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49ers Mailbag: Sleepers, untouchables, the wide receiver competition and Aaron Rodgers

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


The 49ers have their schedule, and for the most part, they have their roster. Virtual OTAs are underway, with training camp, in theory, about two months away. The pieces are in place for a season to proceed, though what type of season it will be is unclear to anyone. With that in mind, here are answers to your 49ers questions:

Ray E. asks via Facebook: Did the Niners wait too long to trade Breida and Goodwin could they have gotten more picks or higher picks if they traded them during the season last year?

Probably not. Both were injury-riddled and necessary for depth last season. Maybe you could trade Matt Breida at the start of the season for something more, but he was a useful player given the injuries, and the 49ers’ backs are speed-centric, which is only valuable in a handful of one-cut systems. Goodwin being able to renegotiate a contract with the Eagles was necessary to get the deal done, and only possible in the offseason. Both trades (acquiring a fifth for Breida and moving up 20 spots) were great value for players who didn’t have all that much of it, and about what I thought they could get.

Nathan N. asks via Facebook: Which WRs get cut?

Stewart J. asks via Facebook: How many WR’s do you project on the roster? And who?

Rayna asks via Facebook: Who will be the 49ers’ best slot option?

Deezy asks via Instagram: If indeed Dante Pettis is on the trade block, what value can the 49ers get in return?

I looked at the wide receiver competition on Wednesday, and I think the 49ers take seven wide receivers. That, of course, all depends on health, with Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd being the main question marks. I broke the competition down here, but the slot has the toughest competition:

If I was making the final roster cuts today, the final seven would be: Samuel, Aiyuk, Hurd, Bourne, Taylor, Jennings, Benjamin.

If I had to guess how it actually plays out, I would expect the 49ers to give Pettis one more year: Samuel, Aiyuk, Hurd, Bourne, Taylor, Pettis, Benjamin.

That number is at seven because of the positional flexibility that Hurd provides. I find it hard to believe that Dante Pettis would have a better training camp and preseason than Jauan Jennings; it’s one player seemingly averse to contact in Pettis versus another player who thrives on it in Jennings.

But Kyle Shanahan has shown that he sometimes has trouble parting ways with players he loves, like Tevin Coleman, C.J. Beathard and maybe Pettis. While I think it would probably be the right move, I have trouble believing the 49ers would cut Pettis straight-up. I think they would look to move him first.

As I wrote earlier this offseason, Pettis’ value is probably a sixth-round pick, though I could certainly see a team that’s infatuated with his college tape and attributing his lack of success in 2019 to injuries, to pay more than that. More than likely though, I think Pettis returns a fifth or sixth-rounder.

Brian B. asks via Facebook: Who is more likely to thrive this year. Thomas or Pettis?

Thomas. He’s been healthy all three years and has been decent, not poor. In relation to being drafted third overall, has he been a massive disappointment? Yes. But he lost his sister, Ella, in his second season, and has dealt with a positional shift inside while not receiving starter reps, making it tougher to acclimate. He’s a fairly valuable rotational player, providing EDGE depth if needed, and I think having another season under Kris Kocurek as a mostly 3-technique guy could pay dividends.

This is not to say that Pettis doesn’t have a chance to be successful this season, and it’s not enjoyable to rag on him. By all accounts and in interactions with him, he seems like a very good dude. He clearly has the talent and dealt with more than a handful of injuries last season. But the clock is ticking, and he’ll need to be a far more aggressive player this season; given that it necessitates a shift that’s almost entirely mental, it’s a tough route to improve.

Tom M. asks via Facebook: What will the running back group be next season?

Best guess: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jeff Wilson Jr., JaMycal Hasty

Cut: Jerick McKinnon

Practice squad: Salvon Ahmed

At this point, there’s no financial incentive to cutting Jerick McKinnon, and he’s on his final year, so it’s not like him making the team is unreasonable. The 49ers wanted him for a reason, and when healthy, there’s no question he’s a top-tier back. But he hasn’t played a game in more than two years and I’m not sold he’ll be 100 percent healthy again, no matter how many workout videos I see. If he does make the team, though, I’d expect the 49ers to try and get both Hasty and Ahmed to their practice squad, though I’m not sure Hasty will make it there, and I think it would be a mistake to cut him.

Chris F. asks via Facebook: Will Aiyuk get more early reps at WR or kick returner?

It’s not going to be an either-or scenario. Aiyuk will be the starting split end, or “X” receiver, and Deebo Samuel will start at flanker, or “Z.” What isn’t yet clear is how Kyle Shanahan wants to approach returning duties. With all things equal, both return jobs should be Aiyuk’s job to lose, but could Shanahan, who tries to take a cautious approach in the preseason to avoid injuries, prevent Aiyuk from competing there in order to protect him?

I think that would be a questionable decision, at least on punt returns, given how much value there is in having an elite punt returner, and how Aiyuk proved in college that he is exactly that. He also has the crucial intangible, as his old head coach at Sierra College, Ben Noonan, told KNBR, when asked why he was such a dynamic returner: “He’s fearless.”

I would understand leaving Aiyuk out of kickoff returns, which are generally high-risk, low-reward, in favor of someone like Travis Benjamin, but he should at least get a chance to return punts.

Cole M. asks via Instagram: How confident should the Niners be with their CBs?

This is sort of a tough question given that the 49ers view defense as starting with the defensive line, proving that philosophy during last season, and affirming it through the draft.

They believe, and rightfully so, that great coverage starts with a great pass rush. They doubled down on that thesis by drafting Javon Kinlaw, but made a mistake in my opinion, in not drafting a corner. They had high-upside options available to them in the fifth round in Bryce Hall, Harrison Hand and Kindle Vildor, but they went with Colton McKivitz.

Why? First, because they value positional flexibility on the offense line, and the NFL’s new roster rules allows for you to have an extra offensive lineman active in emergency situations for gameday. If someone goes down, you want a guy who can play multiple positions.

The second reason is that they appear confident in sixth-round corner pick from 2019, Tim Harris, who spent all season on injured reserve.

It’s too early to tell if that was bluster or genuine praise, or somewhere in between, but they should feel confident in the group, at least for this season, given that Emmanuel Moseley was mostly excellent last season, and Ahkello Witherspoon clearly has the potential, but his consistency is lacking.

Still, I would worry about speedy matchups; the 49ers were burned at times against pure speedsters, and I’m not sold they can deal with those types of players consistently, even with their elite pass rush.

As for the corner job opposite Sherman, it should be Moseley’s to lose.

I think their group is fine enough for this year, but it’s next season, when Richard Sherman, Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt and Moseley (restricted free agent) all expire, that they could run into trouble. Drafting a corner this year, and having them learn under Sherman, would have eased that stress substantially. Maybe that guy is Harris.

Bryan A. asks via Instagram: Any chance Aaron Rodgers comes and plays for the Niners?

Rodgers would probably want to come to Santa Clara at this point (a wild statement looking back on the past), and just like Tom Brady, I think the 49ers will do their due diligence in examining whether it’s worth it to pursue him. Here’s the problem: Rodgers is 36 years old and due a cosmically-large sum of money over the next three years. Assuming the scenario is that the 49ers cut Garoppolo (which they can do, for a cost of just $1.4 million in 2021 and $1.4 million in 2022), they’d then trade assets (probably at least a first-rounder) for Rodgers, who would make $36.35 million in 2021 and $39.95 million in 2022, per OverTheCap. He can be cut in 2023, at age 40, for a cost of $2.85 million.

To be clear, the 49ers have very conspicuously left Jimmy Garoppolo’s original contract in place. They could have re-signed DeForest Buckner by restructuring Garoppolo’s deal and trading or cutting Tevin Coleman before the $2 million of his contract guaranteed for this year (and still could), all while maintaining effectively the same cap room as they have now. But that would have complicated the cap going forward and made Garoppolo effectively uncuttable.

Leaving that flexibility open is a smart move, and letting Buckner go for a cheaper option is smart cap maneuvering, even it backfires because Kinlaw’s knees don’t hold up. Garoppolo rumors understandably won’t die unless they extend him, but Rodgers is too expensive, too old, and in decline.

Matt W. asks via Instagram: Is this Jimmy Garoppolo’s last year?

I don’t think so. The 49ers have that option after this season, and would get a 2022 third-round compensatory pick, but I doubt they find someone as capable for a better or comparable price that doesn’t require substantial draft compensation.

Cole K. asks via Instagram: Will Covid-19 impact possible contract restructures/extensions, etc.?

About the cap… and potentially another reason why a Rodgers move doesn’t make sense. The NFL is going to lose a lot of money this season. The cap won’t change this year, but it will next year. I’ll let Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap, an expert in these details, explain what could happen. The full article is here:

“While the topic of cancelled games and their impact on the salaries of NFL players, contract length of NFL player contracts is not defined there is one section of the CBA where they do discuss the potential impact of cancelled games,

“Cancelled Games. If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or AR for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of AR and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that AR for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.”

What that tells me is that one the salary cap for 2020 by no means will be changed and that two the salary cap in 2021 can be changed, significantly, based on how much revenue is lost this season.”

In effect, the NFL has rules in place assuming an event like a pandemic were to take place. They can and will adjust the 2021 salary cap, liking losing between $40 – $85 million.

Given that it’s an unbelievably large amount, the NFL might look into borrowing from future seasons, but could result in expensive veterans being cut well before they normally would.

In summary: yes, the 2021 salary cap is going to be affected, and likely substantially, though we don’t know by how much, yet. Fans in stadiums probably won’t happen, but if fans can go to games in some fashion, it’s hard to imagine the state of California, who have taken a science-based, cautious approach, being on board with fan-filled stadiums like some other states, who have shown a willingness to sacrifice lives in order to re-open their economies.

A season will likely happen, but no one knows yet what it will look like. Money will be lost. Could that play a part in extending someone like George Kittle? Yes.

Elias B. asks via Instagram: Which two players are untouchable?

It’s hard to say anyone is untouchable at this point, but the first, and maybe only name is obviously Nick Bosa. He’s not going anywhere, maybe ever, if the 49ers have their way.

The second might be Kittle. Still, what happens if the 49ers can’t come to an agreement and Kittle decides he wants to leave? Is he still untouchable if someone offers a first and a third for him after he’s requested a trade? I’m not suggesting it will get to that point, but there is a very clear path where Kittle could be moved if the 49ers don’t give him his well-earned cash as their most valuable offensive player. He’s right to ask for wide receiver money, and they should give it to him.

A third name might be Fred Warner. It’s pretty easy to make the argument that he’s the most valuable player on the defense outside of Bosa. Warner is going to be a Pro Bowler next season, and he’s still on a rookie deal paying him less than $1 million per year. The 49ers will have to pony up for him, too, probably in the $8-12 million per year range.

If Javon Kinlaw stays healthy and fulfills his potential, he could probably get there, and Deebo Samuel is probably close to untouchable right now, as is Garoppolo.

Tommy W. asks via Instagram: Do you think the 49ers will add any more depth now that the draft is over with?

Yes. They need another veteran edge rusher. Their current depth is Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Ronald Blair and Kerry Hyder. That’s it, aside from practice squad-type guys. Hyder hasn’t been productive since 2016, Ford has knee tendinitis and played about a fifth of defensive snaps last season and Blair is coming off a torn ACL. That leaves Bosa and Armstead, who will play a lot of three technique. You could also consider Solomon Thomas a five-technique option, but he’s proven he’s not all that capable of playing as an every-down EDGE. They need to sign a capable veteran there.

I would also expect they sign a veteran tight end and a linebacker or two who they expect to cut, but provides bodies for camp. They have nine roster spots left, so they’ll probably fill that out. A decent edge rusher would be a substantial coup.

Guero P. asks via Instagram: Do you think Witherspoon and Thomas get put on the trade block this upcoming season?

Unlikely. There’s not much, if any, depth at corner, unless Jason Verrett somehow has his first healthy season in a half-decade. They won’t trade Witherspoon unless a massive offer comes in, and even then, I think they’d prefer the depth they have over picks. Thomas won’t be moved, either, because it will cost the 49ers about $4.3 million in dead money to trade him, and he provides depth on the defensive line at a few positions. They also might want to keep him on the cheap if he shows flashes this season, given that he’s still just 24.

Markos G. asks via Instagram: How do you think the season is going to be with our division after the draft?

Initially, given the Seahawks’ cap space, I was expecting to rank the NFC West as: Seahawks-49ers-Cardinals-Rams

I think it might currently be: 49ers-Cardinals-Seahawks-Rams, unless the Seahawks sign Everson Griffen. They still have Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator, which confounds the mind, while the Cardinals acquired Deandre Hopkins and Isaiah Simmons, both of whom will have outsized impacts on their sides of the ball. I’m high on Kyler Murray and as gimmicky as the Arizona offense is, it’s an absolute pain in the rear to defend (and to watch).

Either way, I can’t get away from believing that the Rams are the worst team in this division after their hallucinations in believing their lines are fine, though I think they’ll be competitive. I don’t think any NFC West team goes worse than 7-9.

Family Bulldog asks via Instagram: Who are your offensive sleepers for this year?

JaMycal Hasty, Charlie Woerner, Broc Rutter, Jauan Jennings.

Hasty is a perfect speed back with tremendous route running out of the backfield.

Woerner is a blocking-first tight end who can play fullback or H-back. He’s very athletic and a fifth-round pick like George Kittle.

Rutter won Division III’s version of the Heisman trophy, the Gagliardi Trophy. He should beat out C.J. Beathard for a roster spot if he gets a real chance. He passed for 4,591 yards, 56 TD, 5 INT on 71 percent passing while winning a D-III national title last season. His ball placement and pocket awareness are his best qualities and he has the requisite athleticism to run bootlegs. The only issue is that, well, he was a D-III quarterback. Will his skillset translate and will Shanahan let him compete with C.J. Beathard? We’ll soon find out.

Jennings, if he makes the roster, is an insurance policy for Jalen Hurd and could be a freak slot option and red zone nightmare.

I would put Jalen Hurd in this category, but he’s not really a sleeper and a stress fracture for a 6’4″, physical guy worries me.

Kevin asks via Instagram: Would the 49ers explore signing Antonio Brown?

No.

Connor D. asks via Instagram: Could the 49ers still have gotten Brandon Aiyuk at 31? 

Probably not. They seemed very confident that he would have been unavailable at 26, either with the Dolphins or Packers taking him. I don’t think he would have been available at 31.

Charlie P. asks via Facebook: Where can I buy a decent oven thermometer?

For as frequently as I cook whole chickens, I’ve never actually used an oven thermometer. That’s nothing short of a monumental oversight on my part to place such blind faith into my oven. 

According to reviewed.com, the best oven thermometer on the market is the Admetior T803BH Oven Thermometer.

Pros? Easy to read, hangs well on the over rack, visually appealing. Cons? None.

Well, there’s one major con, in that it’s currently unavailable on Amazon and isn’t readily available elsewhere.

So, if you’re mostly about ease of use and visual clarity, consider the Taylor Classic Series Large Dial Oven Thermometer, ranked No. 2 and the best value. 

It’s about $8 on Amazon and is easy to read, though the more precise option is the Rubbermaid. It would seem the entire point of an oven thermometer is to precisely detect temperature, so if you’re not finding that, why bother? My pick is the Rubbermaid, which is about the same price.

Ricky S. asks via Facebook: Do you think its a real possibility Clowney signs with 49ers on a team friendly one year deal to chase a Ring while sticking it too Seahawks?

No. He’s asking for about $17-18 million. Unless it’s a one-year deal and the 49ers decide not to re-sign George Kittle, or Clowney were to drop his asking price to something like $10 million and the 49ers get Kittle to only bump his salary in year one up to like $6 million, there’s no real feasible path for it happening. I tried to talk myself into it at the start of the offseason, but the money and space on the defensive line is not there.

Michael R. asks via Facebook: Is there a reason besides the obvious rivalry or playoff stipulation that we continue to end the season with the Seahawks??

Most teams end with a rivalry game like that. I don’t believe it’s stipulated by the league, but it’s almost always been the case to set up a rivalry game in the division with playoff implications for the final one of the season. This actually evens it with the Rams over the last six years; the 49ers will have finished their season with the Rams and Seahawks three times each over the last six. The last time they finished with the Cardinals was in 2014. That could change if their upward trajectory continues and the Rams continue to look like they’re, well, in trouble.

 

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