Many 49ers players are spending their six-week summer break away from the Bay Area to travel before training camp begins July 26. Let’s upend the monotony of the slowest portion of the football calendar with another edition of our weekly mailbag.
To your (edited) questions!
Dantye West asks: “Is a trade for Jalen Ramsey possible? He could play cornerback and then move to safety later in his career and be a cornerstone on the defense for a decade. Him and (Richard) Sherman for the next few years would be amazing.”
Sure, anything is possible. But I wouldn’t count on it happening.
Ramsey participated in the mandatory portion of the Jaguars’ offseason program earlier this month and the team shot down rumors of trying to trade him last November. Ramsey has said all the right things this offseason and seems fine with playing out 2019 on his rookie contract while a new deal with Jacksonville could be coming later on.
He’s signed through 2020, his fifth-year option season, and could become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback on his next contract.
Which is where fitting him into the 49ers’ long-term plan becomes problematic. The team gave pass rusher Dee Ford a five-year, $85 million contract just over a year after making Jimmy Garoppolo one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. DeForest Buckner’s next deal is still pending and could cost as much as Ramsey’s. And there’s also tight end George Kittle, who becomes eligible for a new contract after the coming season.
The 49ers currently have just under $31 million in cap space, but a majority of that is likely earmarked for Buckner and Kittle, which would force the team to do some major financial maneuvering to fit Ramsey into the picture. Further, will Sherman still be at peak form in 2020, and would it be worth paying him what he’d be looking for at age 32? It’s hard to picture Sherman and Ramsey pairing for the long haul.
But the Jaguars could get off to a poor start and Ramsey’s relationship with the team could sour. In that scenario, he could spring available at the trade deadline Oct. 29.
Bob Cook asks: “Covering tight ends has been a problem for the Niners for years. What will look different (better) in that regard this year?”
The 49ers allowed 59 catches for 640 yards to opposing tight ends last season. Those numbers ranked four and fifth in the NFL, respectively. The 580 yards in 2017 were the fewest in the league.
The problem for San Francisco hasn’t been covering tight ends, it’s been covering receivers, which is why there was so much talk about cornerbacks and safeties this offseason (after the team worked to solidify the pass rush with Nick Bosa and Ford).
The 49ers allowed an NFL-high 27 touchdowns to receivers in 2018 while 23 teams allowed fewer than 20.
Which leads to the second part of the question. The defense should look dramatically different this season, even if the coaching staff maintains its principles will go unchanged.
The 49ers are going to make their two safeties more interchangeable, which means they’ll mix up their looks rather than predominately having a single-high free safety deep and a strong safety playing like a linebacker near the line of scrimmage. They’ll also have three linebackers off the line of scrimmage in base downs while defensive ends line up further outside in the “Wide 9” alignment.
It remains to be seen how that impacts their coverage of tight ends. But I’d put that behind covering receivers and forcing turnovers on the list of priorities.
Rod Simmons asks: “Is it realistic Tevin Coleman ends up being the guy who can be the 1,000-yard back going forward? He has experience in our offense and a chip on his shoulder with Devonta Freeman being chosen over him in Atlanta.”
I think it’s fair to say Coleman is the favorite to lead 49ers running backs in carries – which could lead to his first 1,000-yard season (he had a career-best 800 yards last season with Atlanta).
But there’s also a chance he doesn’t get the touches to reach that plateau. The 49ers are hoping to keep their running backs healthy by having a deep rotation featuring Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. Remember, we haven’t heard much from McKinnon because he’s been recovering from his ACL tear suffered a week before last season. He’s expected to be cleared at some point during training camp.
And Breida has a chance to establish himself as a viable starter following his promising 2018 when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite constant ankle issues. There’s also Raheem Mostert, who averaged over 8.9 yards per carry over a four-game stretch in October before suffering the fractured arm that ended his season.
Running back looks like San Francisco’s deepest position on offense, which could also make it difficult for one player to emerge. But injuries happen, which could force a heavy workload on to Coleman, McKinnon or Breida.
I don’t think it would surprise anyone to see Coleman put together that type of season now that he’s back in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.