Where will Cousins play in 2018? McCloughan: 'Tough question to answer'


Where will Cousins play in 2018? McCloughan: 'Tough question to answer'

Quarterback Kirk Cousins will turn 30 years old during training camp next summer.

Where he is when he blows out the candles will be one of the major NFL storylines after this season. Washington has held onto him the past two years with the franchise tag.

If Washington were to place the tag on him for an unprecedented third consecutive year, Cousins would earn $34.5 million next year.

“I know they like him,” former 49ers and Washington general manager Scot McCloughan said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “I know he likes it there. He’s been there the whole time.

“He’s battled through things and he’s shown resiliency. He’s shown leadership. The players like him. The players trust him. The coaches do, too.”

Cousins is off to a hot start this season, as the 49ers are next up on the schedule. Cousins has completed 66.1 percent of his pass attempts for 1,004 yards in four games. He has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 107.6.

“He won’t back down,” said McCloughan, who compared Cousins to Alex Smith. “He’s got a lot of football ahead of him. He takes care of himself – mentally, physically, emotionally. He’s going to be a good player, wherever he’s at -- (Washington) or somewhere else.”

Mike Shanahan was Washington's head coach and Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in 2012, when the club selected quarterback Robert Griffin with the No. 2 overall pick. In the fourth round, Washington drafted Cousins.

“I know with Mike and Kyle drafting him in Washington, they know him really well," McCloughan said. "They know what kind of guy he is.”

But it is far too early to guess where Cousins might play next season. The 49ers are one of three winless teams in the NFL, and McCloughan said he believes three quarterbacks will be selected within the top-10 of the draft. The veteran market -- free agency or trade activity -- opens in March. The draft is approximately six weeks later.

But the first move belongs to Washington, which can tag him or extend a lucrative multi-year contract offer.

“It’s a tough question to answer because there’s no solid answer for it right now,” McCloughan said.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.