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NN Mailbag: Nick Mulllens’ contract, pass rush options, Earl Thomas and more

Addressing your 49ers comments, questions and concerns before Sunday’s Week 16 matchup against the Bears at Levi’s Stadium.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s only two games left for the San Francisco 49ers and their 2018 season. Kyle Shanahan’s team is riding their first win streak of the season after topping the Denver Broncos in Week 15 and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in overtime. Now the 49ers face their stiffest test of the group, hosting the playoff-bound Chicago Bears at Levi’s Stadium for the last of three consecutive home games.

We’re back with this week’s mailbag before the 49ers’ Week 16 matchup. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for next week’s mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.

“As it pertains to Mullens’ contract can you please explain what it means being an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA)? How would this affect Mullens’ timeline of being a Niner, being tendered and possibly being traded?” Jon Justus

Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap had this to say on Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

I’m not even sure why these players are called free. These are the players with 2 or less seasons in the league, a status reserved almost solely for undrafted rookie type players. Once tendered they can only negotiate with their former team. The tender offer is only a one year non-guaranteed contract at the minimum salary level so most teams would use the ERFA designation on players who were on the roster late in the prior year and signed to a 1 year deal. Usually these offers are signed as soon as they are made since nothing is gained by waiting.

Mullens belongs to the 49ers. He's signed through the 2019 season at a minimum cap number of $570K, and will be an ERFA after 2019. If he is signed for 2020, he would be a restricted free agent in spring 2021. As an RFA, the 49ers could place a first round tender, second round tender, or original round tender. If he signed a tender then, he would become an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2022.

This would making him very appealing for any team interested in making an offer to the 49ers. Any team that acquired Mullens would have him on the cheap for at least a season to evaluate him in their own system. It’s doubtful the 49ers move on from Mullens, though, especially while Garoppolo recovers from his torn ACL. Pending an offer too good to turn down, Mullens should be on the roster in 2019 competing for the backup role along with C.J. Beathard.

“How should the 49ers address the lack of not having a pure pass rusher in the offseason? Who should they target in free agency/draft?” Valentin Garcia

The 49ers’ lack of an edge rusher is likely the team’s No. 1 priority heading into the offseason. Luckily, general manager John Lynch will have a handful of options available to him in both the draft and free agency. Here’s a list of the top pass rushers scheduled to hit the free agency. Many of them will be retained by their former team with either a new deal or the franchise tag:

Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks
Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
Trey Flowers, New England Patriots
Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs
DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

For options in the NFL Draft, we’ll move on to our next question...

“With Nick Bosa likely being out of we take the next pass rusher available wherever we land or Greedy Williams if available?” Benjamin

The 49ers’ pass rush options in the draft depend on where they pick and who’s on the board. LSU cornerback Greedy Williams is certainly a good option at a position of need that is widely ranked in the Top 5-10 on most draft boards. If Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Kentucky’s Josh Allen are available, it’s a pretty easy choice. After that, if a pass rusher is still the target, the 49ers would be wise to seek a trade partner to avoid reaching. Here are the edge rushers that fall within Matt Miller’s Top 50:

No. 1 overall: Nick Bosa, Ohio State
No. 3: Josh Allen, Kentucky
No. 14: Brian Burns, Florida State
No. 17: Jachai Polite, Florida
No. 18: Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
No. 21: Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

“What you think about Earl Thomas in 49ers?” Yuri Silva

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas should be near the top of the 49ers’ priority list for pending free agents. The free safety position is crucial in coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme, which is nearly identical to Seattle’s. The 49ers should employ Richard Sherman as ambassador to Thomas in the hopes that the veteran cornerback can lure his former teammate to San Francisco. Thomas, in the last year of his contract, began the offseason with an unsuccessful holdout in hopes for a new deal. Four games into the season, Thomas broke his leg and his season was over. It’s safe to say there’s no love lost between he and the Seahawks. Joining the 49ers may be Thomas’ best avenue if he wishes to say thank you twice a year for the next few seasons.

“Who are the targets the 49ers should go after in free agency? (I like Anthony Barr, Earl Thomas, Brandon Graham)” Michael Darmofalski

Michael presents some solid options that would all prove immediate upgrades on the 49ers’ roster that still has a handful of needs at crucial positions. The 49ers are projected to have nearly $70 million in salary cap space before any additional roster cuts. First, re-sign kicker Robbie Gould. Then the 49ers should take a look at this list of free agents that would all have a significant role on the team:

S Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
LB Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs
WR Tyrell Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
CB Rashaan Melvin, Oakland Raiders
DE Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
LB Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings

“FS/SS/NCB battle in 2019? Who you got?” J Book

Free safety, strong safety and nickel cornerback are positions on the 49ers’ defense that will likely feature competition for the starting spot in the offseason. It’s difficult to know how those will play out without any free agent additions or draft selections accounted for, but for now I’ll choose players on the roster most likely to start in 2019:

Free safety: Jaquiski Tartt over Adrian Colbert
Strong safety: Marcell Harris over Jaquiski Tartt
Nickel cornerback: D.J. Reed Jr. over K’Waun Williams

“What are your thoughts on going CB in the draft (say Greedy Williams) and splashing on a pass rusher like Dee Ford or Frank Clark in FA?” Simon A

Selecting a cornerback in the first round and targeting a premier pass rusher in free agency would do wonders for the roster. LSU cornerback Greedy Williams is considered the draft’s top option while Kansas City’s Dee Ford is among free agency’s best pass rushers. It’s still unclear if the Chiefs will allow Ford to hit the open market. Seahawks’ Frank Clark has put together an outstanding season, and while his reputation off the field isn’t sterling, he’d still be a significant upgrade for the 49ers.

“Since we will more than likely address the pass rush in the draft, what WR do you think the 49ers throw their money towards in free agency? Watching some of the plays can’t help but wonder if we had a bigger more physical WR?” Kristi Cruz

There’s a good chance the 49ers address both the pass rush and receiving corps in both the draft and free agency. 2019’s crop of free agent receivers isn’t all that inspiring but there’s still some intriguing options to explore. Los Angeles Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams (26) is worth exploring. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver has totaled 38 receptions for 614 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2018, and that’s within a group consisting of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Philadelphia EaglesJordan Matthews, Cleveland Brown’s Rashard Higgins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Adam Humpries are some other under-the-radar names to keep an eye on.

“Out of the second year players who have struggled, which one has the best chance to rebound?” Zman

Is there any other choice than Solomon Thomas? The 49ers’ second-year defensive lineman has struggled to establish himself as the impact player you would expect from the third-overall pick. Thomas hasn’t struggled as much as he has failed to stand out, playing under the shadow of the two first-round defensive lineman that came before him, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. Thomas has totaled 23 tackles, three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a sack this season. He’s steadily improving though, which brings us to our last question of the day...

“By the eye test, Solly Thomas had a solid game and arguably his best. Do the advanced stats back that up?” Holmgrown NFL

Thomas earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 73.8 against the Seahawks on Sunday, the second-best grade on the 49ers’ defense. His run grade of 71.9 ranked fifth, and his pass rush grade of 64.5 ranked fourth. While he did pressure Wilson twice, a lot of Thomas’ success on Sunday didn’t show up on stat sheet, which is why I’ll leave you with the great Brian Baldinger to show you Thomas’ impact against the Seahawks like only he can: