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.)

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.

Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

Losing the Super Bowl was tough on the 49ers, to say the least. It was especially tough for the team's fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who hated hearing the criticism of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, his quarterback and coach.

"Those are two guys that have absolutely nothing to prove to the rest of the guys in the locker room," Juice said Friday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "You look at Jimmy, for people that are stats guys, 4,000 yards passing, better than a two-to-one, touchdown-interception ratio, 70 percent completion."

He added with that alone, you're looking at a "phenomenal quarterback."

"For whatever reason, Jimmy just gets this extra criticism, this extra heat, but I think at one point in the game he was like 19-for-22," Jusczyk said. 

"That's football, though -- you just change one or two plays in the game, and the whole dialogue changes, the whole narrative."

Juice mentioned the moment that could have put Jimmy G in the same category as Tom Brady as a Super Bowl MVP. The moment that could have led to the 49ers popping champagne in San Francisco amongst the faithful.

That could have been a game-changer.

The play in question caused wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to storm out of the media room following the Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs. Garoppolo's overthrow in the fourth quarter changed everything.

[RELATED: What Juice regrets most from 49ers' Super Bowl collapse]

And they know it. Jimmy knows it. Sanders knows it. Shanahan knows it. 

"It's a shame that one or two plays can really change everyone's outlook on someone," Juszczyk said.