49ers coach Kyle Shanahan loves him some tight ends.
They are essential to the way he prefers to run his offense. With players that line up on the line of scrimmage who can help in both the run and passing game, Shanahan is able to disguise any given play without offering any pre-snap hints to the opposing defense. 49ers tight end George Kittle is the best example of that kind of player, and clearly, Shanahan has used him quite effectively.
The 49ers operated out of 21 personnel -- a formation with two running backs, two wide receivers and one tight end -- 28 percent of the time last season, which was far more frequent than any other team in the league. San Francisco also utilized 22 personnel -- two backs, one receiver and two tight ends -- on 11 percent of its plays; only the Baltimore Ravens ran more plays out of that formation.
So, it comes as no surprise that Shanahan places a high value on the tight end position. That explains why the 49ers reportedly looked into signing Austin Hooper in free agency despite already having Kittle on the roster.
Apparently, Hooper wasn't the only one.
The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that the 49ers had "soft talks" with free agent Delanie Walker in the spring, citing sources. Additionally, San Francisco has "shown a similar level of interest" in former Washington Football Team tight end Jordan Reed.
Walker formerly played for San Francisco, and Reed played under Shanahan when he was Washington's offensive coordinator. So, in both cases, there's a level of familiarity.
That said, don't expect the 49ers to sign either of them. They are limited in salary cap space, and with Kittle, Ross Dwelley and recently-signed sixth-round pick Charlie Woerner filling out the depth chart, there doesn't appear to be a need.
Of course, if Dwelley proves incapable of taking more of a load off Kittle's shoulders and/or Woerner struggles to adapt to the NFL game, that all could change.
Until then, however, expect the 49ers to rely on their internal options.
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