Starting this week, I will be doing a weekly recap of all things 49ers related. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. I will comment on a loose selection of things I think are or can be interesting for our favorite team. Without further ado, let’s dive into this!
Starting with the best news of the past few weeks, the Jimmy Garoppolo re-signing. This was what all 49ers fans were hoping for – the re-signing of their apparent franchise quarterback. Neither the team nor the player side wanted to drag this out and believed in the marriage, so John Lynch handed out the biggest contract in NFL history. The team thus avoided a situation like we have seen it play out with Kirk Cousins, franchise tagging a starting quarterback for consecutive seasons. This 5-year, $137.5M deal gives head coach Kyle Shanahan a great quarterback to work with and around and the 49ers the solution to the answer every NFL team seeks. Fans should expect the stability they thought they would get with Trent Baalke, Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. Just in case this all goes up in flames though, head negotiator and contract wizard Paraag Marathe structured the deal in such a way that the team can cut ties with Garoppolo after two years. No one expects this to happen, but it definitely is a nice insurance to have.
The Jimmy Garoppolo deal was not the only deal the team handed out in the past 7 days. Just before the mega extension of Garoppolo, John Lynch gave pass rush specialist Cassius Marsh a 2-year extension. He was a mid-season pickup after he got traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the New England Patriots, but was cut just before Thanksgiving. He helped the 49ers get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks down the stretch, forcing two fumbles and registering two sacks in six games. The third extension the 49ers gave out was to 7-year center Daniel Kilgore. Once drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, he emerged under Jim Harbaugh, but struggled with injuries the past few seasons. The 30-year old started all 16 games in 2017, though, and provides stability at a vital position in the Kyle Shanahan offense. He is still solid enough (5th ranked center via PFF in the games with Jimmy Garoppolo) that a possible draft choice at that position can be pushed to the later rounds or even next year. These extensions might not prove to be the last ones, as Marathe already hinted there might be more to come. Keep and eye on Eric Reid and Carlos Hyde, the most notable free agents the 49ers have. Other possibilities might include Marquise Goodwin, Jaquiski Tartt or Trent Brown who could now be extended for a cheaper value before they hit free agency next offseason.
While we are talking free agency, let’s talk some hypotheticals. We all know who is going to be free agent come March, but former agent Joel Corry mentioned a few players, who are still under contract and still might hit the open market. So here is a list of what I believe are interesting players for the 49ers. These are players who might not remain with their respective teams because they might get cut or their teams won’t pick up contract options. Let me explain why I find them to be interesting. Remember, this is all mind games.
– Dez Bryant
– Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Demaryius Thomas
– Doug Martin
– Brian Cushing
Dez Bryant’s time in Dallas might come to an end since he is a candidate to get cut. His stats have fallen off since his big contract extension three years ago. He has not produced a 100-yard game in 23 regular season games. However, in Dallas’ playoff game vs Green Bay in the 2016 playoffs he toasted the Packers defense for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Just look at these Gifs.
"Dez Bryant can't create separation." pic.twitter.com/vwlaR9f74t
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 1, 2017
Here is the other angle of Dez Bryant's TD. His timing is unreal. pic.twitter.com/nPNoAVHDPv
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 1, 2017
He is still a freak athlete and would provide a massive red zone target for Jimmy Garoppolo with his size. It is no accident he had the 3rd most TD receptions ever by a player in his first 5 seasons (56) behind only Jerry Rice (66) and Randy Moss (60). I believe that player is not gone, and I would give him a chance if he was available for the right price.
Another wide receiver worth monitoring is a player from the same draft class; Demaryius Thomas. Opposite to Bryant, Thomas has not had major injury struggles. He started all 16 games now in each of the past 6 seasons. He produced five 1,000-yard seasons during that span, coming just 51 yards shy this year. This would be more a product of an abysmal trio of QBs (Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler) than a decline in play. At 6-3, 229 lbs he is another monster in the red zone. If the Broncos decide to pass up on his contract option, he might be just the type of wide receiver the 49ers are missing.
The window for the Broncos to exercise an option with WR Demaryius Thomas' contract opens today. A $4M payment is required to pick up his 2018 & 2019 contract years for $22.5M. The window closes on the last day of the 2017 league year, which is March 14.
— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) February 9, 2018
Let’s stay in Denver for a moment. There have been a ton of rumors that star cornerback Aqib Talib might get cut to save the Broncos some money. Long story short, I would pick him up in a second if I was John Lynch. He has a great personality and still gives you high-end cornerback play. Since cornerback is a major need for the 49ers, I would not hesitate to sign him. This move would give the team incredible flexibility in the upcoming draft to go after the best player available. It is possible, albeit less likely, that the Broncos keep Talib and cut ties with one of their other fantastic CBs. Chris Harris has an option in his contract as well which should be monitored. You can make the same argument for him as for Talib. He would immediately fill the vacant starting spot in the Niners secondary opposite Ahkello Witherspoon.
This is the first day (5th day of waiver period) for the Broncos to exercise an option with CB Chris Harris. A $1.1M payment is required to pick up Harris' 2018 contract for $7.4M. The deadline is the last day of the 2017 league year, which is March 14.
— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) February 9, 2018
Now, imagine the 49ers do not re-sign Carlos Hyde, a very real possibility. Are you prepared to go into next season with a running back committee that has a career total of 111 rushing attempts? I know I am not. One player who could be cut without dead money is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Doug Martin. He could provide leadership in an otherwise inexperienced backfield. His stats declined behind a bad Bucs offensive line, but he still is very capable.
Last on my list is Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing. The Texans already drafted his eventual successor in Zach Cummingham last year. The 9-year veteran could be a very good insurance policy if the 49ers star defensive player Reuben Foster can’t stay out of trouble.
This brings me to my next topic. Last year’s 31st overall pick was arrested twice in the past 4 weeks and faces a multi-game suspension by the NFL for marijuana and domestic violence charges. He quickly made everyone forget about Jimmy Garoppolo’s massive contract extension with his off-field trouble. Since he is already one of the best at his position and just only one year in the NFL, it is unlikely the team will cut ties with him. It is concerning, though, that this is already the 3rd incident of the field since last March where he also threatened someone while waiting at the NFL combine. It is a big hit to the 49ers hype train that was otherwise full steam ahead.
Let’s not end with a bummer, though. If you missed it, go back and read Joe Fann’s article about the status of the rebuild.
He suggests that with the team closing last season on a 5-game winning streak and now the franchise quarterback, head coach and general manager under contract for the next 5 years, it does not feel like a rebuild anymore. And frankly, it does not feel like a rebuild to me anymore either. But to lean on Trent Baalke’s famous words: when does the rebuild end and the reload start?
Let’s assess the roster. There are still major holes at cornerback and pass rush on defense and Reuben Foster left the 49ers linebackers in an awkward situation. On offense, the offensive line still needs bolstering in the middle, running back is a bit up in the air with the free agent status of Carlos Hyde and Pierre Garçon is coming back from a neck injury which is always scary for NFL players.
Judging from this basically every position group faces some major questions except quarterback. Rationally, this is not enough for me to void the rebuild status yet. However, as we have seen at the end of last season, the team showed lots of promise. If John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan land a similarly good free agent and draft class as last year, I am more than willing to reconsider this status. Whether or not I call this a rebuild situation, though, I am super excited about where the team is headed. As should you. Till next week.
Image courtesy of AP/D. Ross Cameron