49ers' Azeez Al-Shaair reflects on journey from homelessness to NFL

49ers' Azeez Al-Shaair reflects on journey from homelessness to NFL

SANTA CLARA – On Oct. 24, 2013, a young man was at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. to watch his first NFL game. It was an escape from the difficulties he and his family had experienced for quite some time.

His early life was difficult. His parents divorced when he was young. His living situation was never stable. He was living with his grandmother, and when her house burned down in August 2012, he and his seven siblings were homeless.

Azeez Al-Shaair this week will return to his hometown of Tampa. And he will be back in the Buccaneers’ home stadium as a rookie linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers.

“You turn through the pages of the book and at first it’s like, ‘I really don’t like this book,’ ” Al-Shaair said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “Then, you keep reading and keep reading, and, ‘You know what? This turned out pretty good.’ That’s kind of an accumulation of how my life has been.”

Al-Shaair (pronounced Al-SHY-urr) was one of eight rookies to win a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster to open the season. But he is the only one who earned his way onto the team after being undrafted.

“For the rest of my life, for the rest of my career, before you say my name, they always say ‘undrafted free agent,’ and it’s like a sting to me,” Al-Shaair said. “I hate that sound. I hate that name. I hate having that attached to me, just because It reminds me every time that I didn’t get drafted, that everybody passed up on me. There were 250-whatever guys they said were better than me.”

After a dynamic junior season at Florida Atlantic University, Al-Shaair opted to return to college for his senior season. In October, he sustained a torn ACL to end his college career and severely impact his draft stock.

He was not among the 254 players drafted, but the 49ers promptly signed him as a free agent. Chris Kiffin, brother of Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin, coached Al-Shaair in 2017 as the team’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Kiffin joined Kyle Shanahan’s staff in 2018 as the 49ers' pass-rush specialist.

Al-Shaair gave himself some time to reflect on Saturday with his wife after learning he was not among the team’s final cuts before the start of the regular season. Even with all of the family hardships he endured, he said he reflected on his knee injury as proof that he can overcome anything.

“That was one of the toughest moments for me because I had an opportunity to leave as a junior and deciding to come back to have that happen, it was like somebody just spitting in my face,” he said. “It was like kicking you while you’re down. It was the toughest thing for me.

“After overcoming that, it’s hard for me to think that there’s anything else I can’t overcome. Because I was probably at one of my lowest of lowest points.”

The next day, Al-Shaair got back to work to prepare for his role as a backup linebacker and a special-teams contributor.

[RELATED: How Beathard handled Mullens winning backup QB job]

After years of not knowing where he would get his next meal or where he’d be sleeping at night, Al-Shaair said he is determined to make his NFL experience last as long as possible.

He said he will “do what I got to do so I can stay in the NFL and not just be a feel-good story for somebody.”

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

It doesn't seem to make a difference who the free-agent quarterback is. There simply is no end to the rumors or suggestions that Jimmy Garoppolo could be replaced.

For years, pundits have argued that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would prefer Kirk Cousins over the incumbent, but that is all moot now that Cousins has signed a two-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings. Recently, there was no shortage of rumors that San Francisco was considering swapping Garoppolo out for Tom Brady, who has since signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Teddy Bridgewater was never suggested as a potential Garoppolo replacement, but he is now the starter for the Carolina Panthers after signing with them in free agency. The man -- and former MVP -- he is replacing, however, is currently without a team.

And thus begin the Cam Newton-to-49ers rumors.

Though numerous current and former 49ers have come out in support of Garoppolo, NFL Media's Bucky Brooks feels as though Newton would be a fit in San Francisco -- not necessarily as a Jimmy G replacement, or at least not right away.

"If I'm Cam Newton, and I can't go to the L.A. Chargers because they love Tyrod [Taylor], I go to San Francisco," Brooks said on KNBR's "The Mark Willard Show" on Thursday. "And the reason why Cam Newton in San Francisco would work is because I just believe that there may not be this great sense that Jimmy Garoppolo is the guy there.

"And let's just say that he may not be the guy, so you put Cam back there behind him, and Cam gets to learn from one of the best quarterback gurus that we've seen in the league. And maybe, just maybe, Kyle Shanahan is intrigued on having an explosive athlete running the stretch bootleg concept, putting the ball in the perimeter, throwing it out there."

Alright, where to begin?

First and foremost, none of the QBs rumored to be potential replacements for Garoppolo are verifiably superior. In fact, between Garoppolo, Cousins, Brady and Newton, Jimmy G threw for the most touchdowns, averaged the most yards per attempt and posted the best adjusted quarterback rating last season. He's also the youngest by at least a year-and-a-half, with Newton -- who turns 31 in May -- the next closest in age. Garoppolo turns 29 in November.

Then there's the financial aspect. Brooks seems to think the 49ers would be able to fit Newton into their salary-cap space.

"I'm just saying, from the Niners' standpoint, you would be able to get Cam at his cheapest," Brooks continued. "So if you think about a value proposition, just to bring him in, in case Jimmy Garoppolo gets hurt or falters, it would just be an interesting thing to think about if I'm the San Francisco 49ers, and I'm looking to add value and pop to my offense."

What Brooks is forgetting, however, is that a large portion of San Francisco's cap space has already been set aside in order to sign standout tight end George Kittle to a record-breaking contract extension, not to mention approximately $7 million that will be needed to sign the 49ers' 2020 draft class. 

[RELATED: Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's NFL draft]

Yes, Newton isn't exactly in a great negotiating position, but it's extremely hard to envision him signing somewhere on the cheap. He is unquestionably superior to Taylor, for instance, and the Chargers would seem like the likeliest destination for him. But even if Newton goes somewhere else, it's highly unlikely it will be for a salary that San Francisco could absorb without throwing a huge wrench into the construction of the rest of the roster.

From a talent standpoint, there's no doubt that Shanahan would love to have Newton on the 49ers, and while the team has confidence in Nick Mullens as Garoppolo's backup, he has never won a league MVP award. That said, Mullens comes significantly cheaper than Newton, and also won't create a circus through his presence at training camp. Newton surely would if he was there -- and rightfully so -- but unless he feels like taking the bare minimum, don't count on him coming to San Francisco.

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

The NFL draft will proceed as scheduled in a month, and 49ers general manager John Lynch promised on Friday the club will be ready.

Lynch posted a video on social media from his home office, as the team’s draft preparation continues with members of the organization working separately due to NFL guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The scouting department and coaches have been taking part in regular video conference meetings, Lynch said.

“This draft is absolutely huge for us, so there’s no excuses, no explanations,” Lynch said on the video. “We got to get our work done, albeit from home.”

Lynch said he is thankful for the hard work of the personnel department, scouts, coaching staff, and IT and video staffs. Lynch singled out vice presidents of player personnel Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew, and director of college scouting Ethan Waugh.

“We will be ready for that draft,” Lynch said.

The 49ers own the Nos. 13 and 31 picks in the first round of the draft on Thursday, April 23.

Lynch said he always looks for the blessings in any situation. Lynch and his wife, Linda, have four children, including two in college. The whole family is spending time a lot of quality time together as a result of the shelter-in-place guidelines.

[RELATED: Goodell tells NFL teams to prepare for 2020 draft off-site]

Then, Lynch offered some words of encouragement to the 49ers’ fan base.

“Make the best of the situation,” he said. “We appreciate your support always, faithful. Go Niners. Stay at home. Stay safe, and I’ve got your back.”

The 49ers also started a resource page at 49ers.com/IGYB and are asking people to take photos of their home offices and show their Niners spirit and tag their posts #IGYB (I Got Your Back).