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49ers 90-in-90: OG Jonathan Cooper

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today is offensive guard, Jonathan Cooper.

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2013 NFL Draft Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

One of the main issues dogging the 49ers last year was the questionable effectiveness of the offensive line. Left tackle has been, and should be for the foreseeable future, anchored by stalwart and ever-reliable Joe Staley. The 2018 offseason brought an upgrade at center in Weston Richburg, and (what should be) an upgrade at right tackle in rookie Mike McGlinchey. However, both guard spots remain glaring question marks. Despite having three former first-round options at the position, there are no clear-cut starters as of yet.

The trio of Joshua Garnett, Laken Tomlinson, and Jonathan Cooper is a talented, but wholly underperforming group. Tomlinson was a late addition to the 49ers roster in 2017, who signed shortly before the season opener (which he missed), but went on to start nearly 95% of the overall offensive snaps for the team. PFF gave him a grade of 70.7 for the 2017 season, which registers as perfectly average — in fact, he was ranked the No. 32 guard in the league. He’s good enough to start, but nothing special.

Garnett spent the entirety of 2017 on IR following a knee surgery, taking steps to change his body so that he might become a more effective zone lineman. As of late March, he had dropped from his normal playing weight of 325 down to 302. Garnett is the definition of a question mark in the upcoming positional battle.

This brings us to Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall draft pick in 2013. Praised for his athleticism and experience, Cooper was expected by many to be productive as an instant starter. However, due to repeated injuries and inconsistency, he has only started 27 games over 5 years, and is now with his fifth team. He spent 2017 with the formidable Dallas Cowboys offensive line, playing nearly 80 percent of their offensive snaps, but was rated as “below average” with a grade of 67.0 by PFF.

Basic Info

Age: 28
Experience: 5 accrued season
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 311 pounds

Cap Status

On March 20th, 2018, he signed a one year deal with the 49ers worth up to $4,950,000. He received a signing bonus of $2,000,000, has roster and workout bonuses of $475,000 each, and a 2018 base salary of $2,000,000. Until further notice, he will be a free agent at the conclusion of the 2018 season. If the 49ers cut him, they will carry $4 million in dead money (his base salary and signing bonus are guaranteed).

Why he might improve in 2018

If he can stay healthy, Cooper has an excellent opportunity to take advantage of his athleticism in Kyle Shanahan’s zone system. His explosiveness and ability to reach the second level are traits that are at a premium in this system, and his underwhelming strength can be largely covered up by not requiring him to engage specifically in power-type running plays. He brings much more to the table in terms of run blocking than pass blocking, but has a quarterback with a quick release to help reduce the impact of his shortcomings in the passing game.

Why he might regress in 2018

Having bounced from team to team, and receiving below average grades in his healthiest of seasons, regression is effectively synonymous with “lack of improvement” for the 28 year old. Based on a prior lack of production, the expectations aren’t particularly high — continuing to underperform could spell the end of Cooper’s career.

Odds of making the roster

Barring a catastrophic meltdown, Cooper should be strong bubble with a bullet (read: near-lock). He’s in a three-way battle for two spots with two other former first-rounders, both of whom lack the athleticism that he possesses, and one who spent all of last year off the field. I hate to get caught using the sunk-cost fallacy, but 40 percent of his one year deal has already been paid out (a $2,000,000 signing bonus), which makes cutting him something of a lose-lose. Even if he fails to secure either starting guard spot, his salary puts him near the very bottom of “starting guard” money, making him a slightly-overpaid, but valuable, veteran backup.