© Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Combine has passed, and so too has the first wave of free agency. With the NFL Draft a month away and the 49ers with plenty of questions to answer before then, we take a look at your (mostly) offseason and draft-related questions in this 49ers Mailbag.
Cutter H. asks: Do you think we need to focus on secondary or WR more in the first round of the draft? Maybe something completely different?
- The most glaring need is at wide receiver and No. 13 will almost certainly allow the 49ers to draft one of Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs. I think Lamb and Jeudy are in their own tier, and Ruggs is below them substantially due to his size and potential for injury and the challenges he’ll have beating press coverage. I think he’ll be a very solid wide receiver if he stays healthy, and provides a ton of versatility, but it could take a toll on him in a way it won’t with the other two.
- If Jeudy or Lamb aren’t available at 13, I would trade down. The 49ers talked to at least Jalen Reagor and Justin Jefferson at the Combine, and undoubtedly other wide receivers. If you have a pick before No. 45, you’ll very likely be able to draft one of Jefferson, Reagor, Denzel Mims, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault or Brandon Aiyuk. I think a trade down for Jefferson, maybe to 20, makes a lot of sense because it would allow the 49ers to turn that 13th pick into at least a first and a high third and get a high-production guy who isn’t far off from Jeudy or Lamb.
Christopher H. asks via Instagram: How do you think the Niners will approach the draft?
- No. 1 need is a wide receiver.
- No. 2 need is a defensive tackle or corner
- With either position, you absolutely cannot reach, so that means trading down
- No. 3 need is a tight end, just above interior offensive line – think Chase Claypool or Devin Asiasi, someone who can immediately complement Kittle.
- Without Emmanuel Sanders, the need for a wide receiver is obvious, as is defensive tackle, due to Buckner’s departure. But with that pick, I only view about five defensive tackles as being worth an early second-round or above selection. After that, it’s worth trading back and looking at someone in the later rounds. The gap between the top five and the supposed middle is significant. Many of the later-round-projected defensive line prospects have significantly better tape than the supposed middle rounders.
- As explained here, the 49ers need a corner or defensive back because Jaquiski Tartt, Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley (restricted) are going to be free agents next season. If they trade back into the second round and get someone like Trevon Diggs that could be worth it, but Ohio State’s Damon Arnette would be a great choice in the third round. There’s also the late-round candidate of Lamar Jackson, who’s got an Antonio Cromartie-esque frame and physical style (not exactly a perfect zone coverage fit, but could have best player available value if he’s around in the 5th or 6th rounds).
Reflux Graphics asks via Instagram: What should the Niners do with the 31st overall pick?
- Depends what they do with 13th. If they trade that one back and recoup a first, third and fourth rounder, or even a late second, do they feel comfortable with that?
- I think the 31st should be traded back for a pair of third-rounders (unless the 49ers don’t go with a wide receiver with their first pick) because the second round is projected to be loads of safeties, 3-4 fit edge rushers, offensive tackles outside of the elite tier, and running backs, all of which don’t help the 49ers. Getting to the third round is potentially better value, unless someone they’re enamored with drops significantly into the second.
- If they keep that pick at 31, they have three options, depending on if they go wide receiver or Javon Kinlaw ahead of that. If it’s a wide receiver, draft Neville Gallimore or Ross Blacklock or Justin Madubuike. If it’s Kinlaw, draft Aiyuk, Mims or Shenault.
Azad asks via Instagram: Which receiver do you think the 49ers will go for in the draft?
- Jeudy, Lamb or Jefferson if they trade back a few spots. Jeudy seems safer, solely because he’s a better known commodity and had to run NFL routes against tougher competition, more frequent man coverage.
- I initially liked Lamb more because I saw him in person at the Combine and looked like the clear No. 1 there, and it was hard to shake that. But Jeudy is a more proven asset on tape and an insane route runner. I’m coming around more to Jeudy, but I think either will be a bona fide No. 1 option for years to come.
Sam M. asks via Instagram: #1 wish list pick for the draft?
- UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi. He’s a fantastic, athletic, route-running tight end who has a solid base as a blocker. If the 49ers can trade down and get him or Chase Claypool (a wide receiver in a tight end’s body) in the third or fourth rounds, I think they’ll have found a tremendous complement to George Kittle. The report that they were looking at Austin Hooper indicates to me Shanahan is looking to find that. Ross Dwelley is fine, but he’s not going to cut it, and the 49ers lost Levine Toilolo to the Giants (for the best).
Unless I'm missing it, surprised there isn't a little more buzz about #UCLA TE Devin Asiasi. Game against Utah was one of the better games by a TE in this class.
Good initial burst, quick feet in breaks, nice feel for LB drops in zone. He's got some juice. pic.twitter.com/pbL5VHEIyd
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 5, 2020
Alexis P. asks via Instagram: What is the WR core going to look like? Which WR are you most looking forward to watch?
- 1st rounder, Deebo, Bourne
- Taylor, Hurd, if healthy.
- Pettis, Richie James, Jr., Travis Benjamin? If Marquise Goodwin is still around that would be idiotic.
- Looking forward to watching whoever they draft and Jalen Hurd. Hurd looked like he was going to be an absolute weapon, especially in the red zone.
Lauren J. asks via Instagram: Jalen Hurd’s health?
- Very, very, very cautious optimism.
- “We think we’re nearing towards a much better place to where he’ll be cleared for all activities… there’s some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that’s going to be the case,” said general manager John Lynch at the Combine.
Sean V. asks via Instagram: Will they try to pick up another WR before the draft?
- I wouldn’t bet on it, but one more vet signing wouldn’t surprise me. Any minimum-level deal has no real effect on the cap due to the top-51 rule (only the top-51 most expensive contracts count towards the salary cap, which is why Day 3 rookie deals have little to no effect). I don’t anticipate anything flashy through free agency at the wide receiver position at this point.
Anthony D. asks via Instagram: If the WR they may be targeting is taken, do you see them trading for a #1 WR? Why aren’t they signing OBJ?
- No, I just think draft-day trades like that are rare and it requires a lot of pre-planning to make a deal like that. There’s no real cap space and Beckham Jr. is not a free agent. They’re not trading for him because he costs $14.25 million a year.
Tom Marks asks: Any news on Jimmy G restructuring his contract?
- No. This offseason to me has spoken volumes about how much the 49ers don’t want to restructure Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract. They could have kept DeForest Buckner (and Armstead and Ward and extended Kittle) if they were willing to touch Garoppolo’s money, and could have created loads more by cutting or trading Tevin Coleman, Marquise Goodwin, Mark Nzeocha, trading Solomon Thomas, and restructuring Garoppolo and Kyle Juszczyk (detailed explanation of those options below).
- As of March 19, a source confirmed the 49ers had not engaged Kyle Juszcyzyk in discussions about a contract extension, which makes me believe the team is focused largely on George Kittle’s extension, and aren’t currently engaging in the process of trying to create further cap space. That could change, and I would still be surprised to see Marquise Goodwin on the roster.
Joe Lee asks: What is the current 49ers projected cap space for 2020 and where should we expect to see that money spent?
- It’s impossible to know exactly what it is. It depends on all the 1-year deals. The Ronald Blair and Tom Compton signings will likely have an effect, Travis Benjamin is likely a minimum deal and linebacker Joe Walker is likely slightly above that, similar to Shon Coleman. The following is a breakdown from March 19, looking at what free agent options are out there for the 49ers:
In addition to the five early restricted free agents who returned, Arik Armstead is back on a five-year deal reportedly worth up to $85 million, but with a $6 million year-one cap hit, and Jimmie Ward returned on a three-year, $28.5 million deal with a $4.5 million cap hit in year one.
Also returning are Ben Garland (one year, $2.25 million), Jerick McKinnon (on a restructured deal worth just $2.91 million per OverTheCap), Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne (both at the $3.259 million second-round tender), Shon Coleman (one year, $962,500) and Ronald Blair III (one year, unreported amount, potentially around $4 million).
There was also the swap of Mike Person (cutting his $2.5 million salary) for Tom Compton, a veteran guard from Shanahan’s Redskins and Falcons days (reported one-year, $3 million, but potentially heavily incentivized, so assuming $1.5 million cap hit).
What’s left is a likely monumental extension for George Kittle. The 49ers will want to keep his cap hit low this year if possible, but if/when a deal gets done it will probably be worth at least three times the $2.21 million salary Kittle is scheduled to make currently. Something like a ballpark projection of around $8 million for this year.
One key note: the 49ers do have to budget for their 2020 draft picks, but it’s not their $8.16 million in rookie pool money. The only amount they really need to budget for are their top two picks, which are projected at $2.91 million and $1.97 million. That’s assuming they don’t trade down, which makes those numbers cheaper (that scenario and those numbers explained here).
So, assuming those draft picks stay in the first round (they won’t, but that’s the maximum amount), the 49ers really only need to budget about $3.39 million for incoming rookies.
Factoring all this in, the 49ers effectively have $3.68 million in cap space.That’s without cutting or trading Tevin Coleman (would save about $4.12 million) or Marquise Goodwin (would create about $2.91 million), trading Solomon Thomas (would create about $3.64 million), or extending Kyle Juszczyk (unclear, but probably a savings around $3-plus million), or cutting Mark Nzeocha (would save about $800k).
Assuming just Coleman and Goodwin are traded or cut, the 49ers have effectively $10.71 million in cap space. Again, they could trade Thomas, extend Juszczyk and cut Nzeocha to bump that number up to $18.80 million.
The Dallas Cowboys and Emmanuel Sanders reportedly have mutual interest. It’s clear the 49ers could re-sign Sanders by moving money around, but this scenario will look at the options assuming he doesn’t return.
- That scenario assumes the Kittle extension is worth about $8 million in year one. It could well be worth more, especially if the 49ers only decide to target minimum free agents, or get a trade done or cut Marquise Goodwin or Tevin Coleman. But at the moment, factoring in rookie deals (and not a Kittle extension), and assuming Ronald Blair has a $4 million cap hit (erring on the higher side), Compton has a $1.5 million cap hit and Walker is worth $1.25 million, I’m projecting that the 49ers have about $8 million in current cap space.
- UPDATE: Blair’s cap hit comes in at $1.047 million, per OverTheCap (he will make $2.16 million, but the cap hit is about half because he’s a four-year qualifying player). Considering that, I project the 49ers have about $10-11 million in cap space.
Arthur S. asks via Instagram: Will the $18 million in cap space be used this offseason? Or down the line?
- It remains to be seen, but once/if George Kittle is extended, we’ll get a clear indication of it. It’s not $18 million. The cap space is very tight next season, too, and based on their aversion to paying Buckner and losing out on Sanders, or not being “in” enough on him, they may be biding their time and looking for bargain deals, or just not willing to make any long-term moves.
Caitlin W. asks via Instagram: When do they sign Kittle?!?!
- I would bet in the next two months. If it’s not this offseason, the 49ers are probably worried about injuries – Kittle admitted he has a torn labrum which he won’t surgically repair. Could they be using that as a bargaining chip? He’ll clearly become the highest-paid tight end in football and a riot would take place if he were to become a free agent or reach the franchise tag, but it may be a slow burn, given how much money the team will be required to invest in him.
Chris M. asks via Instagram: Do you think George Kittle would be willing to negotiate a smaller contract like Tom Brady?
- No. He’s been playing for nothing for years. Time for him to get a rightfully-deserved historic deal.
Carson D. asks via Instagram: Thoughts on the addition of Travis Benjamin?
- It’s fine. It’s not going to turn the 49ers from a contender into the favorite, and it’s not going to make them worse. Maybe they’ll get a capable, reliable returner out of it, which they don’t have (watch Richie James Jr.’s punt returns again and tell me it doesn’t make you queasy).
Manny asks via Instagram: Odds on the season starting on time?
- Too early to tell. I can’t imagine Jerry Jones and the football industrial complex allowing the season to get canceled or significantly postponed, but they may not have a choice.
- The problem is not so much that games wouldn’t be able to be played, in say, September, October, or November (that’s definitely also in question), but how teams can evaluate their talent, and get everyone together safely in time for the season to start as scheduled. Players have elderly and at-risk family members, too. They don’t want to come into contact with numbers of people in close quarters situations until it’s absolutely safe to, and I don’t think the NFLPA would allow it to return to normal unless significant progress was made (i.e. the curve not just flattens, but hits a downturn).
- To me, the offseason program will clearly have to be delayed, and thus, the season will have to be delayed. I think the NFL could deal with a one-month delay, but more than that, and the season will probably need to be shortened. My guess would be a season start some time in late October.
Haseeb S. asks via Instagram: Do you foresee a drop-off in the defense next season?
- Yes, at least until we see what the plan is to compensate for the loss of DeForest Buckner. I think signing someone like Shelby Harris and/or Timmy Jernigan and beefing up the line in the draft could make the defense improve – i.e. draft Kinlaw early, trade back the 31st for a wide receiver and corner, or trade back and draft someone like Kenny Willekes in the 3rd/4th and snag a late-round DT like Josiah Coatney or Tyler Clark.
Sam K. asks via Instagram: Who will the 49ers add to their defense to make it as dominant as last season?
- It won’t be as dominant as last season. They traded away their best player. (Argue if it’s Bosa, or Warner, or Sherman, etc. Buckner opened everything up). Minor signings, D.J. Jones and draft picks will be the likely remedy.
Garrett B. asks via Instagram: Possible DT targets in free agency?
- Shelby Harris, Timmy Jernigan, especially with Sheldon Day departing. Full breakdown of options here.
Israel M. asks: Who is going to be our new Buckner? Draft, FA, trade or Jones?
- No one. A combination of those. I think the 49ers will make a defensive line signing in tandem with Jones and draft an interior presence. If they were to draft Kinlaw, that would be the closest thing to trying to get a new, cheaper version of Buckner, but he’s a raw talent.
Haseeb S. asks via Instagram: Dark horse who will be a substantial contributor next season?
- Not exactly dark horses but Dan Brunskill, D.J. Jones and Jeff Wilson. Maybe Trent Taylor or Jalen Hurd if they can get healthy.
Christopher P. asks via Instagram: Any chance we sign Everson Griffen or Suh?
- Griffen, no. Not a fit. Suh is going back to the Buccaneers, but when I saw this question before that news broke, my guess was a 20 percent chance. It was reported that the 49ers were interested in him, along with the Ravens, but the price tag (at $8 million) always seemed like it would be too high for him.
Evan L. asks via Instagram: Which 49ers RBs make final roster? Mostert, Wilson, McKinnon, Coleman, Breida
- Really depends on two things: how healthy McKinnon is, and whether Shanahan is willing to admit that Wilson is at least as good as Coleman, who isn’t worth $4.9 million… and whether anyone will give the 49ers a 5th or 6th-round pick for him.
- Gut guess? Mostert, Wilson, Coleman, Breida
Evan L. asks via Instagram: Will we keep 3 QBs on the final roster again this season?
- Probably. Shanahan, despite all evidence that everyone else can see, seems to think that Beathard is worth keeping around. I have nothing against C.J., but he’s nowhere near where Mullens and Garoppolo are.
Andre asks via Instagram: Will they trade Beathard or Mullens?
- No one is going to trade a cent for Beathard. Mullens, maybe, but they won’t get what he’s worth, so I’d doubt it. If Garoppolo goes down, you still have a chance with Mullens.
Will V. asks: Which 49er would make the best Giants player?
I’ll give you five, ranked:
- Dante Pettis: Grew up playing baseball, his dad is a coach for the Astros. The video below speaks for itself.
- Ahkello Witherspoon: Witherspoon was a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing football, basketball and baseball. MaxPreps stats are not enticing, but he was also playing two other sports, and those stats aren’t usually accurate. Per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner: “Witherspoon was a center fielder for the baseball team. He lettered twice and drew attention from the Toronto Blue Jays coming out of high school, though he says he hasn’t been in touch with them recently.”
- Jimmy Garoppolo: This is the obvious pitcher archetype answer. He played shortstop growing up and was a pitcher in high school before turning his focus to football.
- Mitch Wishnowsky: Wishnowsky is just an all-around stud athlete and I have no doubt he has the raw athletic potential to make him a successful baseball player if he pursued it. He played Australian rules football, track, and soccer. From the 49ers’s Keiana Martin: “When he was 12 years old, he won a major West Australian Billiards tournament. Before shifting to football in the United States, he was a member of a local semi-pro team in the West Australian Football League.”
- Raheem Mostert: Mostert is a jack-of-all-trades type of guy and nearly went pro as a surfer. His work ethic and patience is unbelievable. Regardless of how he is as a batter, I would expect him to have tremendous plate discipline, elite speed, and probably some pop at the plate. Could see him in the mold of Mallex Smith for the Mariners – super rangey, blazingly quick outfielder.
49ers rookie receiver Dante Pettis (@dmainy_13) takes BP at Minute Maid Park, with his dad, #Astros third base coach Gary watching. And Dante hit a couple out in this sequence. pic.twitter.com/9iPCkQbgik
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) August 14, 2018