Earl Mitchell

49ers free agents: Six under-the-radar players ready for open market

49ers free agents: Six under-the-radar players ready for open market

Editor's note: This is the final installment of a series in which we examined the 49ers’ scheduled free agents. We conclude with a look at the team’s under-the-radar free agents and those who have already retired.

Jason Verrett, CB

The 49ers took a calculated gamble last offseason that Verrett could remain healthy. He did not.

Verrett entered the Week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was beaten badly for a TD. He was removed from the game and went on season-ending injured reserve due to knee issues.

The 49ers should have a handle on the extent of his physical issues after he was in the building for the season. But it seems reasonable that the 49ers gave it a shot for one season and do not have to give it another try.

Shon Coleman, OT

The 49ers sent a seventh-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns at the start of the 2018 regular season to acquire Coleman. He was inactive for his entire first season with the 49ers.

A year ago, he was projected to be the team’s swing tackle. But he sustained a fractured right fibula and dislocated ankle in the team’s first preseason game. Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill took over as the team’s backup tackles behind Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.

If the 49ers were impressed by what the saw from Coleman on the practice field and meetings, they could bring him back on a one-year deal.

Damontre Moore, DE

Moore had a really good training camp and was the last cut before the start of the regular season. The team struggled with that decision. Somewhat surprisingly, no other NFL team picked up Moore.

He was still available when Ronald Blair sustained with a season-ending ACL tear. (Blair is scheduled for free agency, too.) Moore immediately stepped into a spot in the 49ers’ D-line rotation. But his season came to a quick end with a fractured forearm.

Jordan Matthews, WR

The 49ers made a mini-splash by signing Matthews last offseason. He was cut before the start of the regular season, then went to his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, for a couple of games before he was let go. 

San Francisco had Matthews for a couple of stints during the season. He appeared in one game and did not catch a pass. The 49ers can go in another direction this offseason.

Dontae Johnson, CB

Johnson appeared in seven games last season while bouncing on and off the roster. Johnson is not a bad insurance policy to have in the back pocket to step onto the field in a pinch.

There is no urgency to re-sign him, but he definitely is an option to be with the club in the offseason for competition and insurance.

Anthony Zettel, DE

Backups Blair and Moore were injured, and Jeremiah Valoaga did not give the 49ers what they wanted. So the 49ers signed Zettel in late-December. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek had experience with Zettel from their days together with the Detroit Lions.

Zettel ultimately played 15 snaps in Super Bowl LIV, but the 49ers can certain look for other backup options with more upside.

Garrett Celek, TE

Celek Time has come to an end. The popular backup tight end announced his retirement this offseason after experiencing back issues in recent seasons.

He played eight seasons with the club after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2012 from Michigan State. Celek concluded his career with 82 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns. George Kittle, Ross Dwelley and Levine Toilolo, who is scheduled for free agency, were on the 49ers' roster as tight ends last season.

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Earl Mitchell, NT

Mitchell came out of retirement to play for the 49ers down the stretch after D.J. Jones was placed on injured reserve. Mitchell had a limited role as a rotational player in the playoffs.

After playing 19 snaps in the Super Bowl behind starter Sheldon Day, Mitchell said he decided to step away from the game permanently. Mitchell, 32, played nine NFL seasons.

How 49ers' D-line has grown in eyes of returning veteran Earl Mitchell

How 49ers' D-line has grown in eyes of returning veteran Earl Mitchell

SANTA CLARA -- It had been more than a year since veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell played for the 49ers.

It did not take him long after re-signing with the club after the conclusion of the regular season to notice a difference from the past two years.

“It was awesome just to see how much these guys have grown,” Mitchell said after playing 11 snaps in a backup role in the 49ers’ 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Mitchell, 32, a 10-year NFL veteran, came out of retirement to add depth to the 49ers’ defensive line after not playing a down for any team during the regular season.

Now, the 49ers are moving on to the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Mitchell started 28 of the 30 games in which he appeared for the 49ers in 2017 and ’18. He played with Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, and he can clearly see how much the players he lined up alongside have come along in their careers.

“It’s a totally different team than what I witnessed down the line from Solomon, Buckner, Armstead,” Mitchell said. “They’re playing fast and free and they’re comfortable and they know themselves. It’s really just a great atmosphere.”

Mitchell was particularly impressed with a sequence he saw from Thomas early in the fourth quarter.

“That screen play that Solomon made that play on, he called it out before he even made that play,” Mitchell said. “I can’t tell you how proud of him I was, just as a vet to see these guys grow and actually be able to see something and capitalize on it is just growth.

“We knew what they were going to do, but literally right before the play started, Solomon called it. He gave me the word. ‘This is going to be a screen. Be prepared.’ We were both were on top of it.”

Thomas lined up at right defensive tackle with Mitchell to his left. As soon as Vikings running back Dalvin Cook started to leave the backfield, Thomas changed course to track him. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw also knew what was coming, and he dropped Cook behind the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble with Thomas right there.

“Just the confidence, to be able to call out something and look me in the eye, like, ‘All right,’ rather than being apprehensive and being slow, and being able to play fast and trusting what you’re seeing,” Mitchell said.

Thomas had three tackles and a sack while playing 14 snaps.

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Mitchell also credited 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and first-year defensive line coach Kris Kocurek for having the defense properly prepared for the Vikings. Mitchell said he remembers communication on the sideline being an issue the past two seasons. But he was impressed with the efficiency of making corrections between defensive series Saturday.

“They came out with their normal game plan,” Mitchell said of the Vikings. “I think we were just well-prepared. Coach Kocurek harped on them trying to run to our weak side on our defense, and we keyed on that pretty much and we stayed true to our keys and got after it. We knew what they were going to try to do and kudos to Saleh and everybody.”

The 49ers held Minnesota to just 147 total yards of offense, including just 21 yards rushing. Cook had 18 yards rushing on nine rushing attempts and just 8 yards on six receptions.


Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

49ers Mailbag: George Kittle not slowing down with extra rib padding

49ers Mailbag: George Kittle not slowing down with extra rib padding

If there is one thing you should know about 49ers tight end George Kittle, it’s that nothing seems to impede his progress.

Whether it’s fractured ribs cartilage or a defender having a firm grasp of his face mask while others are jumping on his back, Kittle has proven to be a virtually unstoppable force.

Kittle has fashioned a different look in the 49ers’ Week 16 and 17 games, catching the attention of some viewers. But his production remained unchanged.

And that’s how this playoff bye-week edition of the 49ers Mailbag kicks off ...

Sure enough, Kittle was not wearing additional ribs protection in the 49ers’ Week 16 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

But he wore the extra padding in the 49ers’ regular-season games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. The padding is very similar to what Kittle wore last season after he sustained fractured ribs cartilage in a Week 9 game against the Raiders.

Kittle wore the padding for the remainder of the season but did never talked about it.

Again, he is not talking about it. (But, also, I don’t know that any reporter has asked him about it.) He has not missed any practice time, according to the 49ers’ practice participation reports. He has not been listed with any kind of injury requiring medical attention.

Of course, Kittle set the all-time, single-season record for tight ends last season with 1,377 receiving yards. The ribs' condition did not impact his performance. And it has not slowed him down the past two games, either.

It is my understanding the 49ers will wear their traditional home reds for as long as they remain alive on the NFC side of the NFL’s postseason bracket. But that does not necessarily mean we have seen the last of their alternate, all-white uniforms.

The AFC champion will be the home team in the Super Bowl, and the representative from that conference will have their choice of jersey.

Each of the six teams from the AFC wears their dark jerseys at home. Therefore, it is expected that the team representing the NFC must wear their white uniforms. Teams are allowed to wear alternate jerseys up to three times a season. The 49ers did it against Carolina at home and in Week 17 at Seattle.

I’m not 100-percent sure that it would be allowed for the Super Bowl, but if the 49ers advance that far, it is a possibility the 49ers could pull out the all-whites one more time.

The 49ers signed veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell this week to provide depth on the defensive line. General manager John Lynch reached out to him a week earlier to begin the process that led to the reunion.

Mitchell appears to be in OK shape. He is certainly not in “football shape,” but the 49ers are not expecting him to step in and play a whole lot. My best guess is that he is on the field for approximately 15 plays in the 49ers’ playoff opener on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Robert Saleh is reportedly interviewing with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday. Up to this point, he is the only defensive coach to receive an interview with Browns. He went in with a plan for putting together his offensive staff.

It seems logical that he would want to bring some of the 49ers’ coaches with him to fill more-prominent roles. But any assistant coach who remains under contract to the 49ers through 2020 would have to be let out of his contract.

A year ago, Kyle Shanahan declined permission to Green Bay and Arizona to hire Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel. LaFleur is the 49ers’ passing-game coordinator, while McDaniel is the run-game coordinator. Shanahan said neither young coach would have received a promotion. At Green Bay and Arizona, they were still going to be non-play-calling coordinators.

Shanahan does not want to lose good coaches, but he also does not want to stand in the way of career advancement for anyone on his staff. His first priority is to surround himself with the best people for the 49ers.

When the season started, Dre Greenlaw was the starting strong-side linebacker, with Kwon Alexander starting on the weak side and Fred Warner playing in the middle.

So when Alexander comes back, Greenlaw will still be a starter. But, here’s the difference: Greenlaw would be on the field for only on base downs. When the 49ers shift to five defensive backs, K’Waun Williams enters the game at nickel back and the strong-side linebacker goes to the sideline.

If you consider Top Five “elite,” then elite they are.

The 49ers ranked second in the NFL in points per game (29.9) and No. 4 in total yards. I’m not sure I would consider the 49ers’ offense on the same level as some other teams, but maybe I should.

At first thought, I just don’t think the 49ers have the kind of game-breaking offensive players that you associate with elite offenses. But there’s not a whole lot wrong with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing or handing off to Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Raheem Mostert.

Kittle deserves to be paid more than just the top five. He deserves to be No. 1 and reset the tight end market. The sooner they can do that, the more it benefits both sides.


There just are not enough touches for four running backs. Really, there are not enough opportunities through the course of a game to satisfy three running backs. That’s why Jeff Wilson has not been active. He did a good job in short-yardage situations, and he might be the best route-runner among the team’s backs. But, right now, there is no room for him to breakthrough in a backfield that consists of Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. The 49ers need their game-day depth in other spots.

I see what you did there. . . .

All things being equal, I think the 49ers would be wise to continue to invest in their defensive line. That is the one position where you can never – NEVER – have too many good players.

If everyone on injured reserve were healthy, the 49ers’ offense would look a lot different right now.

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Slot receiver Trent Taylor would be their best third-down receiver. Jalen Hurd would be on the field in two-minute and no-huddle situations to create all kinds of issues for defenses as they determine whether to go with base personnel or nickel packages. And Jerick McKinnon would be the team’s third-down back because he is much better route-runner than any of the team’s other running backs.

Taylor and Hurd, if healthy, will be back in 2020. It is possible the 49ers will try to bring back McKinnon on a low-level, one-year, prove-it contract. But Verrett signed a one-year deal, and it seems like a stretch that the club would be inclined to re-sign him.