49ers

How Kwon Alexander overcame tragedy, adversity to sign with 49ers

How Kwon Alexander overcame tragedy, adversity to sign with 49ers

Within the first hours of the NFL’s open negotiating period, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander agreed to terms with the 49ers on a lucrative contract.

Alexander traveled a bumpy and painful road to get to this point in his life. After months of uncertainty, Alexander finally signed the kind of life-changing contract for which he had dreamt.

”I reflect on everything, all the hard work I put into it, the times I ran hills by myself,” Alexander said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“When it all happened, I just started thinking about everything I’ve done in the past that got me to this spot I’m in right now. And now I just got to keep going.”

The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $53.5 million contract with $14.25 million in guaranteed money, not because of what he has done in the past. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan singled him out among all free agents because of what they believe he can contribute in the middle of the team’s defense in the future.

Shanahan knew all about Alexander from facing him with the Atlanta Falcons, including a game that will forever show what the game of football means to him and his family.

As Alexander was preparing for just his seventh NFL game in 2015, he received word from back home in Alabama that his 17-year-old brother, Broderick Taylor II, was shot and killed. The Buccaneers organization told Alexander, a rookie, they would support him if he decided to go home to be with family.

Alexander decided to play in the game.

“It felt right, but it felt wrong. You know what I mean? Because I wanted to be there with my family,” Alexander said. “I know they were going through a tough time. But I just knew . . . he always told me, he just wanted me to ball. He wanted me to keep doing what I was doing.

“So I went out there and played for him, and he really took over the whole game for me. I feel like he was in my body the whole game. I was making plays that I wasn’t making. It was amazing.”

Alexander recorded 11 tackles, forced and recovered a fumble, and had an interception as Tampa Bay defeated the Falcons in overtime.

Alexander joined his family two days later for his brother’s funeral. In a piece for The Player’s Tribune, Alexander revealed he placed the game ball and the jersey he wore from that game in his brother’s casket.

Two years later, the man who shot and killed Alexander’s brother was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison. Alexander got a tattoo over his entire back as a tribute to his brother, Lil’ Brod, an energetic and good-natured kid he remembers fondly for his sense of humor, love of family and his plan to serve in the Army.

On the day he signed with the 49ers, Alexander was on the field at Levi’s Stadium for photos and interviews. Afterward, he went over to meet a group of young children taking part in the STEAM program. He shook hands, bumped fists and posed for pictures.

He has a son of his own. He considers himself a role model for all the kids back home in Anniston, which also happens to be the hometown of new 49ers edge rusher Dee Ford.

“It’s a difficult place,” he said. “A lot of people don’t make it out. Everybody says that. But back at home, a lot of people don’t make it out. That’s why I’m so happy to play with Dee because we both made it out.

“We can show kids back at home that it’s possible. Whatever you put your mind to you can do. We’re the big picture now, so they can see that and have a great mindset.”

Alexander had three outstanding seasons, including a Pro Bowl appearance, upon entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick from LSU. But midway through his contract year, he sustained a torn ACL. Afterward, then-Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter referred to Alexander as the “heart and soul” of the team.

The timing of the injury appeared to be disastrous – potentially robbing him of the opportunity to secure a big contract. But Alexander said he never lost faith.

“I’ll never question God. Look where I’m at now,” Alexander said. “I’ve been hurt and I still got what I wanted. It’s amazing. That’s why I put all my faith in Him. And when you have faith in Him, you can do whatever you want to do.”

Alexander’s rehabilitation appears to be going well. He has been running on a treadmill for more than a month. Lynch said the 49ers’ medical staff was thorough with the physical examination, and the official signing turned into a family experience.

“Our doctors came out feeling good about it,” Lynch said. “And that excited us even more because we got to the point where we were signing a contract with his parents, Peaches and Brod, on Facetime. It was fun.”

[RELATED: 49ers add Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford to defense for 'speed and violence']

Alexander said his mind is at ease, and he is not putting any kind of timetable on his return to the football field.

“I wake up every day happy, smiling,” he said. “I’m taking it day by day. Whenever it’s time, it’s time.”

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

49ers roster analysis: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020

This is the seventh installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020 and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ linebackers.

Under contract (signed through)

-Kwon Alexander (2022)
-Fred Warner (2021)
-Dre Greenlaw (2022)
-Mark Nzeocha (2021)
-Azeez Al-Shaair (2021)
-Joey Alfieri (2021)
-Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (2021)

The 49ers and Alexander agreed to a contract restructure in November that saves the team more than $8 million in cap space for the 2020 season. His salary is set to leap to $12.55 million in 2021. Three voidable years were added to his contract. He is still scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2022 season.

Expiring contracts

-Elijah Lee (RFA)

Lee was among the 49ers’ final cuts and was signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for the final eight games of the regular season after Alexander went on injured reserve. Lee saw action in each of the 49ers’ three postseason games as a core special-teams contributor.

What needs to happen

The 49ers’ only real decision is with Lee, who is a restricted free agent. The lowest tender of $2.144 million is probably too much, but the 49ers can look to re-sign him to a minimum level contract.

But even with some uncertainty surrounding Lee, the 49ers appear set with their starters and backups. The 49ers certainly do not need to spend free-agent money to add a player. And they do not need to use one of their top draft picks to bring in a linebacker, either.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance]

Expectations

This position group is comprised of players who are all ascending. The unit was good in 2019. It should be better in 2020.

Warner was one of the breakout stars for the 49ers as a second-year player. He had an interception of Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl that looked, at the time, to be one of the big plays in that game. Warner believes he can make improvements in all areas, including the production of more game-changing types of plays.

Alexander sustained a torn pectoral in the middle of the season. Then, worked hard to get back for the playoffs. Although he settled back into the 49ers’ defense as a part-time player, Alexander still served an important role on the team due to his leadership and energy.

Greenlaw became an every-down player after Alexander’s injury and made one of the most memorable plays of the season when he stopped Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just inches short of the goal line to preserve the 49ers’ Week 17 win to clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs. It will be difficult to keep Greenlaw off the field.

Al-Shaair, who defied the odds to win his roster spot last season as an undrafted rookie, and Nzeocha are solid backups and core special-teams players, too.

NFL free agency: A.J. Green would fit 49ers, but health risks are real

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NFL free agency: A.J. Green would fit 49ers, but health risks are real

A.J. Green last played in an NFL game on Dec. 2, 2018. He injured his toe in that game, and underwent season-ending surgery shortly after.

Green then missed all of last season, as the Cincinnati Bengals' star receiver dealt with an ankle injury. And yet, he's one of the biggest names set to hit free agency next month.

So, should the 49ers take a run at signing the seven-time Pro Bowl pick? Talent-wise, yes. But it's not that simple.

Green, who turns 32 years old on July 31, has played in just nine games in the last two seasons. He has missed 29 games since 2016 and isn't getting any younger. But he's also one of the most talented receivers in the league when healthy.

The former No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft started his career with five straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards. He was well on pace to extending that streak in 2016 when he had 964 receiving yards in 10 games and then had 1,078 in 2017.

San Francisco simply doesn't have any receivers with Green's kind of pedigree. Deebo Samuel opened eyes as a rookie, and he is dangerous with the ball in his hands. The 49ers have to add talent around the young South Carolina product, though.

Green also is the kind of large target that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan hopes to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Samuel is listed at 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds. Green, however, is 6-4 and 210 pounds.

One NFL executive believes Green hopes to move on from the Bengals this offseason, too. 

"I think he wants out of Cincinnati," the exec told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. 

That, however, isn't in Bengals coach Zac Taylor's plans

"He's a guy that we're excited about to have part of this team, first and foremost. That’s what matters right now," Taylor said Thursday in his interview on the '"Bengals Beat Podcast." "As we go through the offseason, we'll figure out how it best fits. But right now, we expect him to be a part of the team. We want him to be a part of the team.

"He's certainly been a valuable member for the last couple years and done some great things. I'm excited to coach him, really for the first time this next season."

Green signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Bengals in 2015. He will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time this offseason, and the veteran still could sign another hefty contract. The same executive told ESPN that "even 'B' receivers are getting $14 million to $15 million."

The 49ers currently have just under $17.9 million available in cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac. San Francisco also has its own contracts to take care of in free agent Arik Armstead, as well as extensions for George Kittle and DeForest Buckner. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could add Gabriel to receiver mix this offseason]

One way or another, the 49ers should look to give Jimmy G more weapons this offseason. This year's NFL draft class is loaded with receivers, and the front office could make that their priority with their first pick. There's no doubt Green could be a great option in free agency, but it all comes down to health.

"As long as the foot checks out, he's still elite," an NFC personnel evaluator said to ESPN.

That's a big if, though. Green is one talented question mark.