49ers

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is, perhaps, the top NFL player scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March.

But if Washington is unable to sign Cousins to a long-term contract before the start of the free-agent signing period, the club appears likely to place the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.

Washington coach Jay Gruden appeared to confirm that suspicion on Tuesday while speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

"We totally anticipate Kirk coming back to (Washington)," Gruden said via CSN Mid-Atlantic. "We're excited about parlaying two very good years as the starting quarterback with a third year and continue to watch him grow."

But does Gruden anticipate another team willing the pay the price it would take to acquire Cousins?

If Washington places the franchise tag on Cousins at approximately $24 million for one season, another team could sign him to an long-term offer sheet and pay the price of two first-round draft picks as compensation.

The 49ers – and presumptive head coach Kyle Shanahan -- are expected to be interested in acquiring Cousins. If the cost of two first-round draft picks is considered exorbitant, the 49ers could attempt to negotiate another deal with Washington.

Washington can end any possibility that the 49ers or any other team could acquire Cousins this offseason if they tag him as an exclusive franchise player at a cost expected to be slightly higher than $24 million.

Cousins, who turns 29 in August, started every game the past two seasons for Washington. In 2015, he completed 69.8 percent of his pass attempts while throwing 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 101.6. Last season, he finished third in the NFL behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan with 4,917 yards. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and had a rating of 97.2.

49ers hire Dustin Little as head athletic trainer, staff revamp continues

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AP

49ers hire Dustin Little as head athletic trainer, staff revamp continues

The 49ers named Dustin Little head athletic trainer Tuesday, locking in one of the final pieces of their new strength and conditioning and athletic training structure. 

After 17 players spent time on injured reserve during the 2018 season and 24 players the season prior, the 49ers sought change. The team fired longtime head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson and head of strength and conditioning Ray Wright. 

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan both identified streamlining the two programs as an offseason priority. 

“It’s about where we want to go, how we can make the overall process of it better,” Shanahan said after the season ended. “Injuries happen, and we’ve looked into that, and we’re going to do everything we can to improve that. We have to, because that has hurt us a lot in the last two years.”

“We consulted with some other teams,” Lynch said a few months ago. “Organizations in some other sports, looking for the right answers, and trying to put our own stamp on it. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. We’re just trying to get that deal right."

Hiring Ben Peterson as the head of player health and performance several weeks ago was the first step of that process. Peterson and Little will work together closely, as the 49ers model their structure after the NHL and NBA. 

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“We are excited to add Dustin to our health and performance team and believe he is a tremendous fit for our group,” Lynch said in a statement Tuesday. “A wide net was cast for this search, and we simply kept coming back to him. 

“Our due diligence and a great recommendation from the Broncos organization, which is highly regarded for the care of its players, made us extremely confident in bringing Dustin aboard.”

Little comes to Santa Clara after spending more than five years in Denver in a variety of roles, including as an assistant athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation. 

49ers sign punter Justin Vogel as potential replacement for Bradley Pinion

49ers sign punter Justin Vogel as potential replacement for Bradley Pinion

After losing punter Bradley Pinion in free agency last week, the 49ers signed someone to take his place.

Or, at least, they signed a player who must withstand a likely competition to take his place.

The 49ers on Tuesday signed punter Justin Vogel, 25, who had an impressive rookie season with the Green Bay Packers but was cut after the team drafted punter JK Scott in the fifth round.

Vogel (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) originally entered the NFL in 2017 after signing with the Packers as an undrafted rookie free agent from Miami.

He appeared in all 16 games and posted a club-record with a net average of 41.6 yards. He was named as a Pro Bowl alternate after also recording a gross average of 44.4 yards.

The Cleveland Browns claimed Vogel, but released him before the start of the regular season. He did not appear in an NFL game last season.

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The 49ers are expected to add another punter to compete with Vogel during training camp.

Pinion last week signed a four-year, $11 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.