Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

Jauan Jennings’ dad hopes 49ers rookie can build NFL career he couldn't

The NFL draft was nearing its end when Bennie Jennings started preparing for a disappointment he knew all too well. His son Jauan Jennings was certainly worthy of selection after ending his University of Tennessee tenure on a high note. It was ultimately uncertain despite 969 receiving yards as a senior team captain.

Jauan Jennings’ stock was helped by an excellent 2019 campaign and a quality Senior Bowl week, but hindered some by a slow 40-yard dash at the combine. That created some doubt whether he’d get the honor of being drafted.

Bennie Jennings didn’t get that after an excellent career at the University of North Alabama, though the tight end now inducted into his school’s Hall of Fame got a chance with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that ultimately didn’t work out.

While Bennie understands the NFL business and the benefits of choosing a destination as an undrafted free agent, fingers remained crossed Jauan would be chosen.

“We talked about the fact that, when I went through the process, I never heard my name called,” Bennie Jennings said. “As soon as the draft was over my phone blew up. That was exciting, but it’s a bit disheartening to sit through the whole process and never get picked when you really think you’re going to be.

“I kind of tried to prepare him for that, but when his name flashed across the screen and it was announced, it was just an awesome feeling.”

The 49ers selected the high-school quarterback turned standout receiver at No. 217 overall. Maybe the pick came later than everyone hoped, but it was still a moment worth savoring.

“It means everything. Since he has been able to pick up a ball playing professionally is all he has wanted to do,” Bennie Jennings said. “It’s an awesome thing to see his dream come true.”

Jennings joins the 49ers ready to battle for a roster spot, known as a receiver in the Deebo Samuel mold. He’s strong and aggressive and excellent gaining yards after the catch, with competitiveness rarely rivaled.

“I look at this offense and I see a receiver like Deebo Samuel -- I’ve known him since the SEC days,” Jauan Jennings said in a conference call after being drafted. “He’s a great receiver and he’s always had that dog, that gritty attitude that I’m going to bring as well. [Quarterback] Jimmy Garoppolo, you got him in the backfield throwing the rock. It’s just going to be hard to stop us in my mind. We’ve got a lot of weapons and I just can’t wait to go out there and help.”

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

That 4.72-second 40-yard dash and speed in general is the primary knock held against him, one that has left NFL draft experts wondering if he’ll be able to separate at the professional level despite thriving in the SEC.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt took great exception to that criticism in a radio interview just before the draft.

“I don’t care what Jauan Jennings runs in the 40,” Pruitt said on 99.1-FM in Knoxville, Tenn. “I don’t care what he jumps on a vertical. All I know is throw him the ball. You want the ball in the guy’s hands. Wherever he gets drafted, he’s going to play and he’s going to be an impact on the team.”

Pruitt knows all about Jennings’ competitiveness and perseverance. Those traits were clear after he rebounded from a difficult 2017 season where he missed most games with a wrist injury and then got kicked off the team by an interim head coach and an athletic director no longer there following a critical video post that went viral.

Pruitt gave him a clean slate and a chance to reassert himself. Jauan Jennings took full advantage, something of which his father was particularly proud.

“I got to see a kid grown into a man,” Bennie Jennings said. “He just developed and matured over that year, and before that going into his senior year. He has matured even more during that season. As a parent that’s what you want to see. You want to see them make strides and take that next step into becoming a man. That’s what I saw, and I very proud of him for what he has done.”

[RELATED: Why Jennings intrigues former GM McCloughan]

Bennie Jennings hopes his son can take the next step and establish an NFL career. Jennings didn’t latch on with the Buccaneers but quickly established a great and ongoing tenure in law enforcement. He has been in that field nearly 27 years now, currently working with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Bennie was a Tennessee prep legend with a football state title to his credit. Jauan was 2014’s Mr. Football in Tennessee but never won a championship in that sport, though he got one in basketball. Father and son were even competitive over such high-level accomplishments, but Bennie Jennings would love nothing more than to see his son go farther than him in the NFL.

“I played at a small school, which was Division II back then, and you really had a lot of overcome to make an NFL team back in those days,” Bennie Jennings said. “You’ll hear no excuses from me. The reason I didn’t make it is because of me. When I learned what I did right and what I did wrong, I’ve given him all those experiences so he can capitalize on that.”

They both have a competitive streak and plenty of confidence as athletes, and Jauan should be helped by his dad’s experience as he tries to thrive with the 49ers.

“We have the same attitude toward the game, but I think he’s more intense,” Bennie Jennings said. “That’s what I hope I have instilled in him over the years, is that you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you want it, you have to take it. Nobody’s going to give it. That’s just him, but that’s also just me.”

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

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

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

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