Nick Mullens smartly leaning on 49ers vets Joe Staley, Richard Sherman


Nick Mullens smartly leaning on 49ers vets Joe Staley, Richard Sherman

SANTA CLARA -- Nick Mullens has been successful in his first seven NFL starts. And the credit for that, the 49ers quarterback says, goes to Joe Staley and Richard Sherman, two prominent veterans who have guided him along the way. 

Mullens has been praised for his work ethic and his leadership skills. Even so, he knows respect isn't a given, which is why Staley and Sherman’s support means so much to him. 

“Joe’s awesome," Mullens said Wednesday of the 49ers' veteran left tackle. "You never know what you’re going to get. He’s got a very dynamic personality. But he’s a great role model and great leader for the locker room. He has guided me along very well. 

“Let’s me know what I do wrong, what I do right, what I do good, what I do bad, and I make sure that I get very honest answers from him.”

Sherman also has been very supportive of Mullens, lauding his leadership and production, in particular after the Week 15 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the cornerback's former team. 

“Nick Mullens has stepped up to the moment week-in and week-out,” Sherman said. “He’s shown he can play in this league. I hope we can keep him because teams need a quarterback. This guy's not just playing conservative football. He's making good throws under pressure. 

“I’d say he’s playing like a top half quarterback in this league. You have guys that are out there right now that are not playing better football than Nick Mullens. He could be a starter for a lot of teams in this football league, and we appreciate that we have him and he's playing his tail off for us."

Sherman has been a resource for Mullens, just as Staley has. Mullens has learned a lot about what the defense watches from the other side of the ball. 

“Sherm is awesome,” Mullens said. “He’s a super nice guy, great teammate, very helpful to the young guys. I love taking advantage of picking his brain. 

“He’s very specific in the coverage rules, the different looks, the way he sees a quarterback when he’s playing corner, the way he sees the quarterback’s feet, whether it’s quick game, drop-back, play pass."

Added Mullens: “So, all of the things that you really don’t know how a corner thinks when he’s playing out there. You get to ask him those type of questions.”

Mullens record, since going under center in Week 9, is 3-4. He has completed 153 of his 241 passes for 1,995 yards, which is third-most in the NFL for a quarterback’s first seven starts since 1970. (Patrick Mahomes is tops with 2,149 yards, and Cam Newton is second at 2,103 yards.)

[RELATED: Staley gives 49ers teammates, media nothing but honesty]

Using the veterans as sounding boards is something Mullens will continue to do. 

“He’s one guy I can go to,” Mullens said of Staley, “and say, ‘Hey, how do you all feel when I do this compared to this? Hey, what do I need to do better?’ So, for him to answer those questions the way he has, it’s really helped me, and it’s definitely helped guide me along in just commanding the offense and making sure that everybody’s operating, all 11 guys, on the same page.” 

The respect of both Staley and Sherman isn't taken lightly by Mullens.

“Yeah, I definitely know that he supports me,” Mullens said of Sherman. “What he said after the game meant a lot. The fact that I’ve earned his respect, I think, is the biggest thing coming into the building. For me, I’m always just trying to gain guys’ respect by the way I play, by the way I handle my business.”

It appears Mullens is on the right path to a what could be a nice NFL career.

NFL free agency: A.J. Green would fit 49ers, but health risks are real


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.

49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance

49ers roster analysis: Work needed to keep up defensive line dominance

This is the sixth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

We continue with a look at the 49ers’ defensive line.

Under contract (signed through)

-Dee Ford (2023)
-DeForest Buckner (2020)
-Nick Bosa (2022)
-Solomon Thomas (2020)
-D.J. Jones (2020)
-Jullian Taylor (2021)
-Kentavius Street (2021)
-Kevin Givens (2021)
-Willie Henry (2020)
-Ray Smith (2021)
-Alex Barrett (2021)
-Jonathan Kongbo (2022)

Buckner is scheduled to play on the fifth-year option of $14.36 million, but the 49ers would like to work out a multi-year contract extension for him and likely see his cap number come down this year.

Ford’s $13.65 million salary for the 2020 season becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. Ford signed the lucrative deal a year ago after coming from the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade for a second-round draft pick.

Thomas is scheduled to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. The 49ers will not pick up the fifth-year option for 2021, but it is not out of the question he could return beyond this season on a significantly reduced contract.

Expiring contracts

-Arik Armstead (UFA)
-Ronald Blair (UFA)
-Sheldon Day (UFA)
-Damontre Moore (UFA)
-Anthony Zettel (UFA)
-Earl Mitchell (UFA)

The 49ers could use the franchise tag on Armstead, but that would require the team committing more than $19 million to him for the 2020 season. The 49ers prefer to re-sign Armstead to a multi-year extension for a lower annual average.

What needs to happen

The 49ers had tremendous depth along the defensive line, but it never seems to be enough at this position. That is why the 49ers will always be looking for more players at this spot. The 49ers could use another outside pass rusher capable of six sacks on the season.

Armstead will cost the most to retain among all the 49ers’ free agents. How high are they willing to go? Lynch made it sound as if the team is focused on a long-term contract, rather than the fallback of merely placing the franchise tag on him.

It might be even a greater priority to work out a long-term extension with Buckner, who enters the final year of his contract. All you need to know about how Buckner is viewed inside the organization became evident when the coaching staff voted him as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award.

Blair and Day are scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Blair served an important role as a backup nickel pass-rusher. His absence after he sustained a torn ACL in the middle of the season was felt. Blair could have taken some of the pass-rush snaps to enable others on the defensive line to remain fresh.

Day could be a starter somewhere else. But when Jones slated to start again this season at nose tackle, the 49ers are not likely to pay much to retain him as a backup.

[RELATED: Why 49ers' O-Line is in good shape for immediate future]


The 49ers defensive line was dominant last season. It was San Francisco's strength, and they need to be even more dominant this season.

Bosa quickly established himself as a star. Buckner is another star. Ford has to take the necessary steps in the offseason to make sure the 49ers do not lose him for long stretches of time next season.

Armstead gives the 49ers exactly what they need. He’s a base defensive end who moves inside to rush the passer in nickel situations. If he returns, the 49ers should have the best collection of defensive linemen in the league. If Armstead is not back, the 49ers must add a lower-cost option who fits the scheme and minimizes the drop-off.

Thomas will be back for his fourth season with the 49ers, and there is no reason why he can't produce significantly more in 2020 as a rotational player.