49ers

49ers free agents: Robbie Gould, Jimmie Ward present the most intrigue

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AP

49ers free agents: Robbie Gould, Jimmie Ward present the most intrigue

Kicker Robbie Gould was a popular man during his two seasons with the 49ers.

Gould set a club record with 33 made field goals, a streak that began last season and ended in Week 5 of 2018. Then, he began a new streak. He made his final 23 attempts when the season ended.

In two years with the 49ers, Gould made 72 of 75 field-goal attempts.

Gould seems as if he wants to return to the 49ers. But due to the uncertainty with his future, he and his wife decided she and their three boys would remain in the Chicago area during the season. Even at 36, Gould should have some options in free agency.

The 49ers head into the offseason with $65 million to $70 million in projected salary cap space. Here is the list of 49ers scheduled for free agency:

Unrestricted free agents

K Robbie Gould: The 49ers signed Gould to a two-year, $4 million contract on the first day of free agency in 2017. They got their money’s worth from him.

The 49ers have sole negotiating rights with Gould until March 11, and he is likely the team's top priority. Because of the difficulty of kicking at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers need a veteran kicker. They also figure to be in a lot of close games in 2019, so every point is important.

The 49ers could bring back Gould, 36, for one season on the franchise tag for approximately $5 million if they are unable to work out a contract before he is scheduled to hit the open market.

DB Jimmie Ward: If you think Ward’s window with the 49ers is closed after another injury-plagued season, you would be wrong.

The 49ers’ coaching staff likes a lot of things about Ward, including his versatility and his penchant for playing hard. The coaching staff felt like Ward was the team’s best defensive player just prior to his latest season-ending injury.

But, of course, there are other things to consider. The front office will keep the bottom line in mind. After all, it is difficult to devote a sizable contract to a player who has gone on injured reserve in four of his five NFL seasons due to broken bones.

A first-round pick in 2014, Ward played last season on the fifth-year option for $8.526 million.

How other teams view Ward – and if any team is willing to give him more than a one-year, prove-it contract – will likely determine whether Ward is back next season with the 49ers.

OG Mike Person: When the 49ers signed him, it barely ranked as a footnote to the comings and goings in the offseason. But Person remained healthy through training camp and won the starting job. Then, he started all 16 games, and performed admirably. Person is not likely to warrant a big contract elsewhere in free agency, so it would seem ideal for the 49ers to bring him back.

P Bradley Pinion: Pinion ranked tied for 24th in the NFL with a 39.1 net punting average. Statistically, that was his worst season in the league after achieving a career-best 41.3 net average in 2017. But Pinion turns 25 in June and his best years are ahead of him. He also deserves some credit for being a reliable holder for Gould.

LB Mark Nzeocha: The four-year veteran appeared in all 16 games, mostly on special teams. He also started three games at strongside linebacker, and recorded 17 tackles with one sack. He could be back on a minimum-level contract.

RB Alfred Morris: The 49ers signed the seven-year vet during training camp as an insurance policy. After starting in the season opener, Morris saw his play time dwindle as the season progressed. Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. all saw playing time ahead of him. But in the season finale when the 49ers were decimated by injuries, Morris gained a season-high 111 yards and a touchdown on 16 rushing attempts. The 49ers will look for younger and more-explosive options from all of their backups in 2019. The 49ers feel good about the prospect of entering the offseason with Jerick McKinnon, Breida, Mostert and Wilson.

DB Antone Exum: He started three games at strong safety early in the season and the final three games at free safety. Exum proved to be a solid player, and could get a contract for next season. He also was the 49ers’ most-fined player with three fines for borderline unnecessary roughness infractions.

LS Kyle Nelson: He began serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances as a repeat offender. Nelson did not play in the final four games. He is also ineligible to play in the first six games. Colin Holba took over and performed well. Holba is likely to head into next season in this role.

(Unrestricted: Players with four or more years of NFL experience whose contracts expire on the first day of the new league year on March 13. The old teams hold sole negotiating rights with these players until March 11, when they are free to begin talking to other clubs.)

Restricted free agents

RB Raheem Mostert: He earned a spot on the 53-man roster due mostly to his play on special teams. But he also proved he is an explosive runner. He averaged 7.7 yards on 34 carries before sustaining a fractured forearm in Week 9. He will be back, and the 49ers might be wise to sign him to a multi-year deal.

DB Tyvis Powell: He bounced around from the practice squad to the active roster to not being on the team at all. He finished the season back on the team. The depth will be an area the 49ers will look to improve in the defensive backfield.

(Restricted: Players with three years of experience. If club gives player a qualifying offer, he can still negotiate with other teams. If player signs an offer sheet with new club, his old club can match the offer to keep him. If old club does not match offer, it may receive a draft pick as compensation, depending on the level of the qualifying offer.)

Exclusive rights free agents

LB Elijah Lee: He started the final four games of the season at the weakside linebacker spot after Reuben Foster was released following his arrest at the team hotel in Tampa. Lee will be back, and he will be in the mix to compete for a starting job.

CB Greg Mabin: He saw action in 12 games this season, but will face stiff competition to hold onto his roster spot.

(Exclusive rights: Players with one or two accrued NFL seasons. These players are not allowed to negotiate with other teams, as long as their old club gives them a qualifying offer.)

Ex-49ers linebacker Reuben Foster carted off field after suffering leg injury

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USATSI

Ex-49ers linebacker Reuben Foster carted off field after suffering leg injury

Organized team activities began Monday for NFL teams, and Washington suffered a loss shortly after the opening of camp.

Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster went down during the second play of OTAs with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. He was on the ground for several minutes before being carted off while in tears.

After an receiving an MRI, Foster's injury appears to be very serious.

That's a brutal development for Foster and Washington.

[RELATED: 49ers have important competitions beginning during OTAs]

Foster was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was the beginning of a tumultuous time in the Bay Area.

The Alabama product was arrested three times and suffered multiple on-field injuries during his time with the 49ers. San Francisco cut ties with Foster last November after he was accused of committing domestic battery at a team hotel in Florida.

Washington claimed the linebacker off waivers a few days later. Foster recorded  84 solo tackles in his 16-game career with the 49ers.

The 49ers have since revamped their linebacking corps after Foster's departure. They signed Kwon Alexander to a four-year contract in the offseason and spent a fifth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Dre Greenlaw.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch hope Alexander, once he gets fully healthy, and Greenlaw can fill the role left by Foster's departure in the middle of the defense.

These important competitions begin this week for 49ers during OTAs

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AP

These important competitions begin this week for 49ers during OTAs

Organized team activities are all about the passing games – offense and defense.

Those areas are where the most important competitions will take place on the practice field as the 49ers slowly start to prepare for their season opener on Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Full pads are not allowed to be worn in practices during the offseason program, so the real competitions begin the third day of training camp, which opens in late-July. That's when practices change from two-hand-touch to real football.

This week marks the first time since the end of last season that offense vs. defense competition is allowed to take place on the 49ers’ practice field. Although 9-on-7 run drills are permitted, it’s the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills where reasonable opinions can start to be formed.

Here are the positions where players have a chance to take leads in their competitions heading into training camp:

Quarterback

The 49ers will take it slowly with Jimmy Garoppolo, who faces no challenge for the starting job. Garoppolo is not expected to see any 11-on-11 practice snaps until training camp.

The competition will be for the backup job.

Nick Mullens produced better statistics last season in his eight starts, during which the 49ers went 3-5 (winning 75 percent of their games for the season). But the 49ers have not given up on C.J. Beathard, a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Beathard’s skillset and toughness keep him in this competition. Mullens has his limitations, but he performed at an exceptionally high level when given his opportunity last year. Only Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton threw for more yards in their first eight NFL starts.

But all that means is that Mullens, now, will be given a fair shot to win the backup job. He and Beathard start this offseason on equal footing.

Running back

Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman likely will be expected to share the load at running back with Matt Breida not far behind. Breida proved to be a reliable pass-catcher last season. He still needs work with his route running, and this is a great time for him to polish those skills.

Coleman has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. That's a huge advantage. There is no hurry to get McKinnon on the field after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL he sustained a week before the start of the regular season.

Wide receiver

There should be competition at every level of the team at this position. Dante Pettis is the closest thing to a “lock” to be a starter. He caught just 27 passes in 12 games as a rookie, but he averaged 17.3 yards and had five touchdowns.

Rookie Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ second-round draft pick, will compete against the field, including Kendrick Bourne, for the duties on the other side. Bourne was the 49ers’ leading wide receiver last season with 42 receptions for 487 yards and four touchdowns.

Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews and rookie Jalen Hurd will be angling for significant roles, while Trent Taylor and Richie James are the candidates for the primary slot job.

Cornerback

The offseason program is huge for Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. There is no questioning the physical talent of both players. They were third-round draft picks in 2017 and ’18, respectively.

Witherspoon vs. Moore could be an elimination battle during the offseason program to see which of those players will go against Jason Verrett in training camp.

Verrett is coming back from a torn Achilles, which he sustained during the camp-opening conditioning test last summer with the Los Angeles Chargers. Verrett is not expected to cut it loose during the offseason program, so Witherspoon and Moore will have the advantage of a full offseason of preparation.

Safety

Jimmie Ward has bounced around from free safety to cornerback over the past few years. He is back at free safety after signing a one-year contract with the club in the offseason. Adrian Colbert entered last offseason as the starter at free safety, but now the onus is on him to beat out Ward.

The free safety position is more on display during non-padded practices than strong safety, because so much of being a box safety is coming up to finish tackles in the run game. Jaquiski Tartt and second-year player Marcell Harris will compete for that job. Pass coverage is important there, too, but that job will be won after the pads go on.

[RELATED: 49ers Mailbag . . . Should contracts for Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel be a concern?]

The rules during Phase Three allow for players to be at the facility for six hours a day for a maximum of three organized team activities during the first and second weeks. No pads are allowed, except for protective knee and elbow pads. Helmets are permitted.

49ers OTA workouts
This week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
May 28-29, May 31
June 3-4, June 6

Mandatory minicamp
June 11-13