49ers

Examining 49ers' scheduled free agents and other roster decisions

Examining 49ers' scheduled free agents and other roster decisions

The 49ers will be armed with nearly $70 million in salary-cap space when the NFL free-agent signing period opens next week.

Most of the 49ers’ focus will likely be on signing new players at positions of need. But the 49ers also have unsettled business with some of their own players.

Here’s a look at their players who are scheduled for free agency, as well as some of the moves the 49ers have already made with players who finished last season on their roster:

Unrestricted free agents

Beginning Monday, the agents for the following unrestricted free agents are allowed to enter into negotiations with the other teams. Up to that point, the 49ers hold sole negotiating rights with those players. Players can officially begin signing with new teams on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

DB Jimmie Ward: He might be their best defensive back, period. He might be their best safety, and he might even be their best cornerback at this stage. The club rated Ward as playing better than anyone in the 49ers’ secondary, according to a team source, before he sustained a fractured forearm in late-November.

The problem with Ward has been his ability to remain healthy. Four of his five NFL seasons have ended with him going on injured reserve with fractures of his foot, collarbone, and back-to-back broken forearms. The 49ers want to bring him back, but they are also cautious because of his injury history.

The 49ers have a one-year offer ready, but if another team comes in with a multi-year deal, he will likely be playing elsewhere next season.

P Bradley Pinion: He turns 25 in June and his best days are clearly ahead of him. The 49ers believed for most of the offseason that they would be able to sign Pinion to an extension. But, at this stage, he appears destined to hit the open market and gauge his value.

Pinion, a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, had a very good third season. But his stats took a step backward last season as the level of return men he faced became vastly more challenging. The 49ers faced five of the NFL’s top six in punt return yards.

He was tied for 24th with a net average of 39.1 yards. Net average is the most meaningful stat for a punter, and it was the lowest of his four-year career. Pinion ranked tied for 10th in the league in 2017 with a 41.3 net average. He also has value to the 49ers as a holder on all of Gould’s kicks as well as handling kickoff chores.

RB Alfred Morris: The veteran running back, whom the 49ers signed during training camp as an insurance policy, saved his best for last. After injuries to Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Morris entered the final game of the season and rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against the L.A. Rams. Morris did what the 49ers asked of him. But with each of the aforementioned younger, faster backs returning this year, the 49ers do not have a need to re-sign Morris at this time.

OLB Mark Nzeocha: He was the 49ers’ primary strongside linebacker after the club traded Eli Harold before the start of the season. He started three games and was a two-down player against base personnel. Nzeocha was also one of the team’s core special-teams players. The 49ers will look at all options to improve at this spot.

S Antone Exum: He ended with a significant role in the 49ers’ secondary due to the number of injuries at the safety position. Exum started seven games. The 49ers had an NFL-record-low two interceptions, and Exum had one of them. He returned Philip Rivers’ second attempt of the Week 4 game to the house for a touchdown against the L.A. Chargers. The 49ers could bring him back later in the offseason for depth.

LS Kyle Nelson: He must sit out the first six games of this season after serving four games of a 10-game suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The 49ers signed Colin Holba to take over Nelson’s duties for the final four games last season.

Veteran options

The 49ers on Thursday announced they had exercised the options for fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive end Cassius Marsh, linebacker Dekoda Watson and nickel back K’Waun Williams. Two other veterans are not expected back with the club this season (the club could re-sign them later at a significantly lower price).

WR Pierre Garçon: He was the team’s best receiver through half of the season in 2017 – and was on his way to a 1,000-yard season -- before sustaining a season-ending neck injury.

His play dropped off dramatically last season, and the 49ers decided not to pick up his option of $6 million in salary and bonuses for the upcoming season. Instead of his scheduled salary cap figure of $8.275 million, he will count $7.2 million in dead money.

NT Earl Mitchell: The 49ers liked the job Mitchell did for them over the past two years. He is a pro’s pro. But it is time, the club determined, to see what D.J. Jones can do as the starter.

The 49ers confirmed in January they would not pick up the option that would have paid him $3.7 million in salary and bonuses. The 49ers have not officially declined the option, however, as they still have hope of trading him before the start of the new league year.

Franchise player

The 49ers exercised their option to use the franchise tag for the first time since 2012, when they kept around safety Dashon Goldson under the franchise designation.

K Robbie Gould: The 49ers were never going to let Gould test the free-agent market because of his value to the team. Since signing with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017, Gould has made 72 of his 75 field-goal attempts with the 49ers.

Gould wanted to be able to test the free-agent market and gauge whether a return to Chicago made sense for both sides. But the 49ers, effectively, locked him up for one season for $4.971 million. He made $4 million on his original two-year deal with the 49ers.

New contracts

The 49ers held contract talks with several of their own scheduled free agents in hopes of preventing them from reaching the open market. They were successful with only one, as the 49ers no longer have an urgent need to fill at right guard.

G Mike Person: Person, an eight-year veteran, came to the 49ers a year ago on an under-the-radar one-year deal. He ended up starting all 16 games to earn a three-year, $9 million contract extension. Person is the likely starter, but the 49ers have not ruled out Joshua Garnett competing for the job. The 49ers no longer have an urgent need to add an interior lineman in free agency or the draft.

LB Malcolm Smith: His future with the club was in serious question after two injury-plagued seasons. But Smith and the 49ers came to terms on a contract restructure to reduce his pay dramatically for the 2019 season, a league source told NBC Sports Bay Area.

He will be back to participate in the offseason program, but the 49ers will still likely try to add a starter-caliber player in free agency or the draft as insurance. After all, Smith has appeared in just 12 games in two seasons with five starts.

Tendered

The 49ers made qualifying offers to their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. A restricted free agent -- a player with three years of NFL service -- is allowed to negotiate contracts with other teams, but the 49ers have the ability to match. An exclusive rights free agent, a player with one or two accrued NFL seasons has no outside negotiating power.

RB Raheem Mostert (restricted): The 49ers engaged in talks with Mostert’s agent with the goal of signing him to a multi-year extension. But the sides did not reach an agreement. As it now stands, Mostert is scheduled to play one season at the low tender of $2.025 million and become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

Mostert can still sign an offer sheet with another team before April 19, and the 49ers would have the right of first refusal. If they declined to match, the 49ers would receive no compensation.

LB Elijah Lee (exclusive rights): Lee showed some promise while starting five games late in the season after Reuben Foster was released following an alleged altercation with his ex-girlfriend at the team hotel on a road trip to Tampa. In limited playing time, Lee still managed to finish third on the 49ers with 62 tackles. He will be back to compete for a role this season.

[RELATED: Lee, Warner look like keepers on defense]

CB Greg Mabin (exclusive rights): He appeared in 13 games with one start for the 49ers last season. Mabin will be in a battle to earn his spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster, as the club will look to upgrade the competition for backup jobs this year.

Released

T Garry Gilliam: The 49ers released Gilliam last month. Gilliam served as the team’s backup at both tackle spots over the past two seasons. Shon Coleman, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns last year, appears to be the favorite for the role of backup to Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey this season.

Ever wonder who iconic 49ers fan behind 'Banjo Man' persona is?

Ever wonder who iconic 49ers fan behind 'Banjo Man' persona is?

Editor's note: Every Tuesday and Thursday during this sports hiatus, we'll answer questions that Bay Area sports fans long have debated in "Ever Wonder?" Fourth up in the series: Who is the famous "Banjo Man?"

If you've attended a 49ers game at any point over the last 37 years, chances are you've seen, heard or otherwise encountered the icon known as "Banjo Man."

Wielding a banjo in his hands and a rainbow propeller hat atop his head, Stacy Samuels has been entertaining 49ers fans at games for the vast majority of the last four decades. From Candlestick Park to Levi's Stadium, he hasn't missed a home game or a single playoff game. He has attended four Super Bowls in which the 49ers were participants, and another six where he was -- in his own words -- "their lone representative."

In his capacity as Banjo Man, Samuels has met numerous 49ers greats, including Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. But he says the most rewarding aspect of his experience has been the friendly exchanges he has had with countless other 49ers fans at games over the years.

He has become such a popular fixture at 49ers games that other people have gotten tattoos of his likeness, which he thinks is pretty darn cool.

"Even when I die, I'll still be living in the flesh," Samuels explained.

You can learn all about the legend of Banjo Man in the video above.

More from "Ever Wonder"

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

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AP

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

A South Bay health official suggested this week that an optimistic goal might be for the return of sporting events in mid-November.

Santa Clara County executive officer Dr. Jeffrey Smith told the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that games -- presumably high school, college and professional -- might not return to the South Bay for at least another seven months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Smith said he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do."

His comments were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The project would mean no games in Santa Clara County for the 49ers, San Jose Sharks, Stanford University and San Jose State University.

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The 49ers will follow the lead of the NFL, as well as local and national health officials, a team official told NBC Sports Bay Area. The 49ers stance is consistent with a statement the club released on March 12.

“Our organization continues to collaborate with federal, state, and local health organizations, as well as our League office, to monitor the evolving developments regarding COVID-19,” the organization said. “Our intent is to make the most informed decisions regarding the health and wellness of all San Francisco 49ers and Levi's Stadium employees, patrons, and the community at large.”

Last week, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said the league is proceeding as if there will be a full 16-game schedule this season.

"All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs," Pash said. "That's our focus."

The NFL has proceeded with the free-agent signing period and the upcoming 2020 draft despite travel restrictions and shelter-in-place guidelines for all league personnel. The NFL is also expected to release its full regular-season schedule around May 9.

[RELATED: Oklahoma WR Lamb could be 49ers' Sanders replacement]

But the Santa Clara County official told the Board of Supervisors he believes the risk of exposure to the coronavirus is not going away any time soon.

“There will definitely be individuals who will get sick,” Dr. Smith said. “And because there are individuals who get sick, there will be individuals who die after the order is released, unless we come up with a foolproof immunization, which is highly unlikely.”