Did you sign a big-money deal with the 49ers recently? Are you a former first-round draft pick?
Yeah, so what?
That’s the message the team’s incoming regime appears to be sending early on. That is, just because you were a favorite of former general manager Trent Baalke doesn’t mean you’ll have a similar standing with us.
Joshua Garnett, for example, was a first-round pick a year ago who started 11 games at right guard. When last week’s OTA practice began, however, newcomer Brandon Fusco mostly was playing right guard with the first-team unit. Garnett, whom Pro Football Focus ranked 70th out of 72 guards last year, mostly was playing on the left side with the second team.
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Kyle Shanahan said the team currently was in its mix-and-match phase as far as the offensive line goes. He noted that Garnett played left guard at Stanford and coaches are wondering if that’s his best spot.
“We know he’s going to play guard for us,” Shanahan said. “We’re trying to see what he’s better at, left guard or right guard, based on our five that are going to end up being out there.”
Players who recently signed hefty free-agent deals or contract extensions also have no special status. In fact, it can be argued that those types of deals have put a bull’s-eye on players.
Receiver Torrey Smith, who signed the biggest free-agent deal of the Baalke era, was released in March. The 49ers recently acknowledged trying to trade tight end Vance McDonald, who signed a contract extension in December.
Team officials denied a report they were shopping linebacker NaVorro Bowman as well. Bowman signed a large contract extension last summer, which was odd considering he still had three years left on his current deal at the time.
Coaches have said that Bowman will have to compete for his starting role, though as long as he remains healthy he appears secure as the starter at middle linebacker.
Meanwhile, the two-year extension weak-side linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong signed in December – it has base salaries of $1 million the next two seasons – doesn’t exactly break the bank.
But after the team signed Malcolm Smith to a big free-agent contract and used a first-round pick on Reuben Foster, Armstrong has gone from probable starter to perhaps third string at weak-side linebacker.
All of which begs the question: Why did the 49ers allow a general manager who was on shaky footing in 2016, decidedly so in December, to extend the contracts of certain players?
At the time, the 49ers had scads of salary-cap space with no obvious candidates for contract extensions. They felt they had to spend their surplus somewhere and were so bereft of talent – especially at linebacker and in the passing game – they figured that anyone who took over would appreciate the moves.
Six months later, however, none of the maneuvers seem that wise.