It was an eventful weekend for the 49ers in Tampa, Fla., for all the wrong reasons. Let’s do some unpacking following the release of Reuben Foster with another edition of our Tuesday mailbag:
Peter Moreira asks: Have the Niners changed their scouting/drafting team, or are they doing things differently with regards to the draft? Is there any reason to think the outcome in 2019 will be better than 2017?
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch largely kept the scouting department from the previous regime intact. It’s worth noting scouts aren’t decision makers. They write reports on prospects and present the information to coaches and the personnel department. Their job is to gather information and allow those above their pay grade to determine the path of the roster.
From there, Shanahan and Lynch ultimately have final say based on hours of breaking down game film and their personal evaluations of each player off the field, as well. Personnel executives Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew also are critical here.
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The 49ers would argue the jury is still out on players in the 2017 class. The team was hit with unexpected circumstances this year - mainly losing Jimmy Garoppolo to his knee injury - and the brass isn’t basing its entire judgment on this season alone. Remember, a number of the rookies played well last year during the Garoppolo-led winning streak before falling short of expectations for most of 2018. That could flip again in 2019.
That’s not to say all players will be given a pass. The 49ers should absolutely take a hard look at cornerback this offseason after Ahkello Witherspoon’s lackluster sophomore campaign. They’ll clearly be in the market for another linebacker following the Foster debacle. And Solomon Thomas has not been the game-changing pass rusher the team so desperately needs.
Will 2019 be different? It’s too early to say. But it’s hard to imagine them screwing up the No. 1 overall pick with Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa staring them in the face.
49ers mode asks: Where does LB jump to in terms of priorities on draft day, given the weekend’s events? Surely not as high as Edge/secondary, right?
I’d imagine the 49ers will take the same approach as last season, which was targeting a linebacker in the early or middle rounds (they tapped Fred Warner early in Round 3). There won’t be a linebacker in the equation with their first pick, which likely falls within the top three. I’d expect there to be consideration in Rounds 2, 3 and 4.
The 49ers could keep Malcolm Smith, though he hasn’t shown much since signing his $26.5-million contract in 2017. They like Elijah Lee. They were interested in him before the 2017 draft. He went to the Vikings in Round 7, and the 49ers plucked him off Minnesota’s practice squad. Veteran Brock Coyle will be back after suffering his season-ending shoulder injury in the opener. Coyle signed a three-year extension through 2020 in March.
That’s not to say Smith, Lee or Coyle are long-term answers. The 49ers are shaping up to have depth at the position next to Warner. But I would expect them to make a significant addition in either the draft or free agency.
To your point, no, adding another linebacker should not take priority over addressing the pass rush or secondary. Those are far more important positions in today’s pass-happy NFL. There are many good linebackers that weren’t first-round draft picks.
Jake Kucheck asks: Will we see more Dante Pettis down the home stretch, even if Garcon and Goodwin are back? Pettis and Breida were the only skill players that appeared to be explosive against the Bucs.
Yes. The 49ers traded up in Round 2 for Pettis, which was the earliest they drafted a receiver since (gulp) A.J. Jenkins was taken in the first round in 2012. They envision Pettis being a long-term starter, which means they’ll need him to continue developing as a rookie to help in 2019 and beyond.
I’d imagine Garçon would have been inclined to play against the Giants and Buccaneers had the 49ers been in the playoff hunt. But he could end up on the free-agent market next spring as a cap casualty, which would make it important for him to remain healthy if he wants to land another contract in 2019. No point in risking a serious knee injury for a team contending for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
It will be important for Pettis to get as many reps as possible after a knee injury derailed the first half of his rookie season. Remember, Pettis was one of San Francisco’s most impressive offensive players during training camp (albeit catching passes from Garoppolo). He’s one of the team’s most skilled route runners and is tough to jam off the line of scrimmage, which was evident in his touchdown catch Sunday when he badly beat a Bucs cornerback on a slant.
It’s unknown whether Goodwin will be back this week while he deals with a personal issue, which means Pettis should get plenty of practice reps again before Sunday’s game.
Jimmyboy81 asks: Should C.J. Mosley be the No. 1 (free-agent) target?
That’s a good name, and the exact type of free agent the 49ers should target with their gobs of cap space (they’re expected to have more than $68 million in 2019, eighth in the league, per Overthecap.com). But it doesn’t sound like the Ravens will let Mosley go.
He’s one of the best players with one of the league’s better defenses. He would be a reasonable franchise-tag candidate if they don’t come to an agreement on a long-term contract. But he won’t be the only free-agent linebacker out there.
The class could include possible fits for San Francisco, such as K.J. Wright (Seahawks), Jordan Hicks (Eagles), Denzel Perryman (Chargers), Cory Littleton (Rams) and Avery Williamson (Jets).
William Clements asks: Do the Yorks have to face facts with Lynch’s player evaluations and replace him?
The last thing the 49ers want to do is make another franchise-altering firing. Part of their dysfunction in recent seasons was their severe lack of continuity. One thing they like about Lynch is his harmonious relationship with Shanahan.
Speaking of Shanahan, it would likely be his decision to fire Lynch more than the Yorks. It was Shanahan, after all, who hand-picked Lynch to be his general manager in 2017. And while Shanahan will never say it, he’s viewed as above Lynch on the franchise hierarchy.
Which is another way of saying any criticism of Lynch is a criticism of Shanahan, who wanted to draft Foster just as much as Lynch.
Remember, Shanahan has just as much say, if not more than, Lynch when it comes to identifying players in the draft and free agency. Lynch’s job as a general manager is very much what he sounds like. His duties are about executing what Shanahan wants and making sure key players in the organization like Peters and Mayhew are doing the same.