Don’t look now, but the 49ers are riding their first winning streak of the season ahead of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. They improved to 4-10 with their overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks and dropped from having the No. 1 to No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft.
But things should change after taking on Chicago and the Los Angeles Rams in the season finale. Let’s get to the Week 16 edition of our mailbag:
Young Simba asks: Could you see a possibility of the Niners taking Jachai Polite if he has a great combine and (Nick) Bosa & (Josh) Allen are gone?
And, MCD1228 asks: I guess we are moving on to Josh Allen from Kentucky?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
There’s no doubt the 49ers will take a long look at all the edge players atop the draft, particularly if Bosa is off the board.
Allen, Polite, Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Montez Sweat (Mississippi State), Rashan Gary (Michigan), Brian Burns (Florida State), Zach Allen (Boston College) and Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) will be evaluated. That process is underway. The team’s regional scouts returned to Santa Clara earlier this month to submit their reports on college prospects.
However, the 49ers should avoid pigeonholing themselves with an edge rusher. They have needs at linebacker, in the secondary and at receiver. Drafting the best possible player is always the smartest way to go. The caveat: Adding talent and depth at edge rusher has to be a mandate in this class. That’s why marrying needs with value is always a difficult balance to strike.
All nine of those edge rushers could be drafted in the first round, which means the 49ers could presumably trade into any portion of the round and still land a player they could use.
That’s another way of saying they should be active on the trade market to move back from their top-five pick or move up from their choice in Round 2, like they did in 2017 when they landed Reuben Foster. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see San Francisco draft multiple edge rushers, perhaps with their first two picks, after only adding one (Pita Taumoepenu, a 2017 sixth-round pick) in their first two draft classes.
To answer the questions more directly: Yes, Allen and Polite are possibilities. But so are the other edge rushers in a big group of first-round prospects. It’s a good year for the 49ers in that sense.
Jon Addison Dale asks: Whatever happened to Joshua Garnett?
The 2016 first-round pick overtook Erik Magnuson for the top backup guard spot.
Garnett has suited up for the past two games after having thumb surgery in November. He seemingly overtook Magnuson in time for the Raiders game Nov. 1 but had surgery the morning after.
Though Garnett hasn’t gotten any offensive snaps, moving ahead of Magnuson is a sign the coaching staff is willing to throw him into the fold should Mike Person, Laken Tomlinson or center Weston Richburg get hurt (Person is Richburg’s backup at center).
But it’s doubtful Garnett’s promotion is tied directly to his future with the team. Garnett will still have to prove his durability and fit in the offense in the offseason if he’s going to return in 2019.
We do know it’s highly unlikely the team picks up his fifth-year option for 2020, which would pay him a starter’s salary. The deadline to make that decision is in early May. The team declined to do it last year with Tomlinson before signing him to a three-year, $16.5 million extension in June.
Bob Cook asks: Will a first-round CB be a better pick than what’s available in free agency?
I think so. There don’t appear to be top-flight corners scheduled for free agency who fit the scheme. And, the 49ers remain optimistic about back-to-back third-round draft picks Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore.
San Francisco is notoriously selective when it comes to free agency and doesn’t typically dole out top dollar like the market dictates. Draft picks are much more valuable because draftees are cost controlled for their first four seasons (or five, in the case of first-round picks).
That’s also why trading for someone like Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey seems unlikely. The 49ers would have to part with at least one high draft pick for the chance to give Ramsey a massive extension (some $15 million per season) at some point over the next two seasons.
There isn’t a more scheme-specific skill set on defense than at cornerback. Corners are required to be tall, long and have to slow receivers at the line of scrimmage. LSU’s Greedy Williams seems to fit that profile and might be a good value for the 49ers in the top five.
The free-agent market could change if players currently under contract are let go for salary-cap purposes, like Richard Sherman was last offseason.
Mike Oestererich asks: With Jimmy G coming off an injury and the way (Nick) Mullens is playing , any chance of an open competition next spring or is it Jimmy’s job to lose?
No. Mullens is only playing to be Garoppolo’s backup.
Garoppolo didn’t get a $137.5 million contract to lose his job to an undrafted rookie because of an injury. Mullens has played well, but we’re incredibly far off from Garoppolo’s status getting seriously questioned like that from anyone inside the organization.
Jay Hall asks: With Mullens’ contract up at the end of the 2019 season, will he be offered an extension or will you hear out trade offers?
I’m not an NFL general manager, but I would steer clear of trading anything valuable for Mullens unless Kyle Shanahan - or a coach running the same scheme - came with him.
That’s not to take away anything from what Mullens has done, but his success is tied directly to Shanahan, evident by the fact he entered last week throwing to open targets more than any other quarterback in the NFL. He’s also benefiting from huge yards-after-the-catch numbers, which can also be tied to the scheme.
There’s no knowing what Mullens would look like in a different system. A big reason he’s been so successful is his knowledge and fit in the one created by Shanahan.
But quarterbacks are the hottest commodity in the league, and it only takes one other team to consider making such a trade. The 49ers won’t slam the door on the idea if they get a good-enough offer.
“You’re open to anything possible that improves your team,” Shanahan said Monday. “That’s not just backups. Anything you have an obligation to do whatever you think is right to give your organization the best chance to win. I think backups are extremely valuable, not just at the quarterback position, but everywhere. Usually, you have to win with backups and you hope to stay healthy all of the time, but very rarely does that happen. Backups can be the difference in a season.”
An extension for Mullens wouldn’t be surprising. But would Mullens be eager to sign it knowing Garoppolo is here for the long haul? If Mullens wanted to bet on himself, he could refrain from signing and throw his hat into the free-agent ring in 2020. If the 49ers anticipated that happening, then maybe they would consider trading him.
However, with Garoppolo hurt and not expected to return to practice until May or June, the 49ers are going to need Mullens and C.J. Beathard around to run the offense in the offseason. I’d guess Beathard is the more likely trade candidate.