The 2018 season is now firmly in the rear-view mirror for the 49ers as the NFL post-season nears the Conference Championships. The major areas of focus moving forward for coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are the Senior Bowl next week, the Combine in February, the start of free agency on March 13th, and the NFL Draft on April 25th.
The latter two are also the primary focus for this week’s offseason mailbag. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for our next mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.
“Percent chance the 49ers actually trade for Antonio Brown?” Jeffrey Walizer Jr.
Our last mailbag hit all the details behind the possibility of the 49ers trading for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. The first thing I mentioned then, and still maintain, is the odds are thin that the trade actually happens with any team. Players of Brown’s caliber rarely hit the open market. They’re just too good to let go. If he is made available, there’s 30 other teams that will be interested in Brown. His flirting with the 49ers won’t matter if another team makes a better offer for the polarizing playmaker. Right now, I’d say the 49ers’ chances of landing Brown reside at about 15%.
“Besides Antonio Brown, who should the 49ers trade for?” Tony’s Username
The other common name along with Brown is Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The fifth-overall pick in 2016 hasn’t hid his frustrations amid the Jaguars’ steep falloff from a deep playoff run in 2017 to finishing 5-11 in ‘18. There’s no questioning the 49ers’ need for another perimeter playmaker opposite veteran Richard Sherman. With the No. 2 pick, the 49ers could make a strong offer for Ramsey, perhaps including a swap with the Jaguars at seventh-overall. With another year on his rookie contract and the fifth-year option, Ramsey is an ideal trade target for San Francisco.
“What do you think the single biggest difference is between the 49ers’ current roster and the four teams that are still alive?” 49ers Mode
The most significant contrast between the 49ers and the four teams competing for NFL Conference Championships? A quarterback. San Francisco lost franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The team was forced to deploy backup C.J. Beathard and third-stringer Nick Mullens for the remainder of the season. In addition to Garoppolo, the team also lost lead running back Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL before the season. Those two losses alone drastically altered Shanahan’s offensive capability for the season.
“Who are the free agents that the 49ers will target most (assuming availability)?” Gabbard 2020
The vast majority of the marquee free agents headed for free agency seem destined to remain with their current team. Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence, Houston Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford, all exactly what the 49ers need on defense, will likely receive a new contract or the franchise tag from their current team. Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas will be routinely paired with San Francisco throughout the offseason, especially with Sherman lobbying his former teammate. Among the other names to watch are Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, Philadelphia Eagles Brandon Graham, and Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby.
“Do the 49ers look for a linebacker in free agency or at the front end of the draft?” Jose
There’s some intriguing linebackers slated for free agency. Seahawks’ K.J. Wright, Baltimore Ravens’ C.J. Moseley, New Yorks Jets’ Avery Williamson and Eagles’ Jordan Hicks would all be significant upgrades for the 49ers’ defense. With only five picks in the draft and nearly $70 million in salary cap space, San Francisco will likely look toward the free agent market to fill most of the roster voids. If they look toward to the draft, the first name that will be on any big board is LSU linebacker Devin White — a likely Top 10 pick in April. He’d be an option worth exploring if the 49ers trade back from pick No. 2.
“Do you think Colbert gets another shot, or will the 49ers look for another starter at single high safety?” Danny G
Colbert looked like a diamond in the rough at the close of 2017 and earned a started role heading into this past season. Unfortunately, the former seventh-round pick regressed significantly in 2018 before a Week 7 high ankle sprain landed him on injured reserve. Colbert’s 31.7 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked him 91st among safeties this season. He’ll likely be given another shot as the starter, but a backup role seems likely as the 49ers look to upgrade at free safety this offseason.
“If Solomon Thomas doesn’t perform to expectations next year, do we cut our losses and move him to a 3-4 defense or ride out the contract and ghost him?” Jason Arbuthnot
There’s no denying that Thomas has performed well below expectations over his first two seasons. The 49ers’ third-overall pick in 2017 only managed 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and one sack in 2018. His rookie contract, most of which is guaranteed, lasts through the 2020 season. It’s doubtful the 49ers move on from Thomas before then. I also don’t see the 49ers altering their defensive scheme in any way to mask Thomas’ deficiencies. The hope is for Thomas to earn more snaps along the interior of the defensive line to better showcase the skills he put on display at Stanford.
“With the overhaul of the strength and conditioning staff, will this cause any issues with the multiple players undergoing rehab?” J. Patel
This is definitely one of those questions that falls outside of my realm of anything resembling expertise, so until I can ask those in the know, I’ll give you my thoughts nonetheless. Head athletic trainer Jeff “Ferg” Ferguson and strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright were both fired after 41 players spent time on injured reserve over the last two seasons. It’s my understanding that most (if not all) of the strength and conditioning staff is being turned over with these departures. I am less certain about the training staff, but it’s safe to say the 49ers are not going to put a player’s successful recovery at risk. We can all rest easy knowing Garoppolo should remain on track for a return in 2019.
“Who goes or both stay between C.J. Beathard & Nick Mullens?” CJ Niners
The 49ers will likely hold on to both C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens through the offseason while Garoppolo recovers from his torn ACL. There’s a strong chance Shanahan elects to enter into the season with all three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. While Mullens has the clear edge in the competition to backup Garoppolo, I could see Shanahan giving Beathard a third season after making him a third-round pick just two seasons ago.
“Why did the 49ers only get one compensatory pick and not more?” Patricia Alegria
Compensatory picks are based on an NFL formula that accounts for the number of players signed in free agency versus those that hit the open market and are signed by another team. It also takes into account the players’ contract and their impact on their new team. It’s all sort of mysterious, but the NFL only hands out 32 compensatory picks. The 49ers only received one sixth-rounder for linebacker Aaron Lynch, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Chicago Bears before the season. Leon Hall and Logan Paulsen were the two departures that did not get cancelled out, but they fall outside that 32-pick limit — based on projections.