Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup


Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup

DETROIT -- A couple weeks ago, this game looked a lot more promising for the 49ers than it does right now.

While the game matches a pair of teams that have known for the second half of the season that there would be no playoff chances, 49ers and Detroit Lions are going in different directions. The 49ers (4-10) continue to struggle with poor play and injuries, while the Lions (5-9) are playing well as they near the finish line. Here are five storylines for Sunday’s game at Ford Field:

1. O-line looks to the future
One of the major issues for the 49ers as they move into next season is the offensive line. Guard Alex Boone might have played his final game. The 49ers on Saturday placed him on injured reserve with to a knee injury. Marcus Martin is out with a concussion. Rookie Trent Brown could have a future at right tackle, and he is expected to see a lot of playing time in Sunday’s game. How he reacts to blitzes early in the game could determine if the 49ers stick with him for the entire game. Andrew Tiller showed promise at right guard, and he could see more action on the left side. If Brown and Tiller show some good things, the 49ers might feel better about the line going into the offseason.

2. Tomsula’s statement
Coach Jim Tomsula is probably a popular man in the locker room for delaying the team’s trip to Detroit for a day to enable his players to spend much of Christmas with their families. Will they repay him with a strong effort? As of right now, it appears likely Tomsula will get a second season as 49ers head coach after signing a four-year contract in January. But if the team completely falls apart, it might force CEO Jed York to reconsider his plan.

3. Gabbert looks to bounce back
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been OK since taking over for Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the season. But at some point for Gabbert – and for offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, too – the 49ers need to prove they can score more than 20 points in 60 minutes of football. The 49ers have not topped 20 points in regulation since their Week 6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. (They scored 26 in an overtime victory against Chicago three weeks ago.) The 49ers rank last in the NFL in scoring. San Francisco and Dallas are the only teams that have not scored 30 points in a game this season. The Lions’ defense ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 25.9 points per game.

4. Johnson-Johnson challenge
Dontae Johnson did not know he would play most of last week’s game against Cincinnati, but he took over at right cornerback in place of Kenneth Acker early in the game and held up well. At 6 foot 3, Johnson appears to provide the best physical matchup against 6-5 wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has posted six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Lions. “You get to showcase what you’re doing and see how you measure up against to the best,” Dontae Johnson said. “He’s freak-of-nature big, strong, fast and has great hands. He’s everything you want in a prototypical wide receiver.” Johnson has been held to just one reception in both of the past two games. With a scheduled $24 million cap hit for next season, Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be back with Detroit. This could be his final home game. You can bet quarterback Matthew Stafford will want to get the ball in his hands early and often.

5. Hayne back in uniform
Jarryd Hayne spent nearly two months on the 49ers’ practice squad to concentrate on learning the sport of American football. He is back on the active roster, and is likely to see some action on Sunday. He could see some action at running back. Hayne could see some action on punt returns. While he does not figure to have a huge role, the presence of the former rugby league star figures to promise this game will receive more attention in Australia than in the United States.

49ers' George Kittle deserves 'a special contract,' agent believes

49ers' George Kittle deserves 'a special contract,' agent believes

After the best three-season opening for a tight end in NFL history, George Kittle is eligible to receive a new contract from the 49ers before the 2020 season.

It would appear both sides should prioritize a fair contract before the club is allowed to get on the field again. The biggest issue is figuring out what is fair pay for someone who does it all -- but does it at a position that ranks behind only running backs on the NFL pay scale.

“Right now, there is not a comp for George,” Kittle's agent, Jack Bechta, said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s unique. He’s a unicorn. He’s one of a kind.”

Kittle, a fifth-round draft pick from Iowa in 2017, has more receiving yards than any tight end through three seasons in NFL history. He is the only tight end in 49ers history with a 1,000-yard season – and he has done it in back-to-back years. He set the league record for tight ends in 2018 with 1,377 yards receiving.

He was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 after catching 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games.

Moreover, Kittle is a dominant blocker in the run game.

“George is a very special player. He needs a special contract,” Bechta said. “And those things take time for both sides. It’s a nice problem for everybody to have.

“At the end of the day, I trust the Niners will do the right thing and take good care of George, as they should. But I trust the process. I won’t comment where we’re at, or numbers or anything like that. But hopefully it gets done.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Tight ends are lagging behind most of the other positions in the NFL pay structure, Bechta points out.

Hunter Henry is scheduled to be the highest paid tight end in the league this season at $10.6 million after the Los Angeles Chargers designated him as their franchise player. Austin Hooper became the league’s top-paid tight end on a multi-year contract when the Cleveland Browns signed him as a free agent to a four-year deal that averages $10.5 million annually.

[RELATEDLynch expects Kittle contract extension 'in due time']

Meanwhile, Kittle is scheduled to make $2.133 million this season through the league’s proven performance escalator. Clearly, he is underpaid.

The 49ers have him under contract for the upcoming season. Kittle is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season. If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year extension before then, they could designate him as their franchise player to retain him on a one-year deal. Both sides do not want it to come to that.

“There are smart people at the Niners,” Bechta said. “They’ll figure it out. They love George, and George loves them. And hopefully it’ll all work out.”

Stephen Jackson insists Colin Kaepernick is owed apology by 'fake' NFL

Stephen Jackson insists Colin Kaepernick is owed apology by 'fake' NFL

On Saturday, five days after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minnesota and with protests raging across the country, the NFL released a statement.

The words from the NFL didn't go over well.

In Twitter-speak, the tweet is getting ratio'd. More than 24,000 replies to just over 4,000 retweets.

NFL players Kenny Stills, Eric Reid, and filmaker Ava DuVernay had strong reactions to the NFL's tweet.

Former Warriors forward Stephen Jackson, who considered Floyd a brother and called him "Twin," did not appreciate the NFL's statement either.

"That's so fake, man," Jackson told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears on Monday. "It's so fake, it's so fake, it's so fake."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Jackson believes the league should have apologized to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to raise awareness for social injustices.

"Like, why even do it?" Jackson said. "We know it's not real. We know it's not real. You're making yourself look bad. That's one of those situations where they shouldn't even say nothing, bro. They shouldn't even say nothing. ... If anything, they need to apologize to Kaepernick. If they're gonna respond on this type of stuff, start it off with an apology to Kaepernick. Then maybe we'll accept it."

Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL since 2016. In a column posted by CNN over the weekend, former NFL executive Joe Lockhart said one team official told him they feared losing 20 percent of their season-ticket holders if they signed Kaepernick.

Kaepernick worked out for teams last year, but remains a free agent.

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