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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.

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

Whomever the 49ers select with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will always be compared head-to-head against defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Little attention will be paid to the contract sizes. Buckner is scheduled to make $21 million annually over the next four seasons, while the choice at No. 13 will check in at approximately $4 million per year over the length of his four-year deal.

This will always go down as a one-for-one trade, however misleading that might be. The 49ers sent Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Generally, when teams trade a high-caliber, proven player with many years ahead of him, such as Buckner, they understandably want to parlay that move into acquiring multiple players.

Maybe it’s because of the value of adding two or more players while trading away one player. Maybe it’s because teams want to sidestep those head-to-head comparisons. Maybe they want to avoid placing undo pressure and expectations onto a rookie who has enough to worry about upon entering the NFL.

Most recently, the New England Patriots did this after receiving the 49ers’ pick at No. 43 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft in exchange for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Bill Belichick traded out of No. 43. The Patriots picked up a later selection in the second round in addition to a fourth-rounder. When the draft was over, the Patriots had made four trades involving the original pick and the picks acquired in trades. Good luck trying to figure out, exactly, which players the Patriots acquired in connection with the Garoppolo trade.

The 49ers did the same thing four years earlier after they traded Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for second-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts.

Then-49ers general manager Trent Baalke flipped those two draft selections in five players -- Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland -- along with another trade that enabled them to acquire veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

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The 49ers will have plenty of options at different positions with the No. 13 overall pick. If they love a player in that spot, they will undoubtedly make their selection.

Nobody would be surprised if the 49ers address wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive line with any of their top selections.

[RELATED49ers, Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock NFL draft]

But if one or two targeted players are not there when it’s the 49ers’ turn to select in three weeks, they will almost assuredly look to bail out of No. 13. That would allow the 49ers to pick up more selections to take advantage of what is expected to be a deep draft at a number of different positions of need.

And it would also give the 49ers the opportunity to select more than one front-line starter to soften the blow of trading Buckner.

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

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Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

[RELATED: 49ers go offense/defense in latest NFL mock draft]

The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"