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NN Mailbag: Outlook for Sanders, Panthers’ weapons, impending free agents, trade deadline and more

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Addressing your 49ers comments, questions and concerns before the 49ers’ Week 8 matchup against Carolina.

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are just days away from their seventh game of the season, hoping to extend their 6-0 start to 2019. Visiting at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday will be a rested 4-2 Carolina Panthers coming off their bye week. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad is the favorites in Week 8, as most home teams are, but the Panthers and running back Christian McCaffrey might be the 49ers’ toughest test of the season.

We’ll get into that and more in our weekly mailbag column. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for next week’s mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.

Is WR Emmanuel Sanders just a rental with playoffs in mind, or could the 49ers re-sign him after the season? Marcus

Great question, Marcus. I’d imagine it’s more of the former than the latter. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch realize they’ve built a team that can compete for a Super Bowl, reinforcing the roster’s weakest group before the trade deadline. Sanders is on the last year of his contract, and the 49ers are projected to be backed up against the salary cap limit when you consider possible extensions for DL DeForest Buckner and TE George Kittle. So, despite surrendering a third-round pick and swapping a fourth for a fifth, the 49ers may not be in the market to retain Sanders beyond this year. On the other hand, Shanahan has long admired the veteran wideout’s skillset. If he and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit it off, I could see the 49ers attempting to retain Sanders and the experience he brings to that young group.

What are your thoughts on DL Arik Armstead and the 49ers’ other pending free agents? Nick

The 49ers have a slew of players headed for free agency. At the top of the list is Armstead, who’s having a career year through six games. The former first-round pick has totaled 23 tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble through Week 7. Unfortunately, with a projected $23 million in salary-cap space in 2020, the 49ers also have to find a way to extend both Buckner and Kittle. Armstead may have priced himself out of the equation, but cap guru Paraag Marathe should do everything he can do to retain Armstead and his impact among the 49ers’ elite defensive front so far this season.

Other names headed for some form of free agency include WR Emmanuel Sanders, RB Matt Breida, DB Jimmie Ward, DE Ronald Blair, WR Kendrick Bourne, QB Nick Mullens, and CB Emmanuel Moseley - all impact players for the 49ers.

Outside of RB Christian McCaffrey, who should the 49ers be worried about from the Carolina Panthers on Sunday? 49ers Mode

The Panthers are as well-rounded as any team the 49ers have faced this year. Linebacker Luke Kuechly will be a focus for the 49ers offense. He’s the quarterback of Carolina’s defense and one of the best linebackers in the league. He may be the defender tasked with covering Kittle, something that 49ers would likely consider a mismatch. Rookie pass rusher Brian Burns is having an outstanding season with 4.5 sacks so far. He had minor hand surgery over the bye week but is expected to play against the 49ers. Cornerback James Bradberry is another standout, with three interceptions this season.

On offense, D.J. Moore has been the Panthers’ most successful wideout, with 425 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Curtis Samuel and tight end Greg Olsen are also frequently utilized in the offense and will need to be accounted for by 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. It’s all about stopping McCaffrey, however.

Will LT Joe Staley be cleared to play against the Carolina Panthers? Lee

The 49ers’ veteran tackle returned to practice this week in limited fashion after fracturing his left fibula against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. Staley told me in the locker room after their win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 that he didn’t feel like he could rush back from the injury given the nature of bone fractures. It’s either healed, or it isn’t. Staley’s participation this week is a good sign, but I don’t expect him to play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium. My guess for Staley’s return would be the next game against the Arizona Cardinals on Halloween night. It’s a Thursday night game, and the team will be hitting the road on a short week. Getting Staley back would be a big boost for the offense.

Will the eventual return of tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey help Garoppolo’s ability to throw downfield? Sean

Absolutely, Sean. One way that Shanahan has adapted to the loss of both starting tackles has been creating and calling plays that require Garoppolo to get the ball out quickly to his pass-catchers. It’s hard for a pass rush to get home when the 49ers are throwing the ball before they get a chance to create pressure. The return of both Staley and McGlinchey, as well as the addition of Sanders, should open up the passing offense a great deal.

What’s going on with Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd? How bad are their setbacks? Shaun

Wednesday’s news on Taylor and Hurd wasn’t encouraging.

“Not as much (optimism) as there was earlier,” Shanahan said to the media. “They both had chances to come back earlier. Both of them have had setbacks, which had to start a couple of things over. We haven’t ruled them out, but I’m still hoping for it, but it’s not something we can for sure count on.”

Taylor is attempting to come back off the injured reserve after suffering a broken foot late in training camp. Hurd, the 49ers third-round pick this year, suffered a strain in his back against the Dallas Cowboys during the preseason and is yet to recover fully. The 49ers likely don’t feel as pressed to rush the two back after trading for veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but it’s a disappointing development nonetheless. Taylor was the 49ers’ most targeted wideout throughout camp, and Hurd shows off a promising skillset during his two-touchdown game against the Cowboys. It’s unclear if, or when, either will return to the active roster.

Are there any other positions the 49ers should address before the trade deadline? Zack

Their trade for Sanders is likely the only acquisition for the 49ers before the deadline. If there were another position to target, however, I’d point towards the offensive line. The 49ers are already utilizing backup tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill while Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey work their way back from injury. The 49ers could use some additional depth throughout the interior, with Ben Garland and Sam Young rounding out the backups. The team traded a 2019 fifth-round pick to pull Laken Tomlinson away from the Detroit Lions in 2017. That’s worked out very well for the 49ers. Perhaps there’s a similar trade available.

What’s the right asking price for QB Nick Mullens? Blake

The 49ers should be in no hurry to trade Mullens. He’s a quality backup, and with how the defense is playing, one that the 49ers could win with should Jimmy Garoppolo miss any time this season. Knock on wood. I wouldn’t accept less than a third-round pick for Mullens, especially when you consider some of the shaky quarterback situations throughout the league. The trade deadline is Tuesday, October 29th, at 1 p.m. PST. Could the 49ers deal Mullens before then? It’s certainly possible, although I’d bet on the team holding on to their backup as they make their playoff run.

How many Pro Bowlers do you think the 49ers earn this season? 5049ers

The 49ers’ roster is in the spotlight this year in the midst of their undefeated run. If I had to take a guess right now who earns a Pro Bowl nod after the season, I’d go with: DL Nick Bosa, TE George Kittle, FB Kyle Juszczyk, and CB Richard Sherman. Others in the mix include Armstead, Buckner, and Breida. Unfortunately, all of the above will likely turn down their invitation while they prepare for the Super Bowl, amiright?

If you lined up against Eric Crocker, how many reps would it take for you to get a reception? Doug

In case you’re unaware, Eric, my co-host on the Striking Gold podcast, is a former NFL defensive back. It’d be far too disrespectful to pretend like a middle school receivers coach with a blazing five-second 40 would have any sort of success against Crocker. It doesn’t work like that. I’d give myself a 1/5 chance on any given route, at best. I’d get one eventually, though, and Eric wouldn’t be able to live it down.

What part of Modern Warfare are you most excited about other than spending quality time with me? Evan

Yours truly also plays video games. Probably a bit too much. I frequent the Call of Duty franchise, with Modern Warfare just releasing on Thursday. I’m always most excited about the opportunity to play with friends, like Evan. So if I’m not on Twitter, I’m probably slugging it out on the online battlefield with former 49ers safety Adrian Colbert. If you ever feel like chopping it up, find me on Xbox at LT Simple Jack. Don’t worry, Modern Warfare is cross-compatible, so if you’re one of those PS4 people, we can still get down. You can also check me out on Twitch from time to time at LTSimpleJack.