49ers inform veteran Earl Mitchell they will not pick up contract option


49ers inform veteran Earl Mitchell they will not pick up contract option

MOBILE, Ala. – The 49ers on Wednesday informed one of their most-respected veteran players he will not return on his current contract.

The 49ers will not pick up the option that would have paid veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell $3.7 million in salary and bonuses for the upcoming season. 

“Earl’s been a fantastic asset to this entire organization with all the things he’s done,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said before the South team's practice at the Senior Bowl. “It’s an opportunity for other guys to try to step up. It will not be easy to try to replace him, for sure.”

Mitchell was declared inactive down the stretch of the season as the 49ers moved second-year player D.J. Jones into a starting role. Mitchell will be free to sign with any club at the beginning of free agency. The 49ers are keeping the door open for his return at a lower price.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said one day earlier that he has been up front with Mitchell and wide receiver Pierre Garçon about their futures with the team. Garçon is scheduled to earn $6 million in 2019 and is not expected to return to the club, either.

Garçon went on injured reserve this season with a knee injury. He caught just 24 passes for 286 yards in eight games this season.

“Told them both when we know anything that’s for sure, we would tell them,” Shanahan said. “But it’s stuff that’s hard to know for sure. I’ve talked to them about the reality of the business. We have see how our roster is like and how our salary cap plays out. We’re not there yet with our whole plan.

“I think we’ll have the results sooner than later.”

The 49ers are continuing to have talks with some of their scheduled free agents, but Shanahan said he does not believe any contract extension is imminent.

“There are a few guys we’re talking about,” Shanahan said.

Kicker Robbie Gould, defensive back Jimmie Ward, guard Mike Person and punter Bradley Pinion are the team’s top free agents. The 49ers hold sole negotiating rights with their scheduled free agents until March 11, when teams are allowed to negotiate with free agents from other teams.

One guy Shanahan is not discussing, however, is disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice is publcly trying to facilitate a connection between Brown and the 49ers. But there are no signs the 49ers are interested in making a trade for Brown, who turns 31 in July.

Shanahan, of course, is not allowed to comment on Brown, who remains under contract to the Steelrs. The NFL trade window opens on March 13, and Brown does not appear to have a future in Pittsburgh.

“It’s my easiest response there is,” Shanahan said. “I’m not allowed to talk about someone who’s under contract.”

Shanahan said, however, that the 49ers will “always explore everything.”

Merton Hanks 'not surprised at all' with success of fellow Iowa product

Merton Hanks 'not surprised at all' with success of fellow Iowa product

Tight end George Kittle is already the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a first-team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team of the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

Hanks, who now works as Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, describes himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Hanks added, “Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties. He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

NFL rumors: 49ers rejected several Nick Mullens offseason trade offers

NFL rumors: 49ers rejected several Nick Mullens offseason trade offers

Last season, the 49ers were one of a select few NFL teams that chose to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster.

Behind Jimmy Garoppolo, general manager John Lynch elected to retain both C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens throughout the season.

Lynch has spoken about potentially trading one of his backups in recent months, but as The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi noted on his podcast, the Niners clearly hold one of them in very high regard.

"There was about three teams trying to trade for Kyle Allen," Lombardi said on The GM Shuffle podcast. "You know what's interesting about the Kyle Allen trade? This is really interesting. The 49ers got a bunch of phone calls — when I say a bunch, a couple of teams — on Nick Mullens, the backup quarterback in San Francisco. Nick Mullens. They were asking about him, and they turned down every trade offer for Nick Mullens. They wouldn't trade him.

"Think about that. Think about that. Nick Mullens was like — Cam Newton had no value, [and] Nick Mullens [is] untradeable. Just put that in perspective for a while. Digest that."

[RELATED: Why 49ers should trade down from both first-round picks]

Mullens played admirably while filling in for Garoppolo after the signal-caller tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 season. After Beathard took over initially, Mullens grabbed the reigns in Week 9 and completed just over 64 percent of his passes in eight starts, throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

While having multiple security blankets behind Garoppolo is a nice insurance policy, potentially nabbing a mid-round draft pick for one of the two quarterbacks could help the team shore up another position of need.

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