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49ers are high on Cole Hikutini as a developmental option

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The 49ers gave the Louisville tight end a sizable guarantee after a hard push at the end of the 2017 NFL draft.

The San Francisco 49ers have not formally announced their undrafted free agent signings, but one player it is clear they are high on is Louisville tight end Cole Hikutini. An initial report had them giving him a $10,000 signing bonus and $10,000 in salary guaranteed. It turns out it was significantly more than that.

MMQB’s Peter King wrote a great column on Monday about his time embedded in the 49ers draft room. He followed that up on Wednesday with a few nuggets that did not make his initial piece. Among them? The 49ers gave Hikutini a $10,000 signing bonus and a $100,000 base salary guarantee.

The Hikutini portion of his article is interesting in detailing how much the 49ers wanted him. After the 49ers last pick (No. 229), the team was on the phone with UDFAs. Tight ends coach Jon Embree had the initial pitch to Hikutini. VP of player personnel Adam Peters had his own pitch as well for Hikutini and his agent. After the draft ended, Embree made at least four more calls, Kyle Shanahan made two calls, John Lynch made a call, and Adam Peters remained in contact. King reported that the New Orleans Saints were in the mix as well, and so the 49ers made the big move on the salary guarantee.

Teams are allowed a maximum of $98,000 in signing bonus money for UDFAs. In recent years, teams have turned to larger and larger base salary guarantees to land notable UDFAs. Giving Hikutini $110,000 in guaranteed money is just under the full year’s salary on the practice squad. The $100,000 in base salary guarantee would be offset by his practice squad salary if he does not make the 53-man roster.

Hikutini suffered a knee injury at the Citrus Bowl, and when he ran a 4.85 40 at his Pro Day, it sank his draft stock. He was not viewed as a high end draft pick, but a faster 40 would have likely gotten him selected on day three.

Hikutini started his career at FCS Sacramento State, but transferred to San Francisco City College in hopes of moving up to an FBS-level program. He landed at Louisville, and after 19 receptions for 348 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, he led the Cardinals with 50 receptions (668 yards) and eight touchdowns in 2016. He spent his high school career playing wide receiver, and appears to be more of a move tight end than blocking tight end.

The 49ers tight end depth chart is lengthy, but nobody is guaranteed much of anything at this point. We’ve already heard about the team trying to trade Vance McDonald. They drafted George Kittle this past weekend, and an overhaul at the position seems to be underway.