The 49ers will host their mandatory minicamp this week, which means a pair of practices will be open to reporters Tuesday and Wednesday.
Let’s get to another edition of our weekly mailbag to preview the minicamp before the team takes six weeks off before the start of training camp in late July. To your questions!
Hector J. Hernandez asks: If Jimmy is healthy all year and doesn’t have a good year, is it already time to find a new QB?
It’s an interesting question given the structure of Garoppolo’s contract. While I’d be shocked to see a different starting quarterback in 2020, the 49ers have designed his deal in a way that allows them to move on after the coming season.
Remember, cap guru Paraag Marathe front-loaded the five-year, $137.5 million agreement by giving Garoppolo a $28 million roster bonus and the largest cap figure in the NFL at $37 million for 2018 . It was logical because the team had the most cap space in the league the previous season – and it made the remaining years of the contract more manageable.
Garoppolo’s base salary for 2019 became fully guaranteed April 1, as will his salary for 2020. But the team could move on with few financial penalties between the end of the season and April 1, 2020. There would be only $4.2 million in dead money and $22.4 million in cap savings.
So it’s possible from a financial perspective. But is it logical from a football standpoint?
It’s hard to envision Garoppolo completely falling on his face in 2019 if he’s fully healthy after his second full offseason in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Shanahan essentially hand-picked Garoppolo and even used some of his Patriots tape to illustrate what he was looking for to his scouts while the team was searching for its franchise quarterback.
Say Garoppolo starts all 16 games this year. That would give him just 24 career starts with the 49ers. Is that a big enough sample size to make such a drastic decision like moving on? Alex Smith made 50 starts from the time he was drafted until 2010, before Jim Harbuagh was hired, who helped him turn into one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL beginning in 2011.
I think it would take a truly disastrous season from Garoppolo (think Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch) for Shanahan to consider moving on after 2019. I think it’s far more likely Garoppolo establishes himself as a top 10-12 quarterback than plays his way off the team next fall.
Zack Van Dyck asks: What is the backup plan if Weston Richburg doesn’t come back healthy or pan out? We paid a pretty penny for him to give us top center play.
The 49ers signed Ben Garland, who played for Shanahan in 2016, to provide depth this offseason and he’s rotated with Mike Person as the first-team center throughout the spring program. Erik Magnuson has been out because of an undisclosed injury. Najee Toran has also received reps at center, though not with the starters.
All seven of Garland’s NFL starts have come the past two seasons, though he’s never started at center. I’d imagine Person would be the expected starter if Richburg can’t go. But the 49ers believing Richburg will be back and healthy after having surgery to repair a knee and quad injury soon after last season ended.
Bob Cook asks: If you had to start the season next week, who would start in the defensive and offensive backfields.
If everyone were healthy (which obviously isn’t the case), I think the secondary would look like this: Jimmie Ward (free safety), Jaquiski Tartt (strong safety), Richard Sherman (left cornerback), Jason Verrett (right cornerback).
But Ward (broken collar bone) and Verrett (torn Achilles) are working their way back and likely won’t be cleared for full-team drills until some point in training camp.
Offensively, I think Jerrick McKinnon was brought in to be the starting halfback. The evidence is in the money. He signed a four-year, $30 million contract while Tevin Coleman inked a two-year deal worth $8.5 million this spring. If McKinnon’s healthy, I think he would get more playing time and touches than Coleman, though Coleman will get the majority of playing time this offseason because he’s one of the only healthy running backs expected to make the 53-man roster at the moment.
The others: Jeff Wilson Jr. and Austin Walter, who both signed as undrafted free agents the past two offseasons, respectively. Three halfbacks expected to have prominent roles haven’t participated in full team drills this offseason: Matt Breida (torn pectoral), Raheem Mostert (fractured arm) and McKinnon (ACL recovery).
Joe Lee asks: What can we expect to see out of the receiving corp at this stage in the offseason? Where will we see Samuel and Hurd line up?
Receivers should play well throughout the spring program. There are no pads, so there’s less for defenders to grab on to – and they can play a touch faster knowing they won’t get hit. Marquise Goodwin has been an excellent offseason player during his two seasons with the 49ers, though we know that doesn’t always translate to success once the regular season starts.
Samuel has been earmarked as the “Z” receiver, which was previously Pierre Garçon’s role, though he could move around as his career progresses. He was productive in the slot in college and has the speed to work as the “X,” which runs deep routes to stretch the defense more often than the other roles.
Hurd is the wild card. The long-term plan is to use him all over the place, which could mean any of the five eligible receiver spots. He could line up out wide, in the slot, at tight end, H-back or even get carries out of the back field. He has the size and athleticism to work just about anywhere.
But a knee injury has kept Hurd from OTAs. We haven’t seen him play since rookie minicamp right after the draft – which is virtually impossible to glean anything from. I share your curiosity.
Will Hurd focus on one role as a rookie and take on other roles as his career progresses? Will he play all over the place in his first season? We likely won’t have a grasp on his role until training camp.