How DeForest Buckner, George Kittle impact 49ers' free agency decisions

How DeForest Buckner, George Kittle impact 49ers' free agency decisions

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle are under contract for another season apiece.

But any discussion about the 49ers’ finances and free agency must include mention of the big contracts that loom for Buckner and Kittle.

This offseason could be key for both men, as the 49ers would like to find a way to reward both players and keep them under contract for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, as the 49ers are about a month away from free agency, they’ll be watching exactly where they spend their dollars after advancing to Super Bowl LIV, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We're committed to finding a way to be better,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We'd love to keep everybody. This team is special. There's a special feel to it. We hope that's the case. It's probably not likely, it just doesn't happen in this league.”

“There may have to be tradeoffs along the way. But I think we're in a good position to find a way to certainly keep the core together and even like I said our mindset to improve it.”

Following is a look at the 49ers who are not under contract for 2020 and are scheduled for unrestricted or restricted free agency:

Unrestricted free agents

The 49ers have sole negotiating rights with each of the following players until March 16, when the open-negotiating window opens. On March 18, players can sign with other teams. Teams can tag a franchise player at any time from Feb. 25 to March 10. Here are the team’s scheduled unrestricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):

DL Arik Armstead ($9.046 million)
Armstead put together back-to-back seasons in which he played every game. That comes after two seasons in which he missed a combined 18 games due to injuries. Armstead always has been good as a run defender. This season, he was a man for all downs.

Armstead figures to land a lucrative free agent contract -- either with the 49ers or some other team. If the 49ers want to place the franchise tag on him, it would cost approximately $18 million for just one season. A multi-year deal would give him more guaranteed money with the cap hit in 2020 would not be as large for the 49ers.

It would be difficult to replace what Armstead brought to the team this season. He is perfect for this defense -- a defensive end on base downs who moves inside to rush the passer.

Lynch suggested he does not want to use the franchise tag on Armstead because he wants a long-term deal.

“We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time,” Lynch said.

S Jimmie Ward ($4.5 million)
After injuries and position switches prevented Ward from ever showing what he could do, things settled down for him this season. Ward just wants to play free safety. For which team he plays is another question.

Tarvarius Moore started the first three games of the season at free safety when Ward was out after undergoing surgery on a broken finger. Moore played five snaps on defense in the Super Bowl, and he was in the middle of three plays. Two were very good, including an interception of Patrick Mahomes. One was not so good, as he was flagged for pass interference on a crucial third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter.

The 49ers must decide if they want to pay the price to keep Ward or to make the transition next season to Moore. Re-signing Ward would appear to be a priority.

WR Emmanuel Sanders ($11 million)
Sanders, a 10-year veteran, fit in well with the team after coming to the 49ers in a midseason trade with Denver. He said he loves playing for the 49ers. But will the 49ers be willing to pay the price to make a multi-year offer to retain him? The 49ers will want to bring him back, but it the question is whether there will be other teams willing to make a more lucrative commitment.

Deebo Samuel, Richie James and Dante Pettis are under contract. The 49ers figure to bring back Kendrick Bourne as a restricted free agent. Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd missed this season due to injuries but, if healthy, figure to be major contributors.

DE Ronald Blair (650,000)
Blair sustained a torn ACL in November. He was a valuable member of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation, and his absence late in the season meant less rest for the third-down pass-rushers. The 49ers should make every attempt to bring him back.

C Ben Garland ($805,000)
Garland filled in admirably when Weston Richburg went down with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee on Dec. 8. Garland already has shown what he can do as a backup, and the price figures to be right to bring him back.

DT Sheldon Day ($737,000)
Day was a starter down the stretch of the season after D.J. Jones was placed on IR with a severe high ankle sprain. Day might find a starting opportunity elsewhere in the league. If that’s the case, the 49ers will probably not be willing to pay the price to retain him.

TE Levine Toilolo ($895,000)
Toilolo ended up being a low-key important piece to the 49ers’ offense as an extra blocker. They will certainly be willing to bring him back on a deal worth the veteran minimum.

TE Garrett Celek ($2.5 million)
Celek announced his retirement last week after eight seasons with the 49ers. He underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk in his back and appeared in five games last season before going in injured reserve.

CB Dontae Johnson ($805,000)
Johnson had a good training camp, then was brought back to the team during the season when the club needed him due to injuries. He could be back this season, too.

OT Shon Coleman ($820,000)
Coleman was a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2016 whom the 49ers acquired for a seventh-round selection in 2018. He did not play in 2018, and he was slated to be the team’s swing tackle last season before he sustained a season-ending injury in the first preseason game.

DE Damontre Moore ($805,000)
Moore nearly made the team out of training camp, then was added to the roster after Blair’s injury. He sustained a fractured forearm in his second game and was lost for the season. It seems like it’s a low-risk move to bring him back on a one-year deal.

DT Earl Mitchell ($930,000)
Mitchell unretired to join the 49ers for the playoffs. After playing 19 snaps in the Super Bowl and registering a half-sack, Mitchell told Nick Wagoner of ESPN that this time he is retiring for good.

WR Jordan Matthews ($805,000)
Matthews was a veteran insurance policy who appeared in one game with the 49ers this season and did not catch a pass.

DE Anthony Zettel ($720,000)
Zettel appeared in the final regular-season game and all three playoff games as a backup defensive end.

CB Jason Verrett ($3 million)
The 49ers took what they figured was a low-risk gamble on Verrett, whose career has been plagued by injuries. He appeared in just one game before going on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

[RELATED: 49ers' offseason should focus on these five moves]

Restricted free agents

Players can negotiate with any team. The 49ers can place tenders of original round, second round or first round on these players. Because none of the following players was acquired by 49ers through draft, the 49ers would receive no compensation with an original-round tender. Here are the team’s scheduled restricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):

WR Kendrick Bourne ($556,667)
If the 49ers place a same-round tender on Bourne, he could attract some attention as a free agent. The best course of action for the 49ers would be to sign him to a multi-year extension to ensure that they keep him around for a while. He had 30 catches for 358 yards and his five TD receptions were tied for the team-lead with George Kittle.

RB Matt Breida ($556,667)
Breida, the team’s leading rusher in 2018, ended up not playing much down the stretch of the regular season and playoffs, as Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman handled the duties at running back. In the Super Bowl, Jeff Wilson played five snaps of offense, and Breida did not play. If another team wants to sign Breida to a multi-year contract, he might not be back.

LB Elijah Lee ($645,000)
Lee did not make the club out of training camp, but he ended up serving roles on special teams and as a backup linebacker. Lee appears to be a player the 49ers would like to keep around.

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

Kendrick Bourne wants Matt Breida to follow in his footsteps.

The 49ers wide receiver signed his one-year tender Monday, ensuring he would return for the 2020 season. San Francisco placed second-round tenders on Bourne and Breida last month, and Bourne encouraged Breida to sign his, too.

Bourne and Breida joined the 49ers as undrafted free agents in 2017. The 24-year-old receiver scored a career-high five touchdowns in the 2019 regular season and caught 30 passes for 358 yards.

[RELATED: Why Jeudy could be just what 49ers want in 2020 NFL Draft]

Breida, meanwhile, largely lost his role in the 49ers offense by the end of the 2019 season. He ran a career-high 153 times for 814 yards in 2018, but Breida ran for nearly 200 fewer yards in 2019 as the running back ended the season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman on the 49ers’ depth chart. Jerick McKinnon’s return could further crowd Breida out.

Bourne has been with Breida every step of their NFL careers, however, and he wants the running back to once again be his teammate this season.

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

Editor's Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we profile Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Top NFL draft prospect Jerry Jeudy could be exactly what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has been looking for. 

Shanahan has remained steadfast in his belief that you don’t have to be the biggest or fastest wide receiver to be the most effective and productive. There are several other qualities that remain higher on Shanahan’s list, and it appears that Jeudy checks most, if not all, of those boxes. 

Michael Locksley, Jeudy’s coach and offensive coordinator during the receiver's first two seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about the receiver’s unique talents.

[RELATED: Latest Mock: 49ers don't get Jeudy]

“Can’t say enough about his ability as a route-runner,” Locksley said. “I think with Jerry, it’s his ability and suddenness he has to get in and out of a break, whether it’s working back toward the ball which is the toughest breaks that receivers make, when they’re working back toward the quarterback.

“He has the ability to be full speed and drop his weight – or, as we say, sink his hips -- to stop on a dime, and he always gives the illusion of speed always at the top of the route but is able, without taking the little small steps you see people normally have to take to put his foot in the ground and change direction.”

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Leigh Steinberg of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, who represents Jeudy, was equally impressed by his client’s route running. 

“He might be the best route runner that I’ve ever seen in college in my 40 years,” Steinberg told NBC Sport Bay Area. “He runs the most precise routes. He’s also very smart.” 

With precise route running and the ability to change direction on a dime, Jeudy is able to get separation, which Shanahan has repeatedly said is one of the most important aspects to being a receiver. 

Another trait that Shanahan looks for was exemplified by All-Pro tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel throughout 2019: Gaining yards after the catch. 

“Tremendous run-after catch ability,” Locksley said of the Alabama receiver. “He is such a loose-limbed, loose-body guy. You watch him and his ability to make people miss is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Steinberg noted that Jeudy has impressed him off the field as well, most notably when the Alabama star met Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice while in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. 

“The most impressive thing I’ve seen from him was how he interacted with Hall of Fame receivers while in Miami for the Super Bowl,” Steinberg said. “He asked Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and Cris Carter what their secrets to longevity were. He’s bright enough to use his time with the best, to enhance his own performance.”

[RELATED: Simms: Jeudy not loved by all teams]

Jeudy was extremely productive in his three seasons at Alabama, catching 159 passes for 2,742 yards, 26 touchdowns and an average of 17.2 yards per catch. It is inevitable that he is a player that will have an impact on a team's offense. What the 49ers will do with the No. 13 overall selection in the draft, however, is much less certain.

NFL draft profile: Jerry Jeudy

Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
College: Alabama
Career stats: 159 catches for 2,742 yards and 26 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (11th among wide receiver class)
Vertical jump: 35.0 inches
Broad jump: 120.0 inches
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds

What experts are saying
Mel Kiper, ESPN: “Jerry Jeudy is a precise kid, running routes, first out of his break. Reminds me a lot of Marvin Harrison.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: “I think he’s one of the best five players in the entire draft.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: "Bama WR Jerry Jeudy = smooth operator. He’s such an easy mover. Reminds me a little of Robert Woods coming out of USC. Same frame, same understanding/instincts."
Josh Norris, NBC Sports: "I know it’s easy to compare players from the same school, but it’s easy to see Calvin Ridley in Jerry Jeudy’s game."

Projected round: First (top 15 overall)