49ers

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

The most talked-about competition on the 49ers is also for a job coach Kyle Shanahan hopes is the most superfluous position on the team during the 2019 regular season.

Reserve quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are competing for the job to suit up on game days and serve as Jimmy Garoppolo’s insurance policy.

“You really hope Jimmy stays healthy so it’s irrelevant who’s the No. 2 guy,” Shanahan said before the 49ers broke off last week at the conclusion of the offseason program.

“These guys have both proven that they can play in this league and we’re going to have to make a tough decision at the end of preseason to which one we want to give that No. 2 job to.”

At the beginning of the past two seasons, there was never a question that Beathard would serve as the team’s backup quarterback -- behind Brian Hoyer in 2017, then Garoppolo last season.

But things are different this summer after Mullens became one of the bright spots of a thoroughly disappointing 49ers season. He played well during his eight-start stint to close out the season.

Mullens compiled a respectable 90.9 passer rating while putting up big numbers after taking over for Beathard for the 49ers’ Week 9 game against the Raiders. Mullens averaged 285 yards passing per game, ranking him fourth all-time through eight games behind Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

Yet, Mullens earned nothing other than the right to compete with Beathard for the backup job. And Shanahan seems to be pleased with both players, based on what he witnessed during the nine-week offseason program.

“C.J.’s had a real good camp,” Shanahan said. “He’s been playing real well. So has Nick. So I’ve been excited about both of them.”

Beathard was a third-round draft pick in 2017. The 49ers signed Mullens immediately following that same draft as an undrafted rookie. Mullens was among the final cuts before the starts of the ’17 and ’18 seasons. After he cleared waivers, Mullens immediately signed back to the 49ers’ practice squad.

Mullens was promoted to the 49ers’ 53-man roster last season after Garoppolo sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.

First-year quarterbacks coach Shane Day has outlined some areas of improvement for both players. Shanahan said the true competition for the backup job will begin in training camp, but there’s little he does not already know about both men.

“I know both of them so well, because we’ve been here two years with them and we’ve gotten a chance now to see both of them in practice and both of them in games,” Shanahan said.

“They’ve both been doing a real good job, both playing at a high level, so that’s been exciting. But to sit there and really stress over, from a coaching standpoint, trying to make the decision, we’re not there yet because a lot could change.”

Here is a closer look at the decision that Shanahan could face – assuming one of the players is not dealt in a trade -- when the final cuts must be made by Aug. 31 at 1 p.m.

C.J. Beathard

PROS: The 49ers selected Beathard in the third round, which provides a strong indication that he had the physical tools necessary to make all the throws in Shanahan’s offense. But that investment was also two years ago. So, now, the decision is less on potential and more on what the player has done.

Still, Shanahan’s offense is predicated on taking advantage of the weaknesses in the defense. If the play call and defense sets up a deep shot, Shanahan wants to see it thrown deep. Beathard can make the deep throws and has the arm strength to carry the ball outside the numbers.

[RELATED: C.J. Beathard enjoys backup QB competition]

Beathard has shown his toughness through his 10 NFL starts. (That’s also not necessarily a positive, as we’ll explain later.) He has played well at times. He has also struggled. With a better supporting cast, Beathard’s production would also be expected to elevate. Beathard also says the competition has made both players better.

CONS: While Beathard’s toughness can be seen as one of his better qualities, you never want your quarterback taking hits that can be avoided. Beathard must make quicker decisions to get the ball out of his hands and not absorb nearly as many hits he has taken through the course of his first two seasons.

Beathard got pounded way too many times (one sack for every 10.4 dropbacks). Those hits started to have an obvious impact on him, too. He got banged up while making his five starts last season and he began to look shell-shocked.

Physically, he needed a break at the time Mullens took over. But he also appeared to need a mental break, too. In 10 starts over his first two seasons, Beathard threw 13 interceptions with 12 TD passes.

Beathard must improve his pocket awareness. It’s easy to stand in the pocket during offseason drills and training camp in order to make the throws. The big test for Beathard will be to process information and get rid of the ball when he’s going up against an enemy pass rush.

Nick Mullens

PROS: Mullens is a gamer. He has been underestimated his entire career, and he continues to prove himself at every level he’s played.

Mullens took his preparation to peculiar levels even when he was on the practice squad. He practiced called plays in the huddle while cranking up crowd noise in his headphones. Mullens knows the offense very well. He also never showed any signs of getting rattled – other than his annoyance with Shanahan, who continued to talk in his ear after delivering the play call.

Mullens’ arm strength (more on that later) is questionable, but he can make up for some of his limitations with his timing -- his knowledge of the offense, reading the defense and anticipating his throws.

CONS: Despite some very good statistics, including an 8.3-yard average per attempt, Mullens did not grade well with some important Pro Football Focus metrics.

His 64.2 completion percentage topped Beathard (60.4) and Garoppolo (59.6), but Mullens ranked near the bottom of the league in completion percentage in small windows as well as passes of 20-or-more yards down the field. The takeaway from PFF is that Mullens thrived because Shanahan was able to scheme receivers to be open.

Where his arm tends to be a problem is that defenders tend to get their hands on Mullens’ passes. In college, he threw 46 interceptions in 44 games. Last season, he was intercepted 10 times in eight starts with 13 TD passes.

49ers' Fred Warner already forming bond with injured Kwon Alexander

49ers' Fred Warner already forming bond with injured Kwon Alexander

SANTA CLARA — Linebacker Fred Warner is looking forward to his second season with the 49ers, which includes partnering up with 49ers free-agent acquisition Kwon Alexander

Even though Alexander was held out of the offseason program rehabbing his ACL, Warner is not worried about building chemistry with him on the field. The two are already getting to know each other very well. 

“Yeah, just little things off the field, you know, hanging out with each other,” Warner said after the last practice of minicamp on June 13. “And I think we will have plenty of time during training camp leading up to the season to do that too.” 

Warner and Alexander are regularly seen standing together during practice, deep in conversation. The two were spotted in the back of the end zone last week, which Warner says is on purpose. 

“It’s good to stand back there because then we can see everything, from that point of view,” Warner said. “We go through close calls and seeing different adjustments that we’re making. Most of the time we’re just talking trash to the offense too.”  

Alexander, who is set to be ready to participate in team drills during training camp, appears to be itching to get on the field. He was regularly seen during OTAs and minicamp excitedly jumping around on the sidelines after a big defensive play. 

Linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans knows just what Alexander’s personality brings in practice and in meetings.

“He’s been great for us because he brings a different type of energy,” Ryans said during OTAs. “He brings swagger that I think we were kind of missing. He brings that edge that we needed. And he’s been great in our meeting rooms.” 

Warner co-signed Ryans’ description of Alexander. 

“He brings a lot of energy,” Warner said. “He’s brought a swag to the group for sure. I’m looking forward to seeing him out there running around. I see him during workouts and he looks great.”  

[RELATED: Breaking down backup QB competition between Beathard, Mullens]

Warner says you can even see that energy from Alexander on the sidelines while watching practice film. 

“Kwon hasn’t been out there on the field but he’s been out there and you see him jumping off the tape, from the sideline, it’s funny,” Warner said.  

Warner and Alexander likely will be paired up once the season begins, provided that the veteran is healthy. During the offseason, the defense’s new wide-nine alignment showed three linebackers on the field at once with Malcolm Smith, David Mayo, Elijah Lee and rookie Dre Greenlaw getting a good share of the snaps.