The NFL world was stunned when it woke up Saturday morning to learn the Raiders traded 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.
Turns out, Chicago beat the 49ers to the punch with an offer that included two first-round picks over the next two NFL drafts.
Improving the pass rush has been an emphasis for San Francisco, and general manager John Lynch wasn’t afraid to admit he threw a hat into the ring for Mack late this week when it became apparent the Raiders were willing to deal.
“We would have been foolish not to,” Lynch said in a conference call Saturday. “The guy’s a spectacular player.”
The 49ers’ new regime has prioritized building through the draft and being selective when it comes to doling out lucrative contracts, even with a glut of salary cap space. The team has $44.8 million in room in 2018 and could have $70 million rolling into 2019, according to Overthecap.com.
Mack was a Raiders holdout this offseason, hoping to land a new long-term contract akin to the deal the Rams just gave star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who inked a six-year, $135 million pact this week.
Mack was entering the fifth year of his rookie contract slated to pay $13.8 million fully guaranteed. But new Raiders coach Jon Gruden chose a collection of picks over giving Mack a quarterback-like contract after Derek Carr signed a $125 million deal in 2017.
ESPN reported Saturday Mack agreed to a six-year, $141 million contract, which trumps the $137.5 million pact quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed with San Francisco in February. Still, Lynch made overtures about trading for Mack, knowing it would take a huge contract to keep him long term.
“We’ve always said, we’re going to exhaust every option to improve our team,” Lynch said. “And so we did. We went in aggressively, but also knowing that we had to set some parameters.”
Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan trimmed the offseason roster to 53 players ahead of Saturday’s 1 p.m. deadline. One of the most notable releases was pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, who was brought in on a minimal one-year contract when the team declined to bring back 2017 sack leader Elvis Dumervil, who announced his retirement Thursday.
Attaochu was a 2014 second-round pick of the Chargers who fell out of favor with Los Angeles after the team added star talent Joey Bosa to pair with Melvin Ingram. The 49ers were enticed with Attaochu’s athleticism and promise after logging six sacks in his second season. But injuries throughout training camp prevented Attaochu from hitting his stride.
“It’s a tough deal,” Lynch said. “We brought him in here, we wanted to throw a number of options at people in terms of our pass rush. We’ve had an emphasis on maximizing whatever we have on pass rush, via personnel, via coaching additions, via scheme. All those things. Jerry was a guy we were excited (about). Unfortunately, due to some injuries during camp, we just didn’t get that many opportunities to correctly evaluate him. And as we go into the regular season, dependability in terms of knowing when a guy’s going to be out there is really important.”
The 49ers had 30 sacks last season, tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL, while ranking 30th in allowing opponents to convert 43 percent of third downs. The club surprisingly elected not to draft an edge defender in the spring — and it sent three edge defenders packing in recent weeks, starting with the trade of Eli Harold to Detroit, releasing Attaochu on Saturday and waiving 2017 sixth-round pick Pita Taumoepenu, who the team hopes lands on the practice squad Sunday.
For now, San Francisco’s pass rushing plans on the edge include Cassius Marsh, Dekoda Watson and Mark Nzeocha. But it’s reasonable to expect DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair and Jullian Taylor to also get time rushing along the outside.
Cooper cut — The 49ers released guard Jonathan Cooper, who was slow to assert himself in training camp after offseason surgery to repair a torn MCL, adding to his long list of injuries. Cooper played 60 snaps in the preseason finale at left guard, which was a strong indication he was removed from the battle to start on the right side.
Mike Person remains the favorite to start at right guard while Joshua Garnett has closed the gap following his two week absence early in camp with a knee contusion. The 49ers kept reserve lineman Erik Magnuson on the final roster despite suffering a hamstring strain in the second preseason game. Magnuson is a candidate for injured reserve, Shanahan said Saturday, though he could play any of the five offensive line positions when healthy, including tackle, where he started two games in 2017.
Receiver outlook — The 49ers, as expected, kept six receivers: Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James. Special-teams standout Aaron Burbridge didn’t make the cut after tweaking a hamstring late last month.
“That was one of our toughest decisions there. We have a very deep group at wide receiver,” Shanahan said. “So Burbridge was a tough one. For him to make it just on special teams alone, you definitely can do that on a roster. But we got a lot of good special teams players and we got a lot of guys that can help.”
With Burbridge out, the 49ers’ most-likely candidates to play gunner opposite Raheem Mostert are rookies Tarvarius Moore and D.J. Reed. The team released veteran receiver Aldrick Robinson on Thursday.
Another 2017 draft cut — A day after the new regime waived Joe Williams, making him the first draftee of the last two seasons to get released, the team let go of Taumoepenu, a sixth-round pick in 2017. The Utah alum didn’t play on defense as a rookie and struggled to distinguish himself throughout the preseason.
“We would really love to keep Pita,” said Shanahan. “I’m really hoping that he’s back here tomorrow on our practice squad.”