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NN Mailbag: Antonio Brown galore, NFL Draft, free agency, trade scenarios and more

Addressing your 49ers comments, questions and concerns following San Francisco’s 2018 season.

San Francisco 49ers v Pittsburgh Steelers

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up the 2018 season on Sunday with a 48-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The players cleaned out their lockers on Monday with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch meeting with the media one final time before the offseason.

We’re back with this week’s mailbag following the 49ers’ final game of the season. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for our next mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.

Note: The next three mailbag questions are all regarding Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Between conflicts with teammates including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Week 17 benching, trade request rumors and flirtatious behavior with 49ers on social media, it’s easy to see why fans are up in arms about the possibility of a deal sending Brown to San Francisco.

“What would it take to get Antonio Brown? And is it even a possibility?” NinerGuy77

First and foremost, the odds of a Brown trade occurring are very slim. Players of that magnitude aren’t usually sent packing, even if that means a healthy amount of damage control within the Steelers’ locker room. Contractually, the Steelers would take on over $21 million in dead money if they released or traded Brown before June 1st, so a trade shouldn’t be expected until the summer, when that number drops to $7 million. But let’s talk specifics as if things progressed to that point between the 49ers and Steelers.

With nearly $70 million in salary cap space, the 49ers wouldn’t have an issue absorbing the three years left on Brown’s five-year, $68 million contract. He’s due $21.1 million in 2019, $18.3 in 2020 and $19.5 in 2021. With the rise in salary cap and contracts, Brown’s deal could be viewed as affordable within the next two seasons.

Compensation would be more complicated...

“Pros/cons of having Antonio Brown on our team? And if the cost of a potential trade would be worth it?” Sam Neustrom

The cost of acquiring Brown would be steep. Since his contract doesn’t essentially become tradeable until June, the 49ers likely would be dealing future picks for Brown. A scenario in which the team’s 2018 picks, including the 49ers’ second-overall, is unlikely given the dead money Pittsburgh would incur in the trade.

If this year’s picks somehow became a part of the deal, Lynch could aim for a pick swap, acquiring Brown and Pittsburgh’s pick at 20 in exchange for No. 2. Giving up second-overall outright may be considered too steep a price for the 49ers. Another hypothetical option could be offering the Steelers pick No. 36 this year and a first-round pick in 2020.

The pros of acquiring Brown are abundant. For starters, he caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards in 2018. His 15 touchdowns are both a career- and NFL-best in 2018. He’d provide the 49ers with the scoring threat they desperately need. Shanahan’s offense and receiving corps would be immediately infused with elite talent capable of commanding the respect of NFL defenses.

Coupled with the healthy return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ offense could enter into the realm of what Shanahan created as offensive coordinator of the Falcons, scoring the seventh-most points in league history along with quarterback Matt Ryan and star wideout Julio Jones.

There are some cons to consider. Would Brown’s clashes with the Steelers locker room manifest themselves within a 49ers locker room that has quickly built a tight-knit rapport? Would Brown’s age (31 by the start of the 2019 season) begin to manifest itself on the field? Are these negatives enough to persuade the 49ers to steer clear? Probably not.

“How many touchdowns will Antonio Brown have for the 49ers in the super bowl next year?” Cody Butler

During Shanahan’s final season in Atlanta, Jones reeled in 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. He added another 19 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns during the team’s Super Bowl run. I would expect Brown to have similar success in the 49ers’ offense, especially with tight end George Kittle drawing equal attention from opposing defensive coordinators.

“Do you think it’s worth it to offer Jacksonville a swap of firsts and we get Jalen Ramsey?” Dietrich Riley

Similar to Brown, the relationship between cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the Jacksonville Jaguars seems to be eroding. He’ll be one of the marquee names rumored to be on the trade market throughout the offseason.

Ramsey is among the league’s best defenders. Swapping pick No. 2 for the Jaguars’ seventh would be a no-brainer for Lynch and the 49ers’ front office. It likely wouldn’t be enough to land Ramsey, though. He still has one year left on his rookie contract and a fifth-year option. The 49ers would have to throw in additional picks or a player to make it worthwhile for the Jaguars.

“Who would you like 49ers to take with the 2nd pick in the draft? My personally, I would love if 49ers take Josh Allen from Kentucky.” Robert Herrera

If former Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa goes first-overall to the Arizona Cardinals, which is expected for now, Kentucky’s Josh Allen seems like the next-best option for the 49ers. He put on a show during the Citrus Bowl against Penn State, racking up three sacks and a blocked field goal. Allen said after the game that if he didn’t go first overall, he didn’t know who would.

Allen’s final season at Kentucky consisted of 88 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, a whopping 17 sacks and five forced fumbles. His draft stock has never been higher. He’ll have a chance to boost it further when he participates in the Senior Bowl later this month, with the 49ers coaching the South roster and the Oakland Raiders coaching the North.

“How well does Josh Allen fit in the 49ers defense and who is a good comparison for him who has played in this scheme?” Adam Wright

Allen’s fit in the 49ers’ defense would likely fall between a mix of two positions. He’d play as the SAM linebacker during base defenses, mostly keeping outside contain on obvious run plays. In sub-packages, used on roughly two-thirds of snaps, Allen would be rushing from the edge of the 49ers’ defensive front, pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He’d be an ideal compliment to Buckner, who excels within the interior.

A comparison within the 49ers’ scheme would be former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril.

“With an early eye toward the draft, how low could the team reasonably trade down in the 1st and still land an immediate starter at a position of need?” Stuart Wexler

The 49ers’ positions of need prior to free agency reside mostly on defense. A pass rusher, free safety and cornerback seem like the roster’s biggest deficiencies. For now, we’ll focus on pass rusher and how far the 49ers could trade back in the first-round of the draft and still land an impact talent. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report recently released a first-round mock draft with six edge defenders going in the first round:

No. 1 overall: Nick Bosa, Ohio State
No. 2: Josh Allen, Kentucky
No. 5: Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
No. 12: Jachai Polite, Florida
No. 16: Brian Burns, Florida State
No. 24: Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

The 49ers could conceivably trade back into the late-teens or early-twenties and still land a pass rusher that would likely be an immediate starter. With only five picks in this year’s draft, Lynch will undoubtedly field trade calls for the No. 2 pick in order to bolster their draft capital in both 2019 and 2020.

“With all the injuries, will we have a new strength/training staff?” Marlon Reed Jr.

The 49ers have struggled with injuries over the past two seasons under strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright. After placing 20 players on injured reserve in 2017, the 49ers finished 2018 with 14, to include quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon. Lynch and Shanahan were asked on Monday if the injuries were an indictment of the 49ers’ training staff.

“It’s been too big of a deal for two years,” Shanahan said. “Injuries are pretty random, but it’s also affected us huge. So, that’s something that we definitely have to sit back and really look at it from all angles and put a lot of time into. Just try to find a better perspective at it.”

That isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for the 49ers’ training staff and it seems like changes could be coming during the offseason.

“Do we really need an edge rusher or should we just play DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead at their natural positions?” Jason

An edge rusher, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead aren’t mutually exclusive. The pair of 49ers defensive lineman have played their natural positions throughout the season. Both have rotated between the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line or at defensive end depending on the formation. An edge rusher would compliment the pair of former first-round picks and provide the 49ers with some much needed pass rush off the edge.

“Do you think DeVante Parker will be top 3 targeted WR to sign in FA, assuming he’s cut by MIA? Thanks, Rob.” Alan Chee

DeVante Parker’s career with the Miami Dolphins has largely been viewed as a disappointment. The former first-round pick hasn't put together the career you would've expected from a Top 15 pick and the third receiver taken in 2015. With an unimpressive crop of free agent receivers, it isn't unbelievable that Parker is among the highest paid if the Dolphins do indeed part ways. On the other hand, injuries have been an issue for Parker during his four-year career, which may keep his interests to a one-year “prove it” deal that doesn’t leave any team on the hook for a significant contract.

“Do you think Mike Person will return? And with the good news about Laken Tomlinson, how do you think the front office handles Josh Garnett?” Stuart Wexler

Signed in the offseason, starting right guard Mike Person has been a solid contributor for the 49ers’ offensive line. His 67.2 grade from Pro Football ranks Person 16th among all guards. For the sake of continuity, signing Person to a new contract should be a priority for the 49ers. He’s a capable starter that could be used as a quality backup if necessary.

Josh Garnett has another year on his rookie contract, but he’s still far from a guaranteed to be on the team next season. His two years under Lynch and Shanahan have been marred by injury, costing him a starting spot in the offseason and the opportunity to prove his worth on the 49ers’ offensive line. Offseason additions could mean the end of Garnett’s tenure with San Francisco, especially if he isn’t healthy enough to compete.

“What possible free agent edge rushers do you see the 49ers seriously taking a shot at?” Ray Histo

The crop of pass rushers expected to hit free agency includes some intriguing names. Detroit Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah, Seattle Seahawks’ Frank Clark, Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, New England Patriots’ Trey Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs’ Dee Ford and Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence are all headed for the open market. Most will be retained by their current team, either with a new contract or the franchise tag. I would expect the 49ers to make a serious run at any of the above if they hit free agency.

“In a trade down scenario, who are some players on QB needy teams that make sense for the 49ers to consider?” J

There are several quarterback-needy teams that pick within the Top 10 of the 2019 draft. The Cardinals, 49ers, New York Jets and Raiders make up the first four picks, and while none of them need a quarterback, teams still may look to trade up into the top four in order to prevent another team from doing the same. The New York Giants (pick No. 6), Jaguars (7), and Broncos (10) all need new signal callers and would keep the 49ers within reach of premier talent.

“How will our D-Line look the upcoming season? We have so much depth with sophomores like Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street, D.J. Jones.” Eternal

The 49ers’ defensive line is easily the deepest position group on the roster. If I had to take a very, very early guess at who makes the final 53-man roster for 2019, I’d go with the following: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor and Kentavius Street.

“Do you think the Niners will be aggressive in the trade market?” Anthony

Absolutely. Lynch and Shanahan have shown a willingness to trade in their two years at the helm. Between landing Garoppolo and making a serious run at Khalil Mack, I would expect the 49ers to do their due diligence on any players that either believe can positively impact the roster. Unfortunately, owning only five picks in this year’s draft could limit the activity for the 49ers, unless they’re willing to include future selections or current players as additional compensation.