It appears as if the 49ers believe there are enough unknowns and gray area to let the situation play out.

Foster is under investigation after he was arrested Sunday morning in Los Gatos on charges of domestic violence, threats and possession of an assault weapon. Foster’s girlfriend accused him of dragging her during an argument, the Bay Area News Group reported, citing sources familiar with the investigation. The alleged victim told investigators Foster threw her belongings onto a walkway and balcony before the incident in which Foster dragged her, according to the report.

The 49ers, at this stage, have two options: Do nothing or cut him.

Any potential discipline is covered in the league’s collective bargaining agreement under the NFL’s policies on personal conduct or substances of abuse. The 49ers – or any team – are prohibited from punishing a player if the situation is covered under those policies.

The 49ers’ offseason program is scheduled to begin on April 16. If Foster is still with the organization at that stage, the 49ers could ask – not demand – that he stay away from the program if his case remains unresolved.

More than likely, though, they would not try to keep Foster away from the team. He appears to be an individual who needs structure in his life. It is likely the 49ers would think it would be more beneficial to him to have a support system around him.

But there is no way of knowing at this stage what the investigation will produce and whether the 49ers can justify retaining Foster on their team. But, from a football standpoint, it does not matter.

Even if Foster remains on the team, the 49ers have to approach this offseason as if he will not be available for all 16 games.

The personnel department has look to strengthen the roster as if Foster will never play another down of football for the organization.

That means, the 49ers will look to re-sign middle linebacker Brock Coyle, who played well late in the season as the starter alongside Foster. Veteran weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith is expected to return to full strength after missing last season with a torn pectoral.

But the 49ers must not stop there. They must look to add another veteran inside linebacker in free agency and select a talented young player in the draft. The 49ers do not have to select an inside linebacker with their first pick at No. 9 or No. 10 overall. After all, talented inside linebackers can be found at all levels of the draft. But the 49ers must pinpoint some players who can potentially start as rookies.

From the moment the 49ers traded up to select Foster with the No. 31, they envisioned him as being a dynamic, game-changing player for a long time.

But, no longer can they look at him as someone who will be a cornerstone for a long time. Regardless of what the investigation uncovers, the 49ers must take the mindset this offseason that he will never make another tackle for them.

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.”