Pierre Garçon was coming off a 1,000-yard season with Washington when the 49ers signed him in 2017 to add a veteran presence to coach Kyle Shanahan’s new-look receiving corps.
But now, Garçon apparently is on his way out after two uninspiring campaigns hampered by injuries and a lack of production.
The NFL Network reported this week the 49ers were not going to pick up the option on Garçon’s contract for 2019 after making just 64 catches for 786 yards in the past two seasons while missing 16 combined games due to neck and knee injuries. Garçon posted on Instagram on Thursday, appearing to confirm the report with a picture of a help wanted sign in a window captioned: “When one door closes 2 open up #HappyValentinesDay2Me.”
The move could create $5.9 million in salary-cap savings if Garçon’s release is given a post-June 1 designation, according to Overthecap.com, as the team continues to cut costs ahead of free agency following the release of nose tackle Earl Mitchell and reserve tackle Garry Gilliam this month. Garçon’s roughly $8.3-million cap hit was the third-highest among the team’s offensive players behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and veteran left tackle Joe Staley.
The 49ers are nearing $70 million in cap space, currently seventh-most in the NFL, and are expected to be aggressive in adding talent in Year 3 of Shanahan’s tenure.
But moving on from Garçon also means losing an established player and creating a vacancy atop the depth chart.
Second-year pro and former undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne led San Francisco’s wideouts with 42 catches for 487 yards last season while spending the majority of time in Garçon’s “Z” position. Rookie second-round pick Dante Pettis showed promise but managed just 27 catches following a knee injury in Week 4 that limited him to 12 games.
Marquise Goodwin was unable to replicate his promising 2017 season and finished with 23 receptions for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Pettis was given playing time at Goodwin’s “X” position late in the season even when Goodwin was healthy.
Suffice to say, adding high-end talent to the receiving corps should have been a priority whether or not Garçon was brought back. With his apparent release, finding another capable receiver should vault to the top of the priority list for Shanahan’s offense, particularly if the team wants to compete with the high-powered Rams for the NFC West crown next fall.
Fortunately for San Francisco, there are options, albeit some costly ones, in the forms of draft capital and contracts.
Antonio Brown’s name remains atop the headlines. The latest: He’s expected to meet with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II per NFL Media, following his trade demand this week — and has been linked to San Francisco via his own social media posts and through Jerry Rice.
There’s been no indication the 49ers are interested in trading for Brown, or that the Steelers would be willing to absorb some $21 million in dead cap dollars to send him elsewhere. The remaining three years on his contract would be palatable to the 49ers, with cap figures of $15.1, $11.3 and $12.5 million. But it also remains to be seen if Brown would want to go back to the negotiating table for another big payday as he approaches the back end of his career.
Then there’s Odell Beckham Jr., whom The Athletic’s Jay Glazer predicted would get traded this offseason after Beckham agreed to a five-year, $95 million contract with some $65 million in guarantees last August. Beckham, 26, is a younger option than Brown, who turns 31 in July, but also a more expensive one. He’ll average $18.6 million over the remaining five years of his contract — and likely cost the 49ers a package that includes a first-round draft pick in a trade (if he’s made available).
Perhaps more likely — and far cheaper — would be to add to the position through the draft. The best avenue might be with the 36th overall selection in the second round, where players such as A.J. Brown (Mississippi), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina), Riley Ridley (Georgia) and N’Keal Harry (Arizona State) seem like possible Day 1 starters that could be available.