49ers

49ers' reported signing of Kwon Alexander more palatable upon review

49ers' reported signing of Kwon Alexander more palatable upon review

The 49ers were the first team to agree to terms with an inside linebacker during the early free agency negotiating period and it included a hefty price tag. Now that a few other agreements have followed, and details of the contract have emerged, it might not seem as outrageous as it once did. 

It’s similar to when you’re the first one to jump into the pool, and then everyone else follows. The water wasn’t really as cold as everyone originally thought. 

It might have seemed exorbitant for the 49ers to agree to pay former Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander $54 million over four years with $27 million guaranteed. The 49ers, however, have contract specialist Paraag Marathe working the numbers, and gave themselves plenty of room for an out, if necessary. 

Much of Alexander’s contract is incentive-based, with the only guaranteed money beyond 2019 being for injury, according to figures obtained by overthecap.com. There are also roster bonuses set into the contract to reduce cap hits if the team does decide to cut him. The contract includes $14.25 million in guaranteed money, an $8.5 million roster bonus and a base salary of $1.75 million for 2019. 

The reported terms for former Ravens' C.J. Mosley and former Eagles' Jordan Hicks, show that the overall agreement for Alexander is what the market would bear. 

Hicks reportedly agreed to $36 million over four years with $20 million guaranteed with the Cardinals. He played in 43 games over his four seasons with the Eagles, registering seven interceptions, one forced fumble and five sacks. He registered 254 total tackles, 180 of those were solo.

Mosley was projected as the top free agent inside linebacker of 2019. He agreed to a whopping $85 million over five years with $51 million guaranteed with the Jets. 

Mosley started in all 77 games he appeared in over his five-year stint with the Ravens. He recorded nine interceptions, six forced fumbles and eight and-a-half sacks. Of his 597 total tackles, 398 were solo. 

Alexander started in all 46 games he appeared in while he was a Buccaneer. He registered six interceptions, six forced fumbles and seven sacks during that time and 271 of his 380 tackles were solo. 

A player is, of course, more than the above listed stats, but they do offer a comparison. There is also the additional detail that Alexander is coming off of season-ending ACL surgery that was performed in late October. 

[RELATED: Breaking down 49ers' free-agent picture by position, need]

The 49ers have taken a risk in the agreement with Alexander, not knowing how he will perform returning from injury, but it is clearly not as extreme as originally thought. 

**It should be noted that reported guaranteed amounts released before the contracts are signed could be slightly inaccurate.

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

Kyle Shanahan’s offense was never at full strength in the first three seasons as 49ers head coach.

Even when Shanahan’s offense ranked second in points scored and fourth in total yards last season, it was accomplished without three components who were expected to be major factors on offense.

The 49ers had situational roles envisioned for running back Jerick McKinnon, and receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd. But injuries kept each of those players off the field for the entire 2019 season.

Those players could give Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a lot more options, especially on third downs and in the team’s two-minute offense. An offense that needs only a tweak could get a major boost if McKinnon, Taylor and Hurd are healthy.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

RB Jerick McKinnon

He missed his first season with the 49ers when he sustained a torn ACL one week before the start of the season. Last year, his season ended before it started when the surgery from his graft did not fill in properly.

McKinnon was an elite route-runner before all of his knee issues. Shanahan made a priority to sign him as a free agent in 2018 because he envisioned flooding the middle of the field with McKinnon, tight end George Kittle, a slot receiver and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Shanahan felt those players would cause all kinds of matchup problems.

McKinnon looks good in his workouts, and the 49ers are cautiously optimistic he will finally provide what they were expecting when the signed him two years ago.

Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida were good backs. But none had the route-running skills of McKinnon.

The 49ers’ best route-runner out of the backfield last season was Jeff Wilson. His ability to juke a defender in man coverage was the reason Shanahan called upon Wilson to run the route that won the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Late in the first half of the Super Bowl, Wilson went in for the season reason and caught a 20-yard pass.

Mostert is working hard on his route-running, and he is likely to make improvements in that area. McKinnon is not likely to be considered for every-down duties. But he will have opportunities to make a considerable impact on third downs.

[RELATED49ers' Raheem Mostert expects Jerick McKinnon to 'surprise everyone']

WR Trent Taylor

Taylor had an impressive rookie season. He and Kittle tied for third on the team with 43 receptions apiece. But Taylor had a difficult time bouncing back in 2018 after offseason back surgery. Then, he had one setback after another following surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot last summer.

Taylor hopes to be ready for when the 49ers get on the field to begin preparations for the 2020 season. Taylor’s best attribute is his ability to get open quickly with Shanahan's favorite route. Depending on the matchup, Garoppolo can lock onto Taylor and rely on him get open in order to convert third downs on what Shanahan calls "choice routes."

Emmanuel Sanders was the 49ers’ main slot receiver after coming to the team in a midseason trade. But the slot was never a big part of the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers had big hopes for Taylor last season. Nobody on the team would benefit as much from Wes Welker’s coaching as him.

WR Jalen Hurd

Shanahan likes some players for specific roles. But with Hurd, Shanahan sees a player who can be used in a number of different ways. Hurd can line up outside. He can line up in the slot, at tight end or in the backfield.

Hurd’s versatility would be especially useful to the 49ers on their two-minute drill when the opposing defense is unable to make substitutions after every play. Hurd could be moved around the formation to create exploit certain matchups Shanahan wishes to exploit.

General manager John Lynch said last month that Hurd had been cleared for on-field work after he was forced to sit out his rookie season due a stress fracture in his back. Hurd is not likely to post huge numbers, but he has the potential to play a vital role in key situations.

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

One of the 49ers' newest rivals is coming to the NFC West with lots of confidence.

DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even suited up for the Arizona Cardinals yet, but he told ESPN's "Jalen & Jacoby Show" that he "definitely" is the best wide receiver in the NFL. 

"I know I'm the best," Hopkins said Thursday. "Mike's my boy. I love [New Orleans Saints wide receiver] Michael [Thomas] ... but he knows if I had Drew Brees my whole career what these numbers would be. [Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones knows if I had Matt Ryan my whole career. That's my boy. I trained with Julio, too. He knows what these numbers would be."

Hopkins caught passes from Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson over the last two-and-half seasons before Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals this offseason, and Watson is no slouch as a quarterback. The 27-year-old receiver made First Team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons since Watson was drafted, catching 257 passes for 3,288 yards and 24 touchdowns in the QB's 37 career starts.

But Hopkins was great despite playing with numerous forgettable quarterbacks in four years before Watson arrived in Houston, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 after finishing third in receiving yards (1,521) and tied for seventh in TDs (11) while Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden each started at least one game.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hopkins won't have to worry about that in 2020, barring injury, as he's set to team up with up-and-coming star Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense. That combination has the potential to be a thorn in the 49ers' side for years to come.

If you agree with where Hopkins stands among the game's best wide receivers, he'll pose a threat to the 49ers this season. Thomas and Jones each carved up the 49ers' dominat defense last season, with both catching 11 or more passes for 134 yards and at least one touchdown. Of the receivers who accrued at least 100 receiving yards in a game against the 49ers, Thomas (13) and Jones (11) had the most receptions.

[RELATED: How Washington jumping gun on Williams benefited 49ers] 

Hopkins will have two chances to replicate his peers' production, and he'll be aided by arguably a better supporting cast of receivers. Larry Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards as a 36-year-old last season, while Christian Kirk had 709 receiving yards himself. Fitzgerald has gained more receiving yards (2,381) and scored more touchdowns (19) against the 49ers than any other team in his career, while Kirk has scored two of his six career TDs (in two seasons) against San Francisco.

The All-Pro receiver's swagger alone won't knock the 49ers off their divisional perch, but Hopkins' arrival should keep them -- and their secondary -- up at night preparing for (at least) two games against the Cardinals this season.