Kendrick Bourne

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

Timing is everything.

The 49ers were arguably the most well-rounded team in the NFL last season on their way to losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco had the best defense in the NFC and the second-most productive rushing offense in the league. Jimmy Garoppolo finished 22 passing yards short of 4,000, and only five other teams finished the regular season with more takeaways than the reigning NFC champions.

When looking up and down the 49ers' 2019 roster, they were strong across the board. There weren't any holes, and certain areas were tremendous strengths. However, it goes without saying that some of San Francisco's position groups are stronger than others. While the defensive line arguably is the best of its kind, the wide-receiver group, for instance, isn't nearly as dominant or impressive.

Deebo Samuel had an exceptional rookie season, and Kendrick Bourne emerged as a consistent contributor. But if the position group was strong enough entering the season, the 49ers wouldn't have had reason to make a midseason trade for Emmanuel Sanders. The 10-year veteran hit the ground running as soon as he joined San Francisco and immediately became one of Garoppolo's go-to targets. However, Sanders, 31, is an unrestricted free agent, and while Samuel would like for his mentor to return, there is no guarantee that he will.

Whether or not the 49ers re-sign Sanders, they couldn't have asked for a better draft to beef up their receiving corps than the one upcoming in April. The 2020 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at wide receiver, with NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah going so far as to call the draft class the "deepest" he has ever seen.

In addition to giving 27 receiver prospects a top-three-round grade, Jeremiah also has nine receivers ranked among his top 50 prospects overall. The cream of the crop includes Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Colorado's Laviska Shenault, among others. Depending on what happens with Sanders, it's certainly possible one of those top prospects gets selected by San Francisco.

As things currently stand, the 49ers won't be on the clock again until the fifth round after picking No. 31 overall in the first round, partly the result of sending their own third- and fourth-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos in the trade for Sanders. While San Francisco's receiving corps could use a boost, the team has additional needs that would make it difficult to rationalize using a first-round draft pick on a pass-catcher, especially if Sanders is re-signed. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could look to add Gabriel to wide receiver mix]

As such, a more plausible scenario is the 49ers trading back out of the first round to acquire more draft picks. With those additional selections, they would still stand a great chance of having a great receiver prospect fall to them, as there inevitably will be a greater supply of standouts than the demand. While every team in the league would love to get their hands on a big-time playmaker, almost all of them have far more pressing and numerous needs than San Francisco does, and each team only has so many picks.

If Sanders is re-signed, the 49ers' need for improvement in the receiving corps will be severely diminished. But, given his age, one could argue San Francisco needs to draft at least one more receiver this coming April, and probably more than one if Sanders isn't re-signed.

Lucky for the 49ers, the timing should work out quite well.

49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel

49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel

This is the third 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.

Wednesday, a look at the 49ers’ wide receivers.

Under contract (signed through)

Deebo Samuel (2022)
Richie James (2021)
Dante Pettis (2021)
Trent Taylor (2020)
Jalen Hurd (2022)
Marquise Goodwin (2021)
Chris Thompson (2021)
Shawn Poindexter (2021)

As the 49ers look for ways to tighten up their cap situation, they likely will get out from under Goodwin’s contract, which is scheduled to pay him $4.5 million in salary and bonuses this season. Goodwin was placed on season-ending injured reserve in December.

Expiring contracts

Emmanuel Sanders (UFA)
Kendrick Bourne (RFA)
Jordan Matthews (UFA)

Sanders’ most recent contract paid him on average $11 million annually. OverTheCap.com has Sanders valued at $10 million for his next contract. That might be a bit steep for the 49ers, who would stand to gain a compensatory draft pick in 2021, if Sanders leaves for a sizable contract.

In 13 games with the 49ers, including the postseason, Sanders caught 41 passes for 573 yards and three TDs.

Bourne is a priority to bring back. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. If the 49ers are unable to sign him to a multi-year contract, the club will have a decision to make.

If they place an original-round tender of $2.1 million on Bourne, the 49ers would receive no compensation if another team signs him to an offer sheet and they decline to match. But if they raise the tender to a second-round level of approximately $3.3 million, they would be assured of keeping him or getting a second-round draft pick in return.

What needs to happen

Toward the end of the season, the 49ers clearly did not have a lot of trust in their depth at wide receiver. Samuel, Sanders and Bourne were the team’s top three wideouts. After that, they got zero production.

Pettis went three full months without catching a pass. He was inactive for Super Bowl LIV. Pettis finished his rookie season on a high note and looked good during the offseason program a year ago. His decline upon reporting to training camp was dramatic. He still has a chance to work his way back as a contributor, but it will take a major commitment on his part.

James generally did a good job as a return man, but he did not see much action on offense.

Taylor and Hurd were expected to be key players on offense last season, but neither played a snap during the regular season due to injuries that landed both on injured reserve. Taylor underwent five surgeries after sustaining a Jones fracture in his foot. Hurd never got back after a stress reaction in his back.

The 49ers must make a decision on how to approach contract talks with Sanders, who enjoyed his time with the club after arriving in a midseason trade from Denver. Bourne should be back. So the 49ers will have to decide if they’re comfortable with a depth chart that includes Samuel, Bourne, Pettis, Taylor, Hurd and James.

This is being hailed as a great draft for wide receivers, so the 49ers could look to add another young player. If they hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the 49ers could look at receiver. Or a better strategy would be to trade back, acquire multiple picks on the second day of the draft, and add a promising young player at that point.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: Running backs combine to make formidable group]

Expectations

The 49ers were not expecting Samuel to play as much as a rookie. They had no other choice but to keep him on the field. It was a learning process, and he made a lot of mistakes. But Samuel got better and better, and now he is being counted upon to take his game to a higher level in Year 2 as the team's top wide receiver.

Bourne is capable of being a starter. He just needs to show more consistency. If Taylor is healthy, he could end up as the 49ers’ leading pass-catcher. The 49ers did not have a true slot receiver who could get open quickly for Jimmy Garoppolo on third downs. Taylor is that player.

Hurd has the kind of versatility that excites coach Kyle Shanahan because of the strain he can put on defenses -- especially in no-huddle situations at the end of halves. Hurd can line up outside, in the slot, at tight end or in the backfield. Shanahan is good at dictating matchups, and Hurd will be valuable in helping the 49ers expose the weak link of defenses.

Pettis’ best attribute is his ability to run choice routes, in which he can set up a defender and break off his pattern to create maximum separation from the defender. Pettis has to better his durability and be willing to take those routes into traffic over the middle.

Whether it’s in the draft or free agency, the 49ers also would like to add a bigger wide receiver who can stretch the field and provide a target for Garoppolo in the red zone, too.

How DeForest Buckner, George Kittle impact 49ers' free agency decisions

How DeForest Buckner, George Kittle impact 49ers' free agency decisions

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle are under contract for another season apiece.

But any discussion about the 49ers’ finances and free agency must include mention of the big contracts that loom for Buckner and Kittle.

This offseason could be key for both men, as the 49ers would like to find a way to reward both players and keep them under contract for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, as the 49ers are about a month away from free agency, they’ll be watching exactly where they spend their dollars after advancing to Super Bowl LIV, where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We're committed to finding a way to be better,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We'd love to keep everybody. This team is special. There's a special feel to it. We hope that's the case. It's probably not likely, it just doesn't happen in this league.”

“There may have to be tradeoffs along the way. But I think we're in a good position to find a way to certainly keep the core together and even like I said our mindset to improve it.”

Following is a look at the 49ers who are not under contract for 2020 and are scheduled for unrestricted or restricted free agency:

Unrestricted free agents

The 49ers have sole negotiating rights with each of the following players until March 16, when the open-negotiating window opens. On March 18, players can sign with other teams. Teams can tag a franchise player at any time from Feb. 25 to March 10. Here are the team’s scheduled unrestricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):

DL Arik Armstead ($9.046 million)
Armstead put together back-to-back seasons in which he played every game. That comes after two seasons in which he missed a combined 18 games due to injuries. Armstead always has been good as a run defender. This season, he was a man for all downs.

Armstead figures to land a lucrative free agent contract -- either with the 49ers or some other team. If the 49ers want to place the franchise tag on him, it would cost approximately $18 million for just one season. A multi-year deal would give him more guaranteed money with the cap hit in 2020 would not be as large for the 49ers.

It would be difficult to replace what Armstead brought to the team this season. He is perfect for this defense -- a defensive end on base downs who moves inside to rush the passer.

Lynch suggested he does not want to use the franchise tag on Armstead because he wants a long-term deal.

“We want to find a way to keep him and make him a part of the 49ers for a long time,” Lynch said.

S Jimmie Ward ($4.5 million)
After injuries and position switches prevented Ward from ever showing what he could do, things settled down for him this season. Ward just wants to play free safety. For which team he plays is another question.

Tarvarius Moore started the first three games of the season at free safety when Ward was out after undergoing surgery on a broken finger. Moore played five snaps on defense in the Super Bowl, and he was in the middle of three plays. Two were very good, including an interception of Patrick Mahomes. One was not so good, as he was flagged for pass interference on a crucial third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter.

The 49ers must decide if they want to pay the price to keep Ward or to make the transition next season to Moore. Re-signing Ward would appear to be a priority.

WR Emmanuel Sanders ($11 million)
Sanders, a 10-year veteran, fit in well with the team after coming to the 49ers in a midseason trade with Denver. He said he loves playing for the 49ers. But will the 49ers be willing to pay the price to make a multi-year offer to retain him? The 49ers will want to bring him back, but it the question is whether there will be other teams willing to make a more lucrative commitment.

Deebo Samuel, Richie James and Dante Pettis are under contract. The 49ers figure to bring back Kendrick Bourne as a restricted free agent. Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd missed this season due to injuries but, if healthy, figure to be major contributors.

DE Ronald Blair (650,000)
Blair sustained a torn ACL in November. He was a valuable member of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation, and his absence late in the season meant less rest for the third-down pass-rushers. The 49ers should make every attempt to bring him back.

C Ben Garland ($805,000)
Garland filled in admirably when Weston Richburg went down with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee on Dec. 8. Garland already has shown what he can do as a backup, and the price figures to be right to bring him back.

DT Sheldon Day ($737,000)
Day was a starter down the stretch of the season after D.J. Jones was placed on IR with a severe high ankle sprain. Day might find a starting opportunity elsewhere in the league. If that’s the case, the 49ers will probably not be willing to pay the price to retain him.

TE Levine Toilolo ($895,000)
Toilolo ended up being a low-key important piece to the 49ers’ offense as an extra blocker. They will certainly be willing to bring him back on a deal worth the veteran minimum.

TE Garrett Celek ($2.5 million)
Celek announced his retirement last week after eight seasons with the 49ers. He underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk in his back and appeared in five games last season before going in injured reserve.

CB Dontae Johnson ($805,000)
Johnson had a good training camp, then was brought back to the team during the season when the club needed him due to injuries. He could be back this season, too.

OT Shon Coleman ($820,000)
Coleman was a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2016 whom the 49ers acquired for a seventh-round selection in 2018. He did not play in 2018, and he was slated to be the team’s swing tackle last season before he sustained a season-ending injury in the first preseason game.

DE Damontre Moore ($805,000)
Moore nearly made the team out of training camp, then was added to the roster after Blair’s injury. He sustained a fractured forearm in his second game and was lost for the season. It seems like it’s a low-risk move to bring him back on a one-year deal.

DT Earl Mitchell ($930,000)
Mitchell unretired to join the 49ers for the playoffs. After playing 19 snaps in the Super Bowl and registering a half-sack, Mitchell told Nick Wagoner of ESPN that this time he is retiring for good.

WR Jordan Matthews ($805,000)
Matthews was a veteran insurance policy who appeared in one game with the 49ers this season and did not catch a pass.

DE Anthony Zettel ($720,000)
Zettel appeared in the final regular-season game and all three playoff games as a backup defensive end.

CB Jason Verrett ($3 million)
The 49ers took what they figured was a low-risk gamble on Verrett, whose career has been plagued by injuries. He appeared in just one game before going on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

[RELATED: 49ers' offseason should focus on these five moves]

Restricted free agents

Players can negotiate with any team. The 49ers can place tenders of original round, second round or first round on these players. Because none of the following players was acquired by 49ers through draft, the 49ers would receive no compensation with an original-round tender. Here are the team’s scheduled restricted free agents (with most-recent yearly salary in parenthesis):

WR Kendrick Bourne ($556,667)
If the 49ers place a same-round tender on Bourne, he could attract some attention as a free agent. The best course of action for the 49ers would be to sign him to a multi-year extension to ensure that they keep him around for a while. He had 30 catches for 358 yards and his five TD receptions were tied for the team-lead with George Kittle.

RB Matt Breida ($556,667)
Breida, the team’s leading rusher in 2018, ended up not playing much down the stretch of the regular season and playoffs, as Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman handled the duties at running back. In the Super Bowl, Jeff Wilson played five snaps of offense, and Breida did not play. If another team wants to sign Breida to a multi-year contract, he might not be back.

LB Elijah Lee ($645,000)
Lee did not make the club out of training camp, but he ended up serving roles on special teams and as a backup linebacker. Lee appears to be a player the 49ers would like to keep around.