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49ers open locker room session takeaways: Ward says the Niners’ have the upper hand in free agency

Armstead said he’s not opposed to being tagged

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers held an open media session in their locker room Wednesday morning. Everyone was on hand, except Richard Sherman, who the team said left after a team meeting. Some don’t see a point in these “exit interviews,” but it gives us a chance to get the final thoughts on players. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as the Kansas City Chiefs held their Super Bowl parade at the same time.

Let’s start with running back Jerrick McKinnon, who has yet to play a regular-season snap for the 49ers. McKinnon said that the team hasn’t told him what’s next, but, “I’m willing to do whatever... The organization knows I want to be a part of this team, so when that time comes, there will be a talk between both parties.” McKinnon’s cap number, the next two seasons are $8.5 million and $9.2 million, which is why he’s a popular candidate to be cut. Perhaps the 49ers will release him and sign McKinnon again? I’d be surprised if he’s on the roster come training camp.

Two critical free agents

Edge rusher Arik Armstead said that he doesn’t mind if the 49ers placed the franchise tag on him. To give you an idea of how much that would cost, the average cost to franchise tag an edge rusher was $17.1 million. Here was Armstead on the topic:

“I would love being here. Trying to go back to the Super Bowl, so however, that is seen or has to get done, it’s not really my decision what they want to do with me.”

Armstead said he would wait to see if the Niners go in the direction of a tag before figuring out how he’d operate from there. Armstead was pretty clear that whatever decision is made, this offseason isn’t entirely on him. Armstead is from northern California and also made it clear there is no team he would rather be a part of. Armstead played the majority of the snaps on the edge, so that’s what he’d hypothetically be tagged as. I wouldn’t sleep on a possible tag and trade scenario.

Emmanuel Sanders had a quote that I will let you judge for yourself:

“I’ve watched the Super Bowl at least five or six times. It’s like watching ‘The Titanic.’ You hope the ship doesn’t sink. For some reason, the ship just keeps sinking. I go back and watch it again, and you hope that all the plays that we left out there and the possible opportunities that we could’ve come out victorious. But we didn’t, and that’s the reality.”

That’s rough. If it’s hard for us to rewatch the game, I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to watch the game again if it’s your job. Five or six times? Never. Sanders said, “I enjoyed this season. I love the Niners organization, so we’re going to see what’s to happen. At some point, obviously, I got to switch my mind and think about what’s to come and see what could happen. But as of right now, I’m just a couple of days away from losing the Super Bowl.”

Ideally, the 49ers bring Sanders back on a team-friendly deal. It’ll be difficult to do that as he’s expected to have plenty of suitors that will be able to offer more than the Niners. Add in that San Francisco will have Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor back, I’d lean more toward Sanders playing elsewhere next season. Not that I want that, because he’s such a good wideout.

Sanders spoke highly of the leadership at the top:

“We’re different. This team is different. This organization is different,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t start with the players. It starts with the general manager. From head coach. Those guys are special guys. They’re going to get a group of guys around here. They’re going to win a long time around here.

“I know Niner Faithful is upset about the Super Bowl loss. The people who are controlling the reins of this organization, even from the owners, they’re going to win a long time around here.”

The vibe from everyone that spoke was the strong desire to keep this team together in 2020. Speaking of, Jimmie Ward said that the 49ers have the upper hand as a preferred landing spot next season. I sat down with Ward last week and asked him how important is it for you, especially with the success you’ve had this season, to stay around and be with your guys? Ward said:

“It’s very important. I’d love to stay around and play with my high school teammate Jaquiski Tartt. At the end of the day, business is business. I don’t know where I’m going to end up at or how this is going to play out. Hopefully, it’s with the San Francisco 49ers. If not, I really appreciate the opportunity.”

Come back. Please.

Contract extensions

DeForest Buckner said he hadn’t given much thought to his extension, just focused on getting better next year and fatherhood. The Buckner’s are expecting a child in April. “I’ve got to put together a nursery.”

George Kittle answered the same, but with a different spin. “My agent will handle all those questions. He’s in charge of that, so if you guys want to talk to him, you’re more than welcome to.” Kittle was playing with a torn labrum, but he won’t need any surgery this offseason. “Just rehab, get the body back to 100%, that’s it. Kittle held his interview standing in front of Jimmy Garoppolo’s locker.


Garoppolo returned the favor by holding his interview in front of Kittle’s locker. Garoppolo went 3-11 during the fourth quarter. When asked about his Super Bowl reflections, Garoppolo said, “Didn’t make enough plays when we had opportunities. It was tough to watch. But it is what it is. Got to appreciate the good things from this season.”

Jimmy G isn’t running from the criticism he’s received:

“It’s one of those things that you’ve got to own it, got to be a man and attack it right down the middle, right in the face. There were a lot of good memories from this year, this team, the players, coaches. It was a great group to be around. I enjoyed every minute of it. Terrible ending. Just have to take the good with the bad.”

Garoppolo was asked if there are plays that are running through his head still from the Super Bowl:

“No doubt. That’s something you’ve got to move on from. It sucks. Obviously, some throws I wish I had back, some throws I made differently. The one to ‘E,’ just missing him, putting a little too much on it. But you’ve got to be a man; you have to own up to those things. Some things I’d rather have back. But this whole year, it’s been incredible.”

Finally, on the 2020 expectations for this team:

“It’ll be hard to get back here, but looking around the room, looking at all the guys, we have the pieces for it, and the guys who have the right mindset for it. That’s the encouraging part. Most guys feel just about the same way the past couple days.”