49ers

Sources: No talk of 49ers appearing on HBO's 'Hard Knocks' this summer

Sources: No talk of 49ers appearing on HBO's 'Hard Knocks' this summer

The 49ers are one of five NFL teams that the league could force to appear on "Hard Knocks," the annual HBO series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a club’s training camp.

But the 49ers will not be featured, multiple league sources have told NBC Sports Bay Area. Previously, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch expressed their opposition to the team being featured on the show.

Teams are exempt from appearing on "Hard Knocks" if they have a rookie head coach, have advanced to the playoffs in the past two seasons or have been on the show within the past 10 years. The 49ers, along with the Raiders, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Washington, are eligible to be forced to take part. The league has never had to force a team, against its objections, to be featured on the series.

In Peter King’s "Football Morning in America," King writes that the Raiders are “far and away” the most attractive team for the series because of coach Jon Gruden and newly acquired wide receiver Antonio Brown. King said his guess is the Raiders will be the featured team. Sources have said the Detroit Lions have also been strong candidates for the show.

[RELATED: Kaden Smith ready to learn from George Kittle]

Prior to the NFL owners meeting in March, there was conjecture that the 49ers will be excluded from consideration for "Hard Knocks" because they could give up a home date to play their 2020 season-opening game in China.

But, according to a source, there has been no league-wide discussion of a potential game in China and the staging of the international event is considered “a longshot, at best."

49ers impressed by 'different Solomon' Thomas a year after tragedy

49ers impressed by 'different Solomon' Thomas a year after tragedy

A little over one year ago, 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas suffered the horrific tragedy of losing his sister and best friend, Ella, after a battle with depression caused her to take her own life. 

Thomas and his family have understandably struggled to find peace. Thankfully for them, time and taking an active role raising mental health awareness have contributed to their healing process. 

In May, Thomas spoke to the local media about the importance of his own therapy and continuing the conversation about mental health. His goal is not only for his own benefit but to reduce the stigma of therapy being seen as emasculating or as a weakness. 

“That’s been a long process,” Thomas said. “It’s been hard to find. The first year was really hard for me, all the phases of anger, depression, sadness, guilt, grief, all that kind of stuff. So it’s been hard for me to get healthy, and it took me a while. And once I was, I was a different person. I was light on my feet and could finally walk and move again.”

Thomas had a solid rookie year as the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, but his bout with depression showed itself on the field during his sophomore campaign. His teammates were not aware of his mental struggles at the time but in retrospect, see how it affected his play. 

Before the six week break, several players spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area about the change they’ve seen in Thomas during OTAs and mandatory mini-camp. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner believes that 49ers fans will be very happy with what they see from Thomas as he heads into his third year.

“Solomon’s mindset has been phenomenal since he’s got back from the little break,” Buckner said. “He was dealing with a lot last year and we all understand and honestly, the mentality, the chip that he has on his shoulder this year is amazing.

“Seeing him come into work every day and improve, and seeing a different Solomon around the office, I just think he found a little peace with everything. Just to see his mindset this year is very exciting and I can’t wait for the Faithful to see it on Sundays.”  

Fellow defensive lineman Arik Armstead explained how he has seen improved play from Thomas during OTAs and knows that it will carry over to the season. 

“Solomon has been playing great in practice and it’s really exciting to see,” Armstead said. “We’re brothers on the field and the more we all can do collectively the better we all play together. 

“The sky is the limit for us. To see him playing well, especially what he went through last year, and is still is dealing with continually, and will for the rest of his life, I’m just praying for him. I really want the best for him and his career on and off the field. It’s definitely good to see him succeeding.”  

Cornerback Richard Sherman detailed the change in what he’s seen from Thomas, both on and off the field. He sees a much more positive and productive season for his fellow Stanford alum.

[RELATED: Kocurek could unleash Thomas' potential]

“He’s just so much more energized,” Sherman said. “He’s smiling more, he’s talking more. You try not to judge anybody because everybody has a different journey and a different way of approaching things, but you could see that he was burdened last year and who wouldn’t be with that kind of tragedy. 

“But this year you can just see a determination in him, and a freedom, like the shackles have been taken off, the weight has been lifted off his shoulders and he’s just really been getting after it. I look forward to seeing him have success and everything that comes with that. The pats on the back, the accolades, the fan adoration, because he deserves it.”  

NFL Preview 2019: Jimmy Garoppolo, three other MVP sleepers in the NFC

NFL Preview 2019: Jimmy Garoppolo, three other MVP sleepers in the NFC

Football fans are beginning to get the itch. As teams post graphics counting down the days to the start of the NFL season, hope for all fans is at its highest point. We've been without college and pro football (sorry AAF fans) since early February, but the dog days of summer are just about over and NFL training camps finally begin starting up next week.

With the NFL's designated enemies Bill Belichick and Tom Brady bringing home their sixth Lombardi trophy with the Patriots in 2018, every team in the NFL has its heart set on dethroning the boys from Foxborough.

When it comes to individual awards, several standouts from the NFC brought home hardware last season. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley brought home the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But when it came to the NFL MVP, there was little debate as to choosing anyone besides Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. 

As we take a look at some of the longshots from the NFC who could grab the throne of NFL MVP, we only considered players who had odds at 80/1 or worse, according to the Westgate Sports Book. With the criteria set, let's examine four potential dark-horse picks for the NFL's most valuable player.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers QB

The case for: Garoppolo has shown the ability to quickly adapt to schemes and has won six of his first eight starts with the organization. Several NFL analysts have mentioned Garoppolo as an outside-the-box candidate for MVP, including NBC Sports' NFL Analyst Chris Simms. George Kittle should be even more motivated after a breakout 2018 season, as he can now (hopefully) play an entire season with a franchise QB as opposed to the Nick Mullens/C.J. Beathard experiment the 49ers trotted out last season. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has experience building players into MVP-caliber players, as he was the Falcons' offensive coordinator when Matt Ryan won the MVP in 2016. With one of the NFL's top offensive minds at the helm of the 49ers coaching staff, Garoppolo should be put into plenty of positions to be successful in 2019 and could bring the NFL MVP trophy back to the City by the Bay for the first time since Steve Young won it in 1994.

The case against: Garoppolo has only played eight games under Shanahan, and the lack of proven weapons at the receiver and running back positions could backfire for a QB with limited reps in regular-season action. The team faces the 11th toughest schedule in the NFL this year, and if the defense can't stay healthy, this team will have a hard time staying in games and could force the offense to play from behind frequently. An offensive line that has been hit or miss outside of Joe Staley could regress, all but eliminating Garoppolo's chance at taking home the MVP trophy in February.

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers RB

The case for: One of the best dual-threats in the NFL, the former Stanford standout was dominant both in the run and pass game. McCaffrey had 1,965 scrimmage yards in 2018 with 13 touchdowns, and it is not out of the realm of possibility to see McCaffrey reach the very exclusive 1,000-1,000 club, as he was just 133 receiving yards from it last season. If he were to cross that vaunted threshold with rushing and receiving yards -- and the Panthers return to the form that saw them represent the NFC at Super Bowl 50 -- it would be tough to look past the talented tailback as the NFL's top player.

The case against: A running back hasn't won the MVP since 2012, when Adrian Peterson brought home the honors after rushing for over 2,000 yards. In today's pass-happy NFL, the running back position has become much less valuable and so many teams simply plug and play guys throughout the year. With the Panthers once again having little to no elite options in the receiving core, teams will be stacking the box and focusing much of their attention on McCaffrey on every play, which will limit the chances for him to make big plays out of the backfield. Unless he puts together a record-setting season, it's hard to see a running back hoisting the MVP at season's end.

Aaron Donald, Rams DT

The case for: I know, I know, but just hear me out. Donald was just two sacks shy of the NFL's single-season record for sacks in 2018 and also led the NFL with 27 tackles for loss, which was the eighth-best single-season mark in NFL history. Although opponents likely will continue to deploy double and triple teams on Donald, it hasn't seemed to slow him down much the past few years as he has won back-to-back AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. A team's overall success often ends up being a significant component of the MVP formula, and if the Rams are among the top two or three teams in the league at the end of the season, it wouldn't be far-fetched to see Donald win the first MVP for a defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

The case against: Refer to the last sentence of the above paragraph, as no defender has won the NFL's top crown since LT was prowling the NFL sidelines (which was five years before Donald was even born). In an age of absurd offensive production, the rules and officiating have significantly favored the offenses and that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon. Donald would have to be over-the-top dominant in order to be in the running at season's end.

[RELATED: Why Peter King thinks Jimmy Garoppolo key to 49ers making NFL playoffs]

Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB

The case for: Prescott was gifted one of the NFL's best receivers midseason in 2018 when Amari Cooper was traded to the Cowboys from the Raiders in late October. The Cowboys were a playoff team in 2018, and with most of their offensive weapons returning in 2019, they should be in the thick of the conversation once again in 2019. Dallas also has the second-best offensive line (according to Pro Football Focus) lined up in front of him, which once again will afford Prescott plenty of time in the pocket. If he does take that next step and has a season like the one that earned him the 2016 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, we could see Prescott accepting another major award come February.

The case against: Prescott clearly has not blown away Jerry Jones and the Cowboys' front office, as he is still awaiting a long-term extension with the team. And if Ezekiel Elliott ends up continuing his contentious negotiations with the team into the regular season, it could affect the locker room and generate problems for the 'Boys in 2019. Prescott also reportedly has been tweaking his mechanics in the offseason, which could end up being more of a detriment than a positive. If Elliott ends up still being the focal point of the offense in 2019, Prescott will not even be the top MVP candidate on his own team.