Category: Football

Maybe Niners Punt on QB, Wait in the Weeds for 2018

One of the more interesting suggestions for the 49ers dealing with their quarterback vacuum for 2017 comes from Akash Anavarathan at NinerNoise.  He suggests that the Niners pick up a veteran as a short-term placeholder, get the best available QB in the second round of the draft, and wait for next year to look for a franchise quarterback.

As a strategy, it doesn’t sound too bad. If you go into a deal with someone like, say, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub or Josh McCown,  with both parties clear that it’s a short term deal with managed expectations, that might be a tenable solution. With all of the talent gaps the team faces in 2017, the likelihood of anything resembling a break-even season is really remote. This clearly is a longer rebuilding project.

Ravens QB Matt Schaub

Out of that crop of three veteran QBs, my vote goes to Schaub. Hoyer has the best stats of all three (QB rating last year of 91.4, career 84.8) and he’s the youngest, at 31, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t be interested in a deal with the Niners that didn’t give him long-term potential. McCown is just a mediocre QB with a career QB rating of just 78.2 (anything below mid-80s is pretty poor). He’s only had one good season, in 2013, and since then he’s rattled around and performed poorly.

Schaub, on the other hand, is not quite over the hill at 36 (though he’s approaching it fast), he has a decent career QB rating of 89.1 and although he’s fallen off the last season or two, he still has the tools and stamina to put together one more decent season.

So, the reasoning goes, why rush it? Why trade high draft picks this year for a replacement quarterback who is not likely to be a long-term solution?

Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes

But you can’t go into the season with one quarterback. We need at least two. Which is where the second-round draft choice option comes into play. Anavarathan suggests that in the second round, the  team pickup Patrick Mahomes out of  Texas Tech. That’s a bit of a risk, on at least two levels. First, there are no guarantees he’ll be around in the second round — his college stats are astounding and although he’s not in the top 10 quarterback options in the minds of most scouts, on paper at least he looks quite good, particularly in comparison with those who rank higher but seem less ready. Second, he’s difficult to forecast as an NFL quarterback because of the system he plays under at Texas Tech.

If they go with the veteran interim solution as the starter and nurture Mahomes as his backup, and assuming good coaching to support the rookie, that might get us through 2017. Frankly, I’d feel a lot better with a third quarterback but that may be a luxury the Niners can’t afford this year.

What, then, about the need for a franchise quarterback sometime in the near future? Anavarathan points out that there are a number of really sterling candidates in the class of 2018. Two of them are practicing their art right now in the state of California. Specifically, he recommends keeping a close eye on Sam Darnold, a redshirt sophomore at USC, who’s heading into his second season as the regular starter, and UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen.  Overall, the 2018 draft looks far more promising than this year’s crop of slightly above average quarterbacks.

There is one flaw in this overall strategy. For it to work, the Niners almost have to try to have a losing season so they can get a high enough first round draft pick to have a shot at one of these hot new quarterbacks in that draft. But “trying to lose” is never a good strategy and often results in clear injuries. To say nothing of how it makes the fans feel.

What none of us wants to see is for newly minted GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan to blow any high draft picks on a mediocre pickup. As I’ve said many times, the Niners’ talent needs this year are so extensive that they should just be looking to pick up the best athletes they can because finding a place for them on the field won’t be difficult.

This is a real challenge for Lynch, who’s never held a front office position in his career. It will be very telling in terms of his viability as a long-term solution at the GM spot.

 

Bills’ QB Taylor Could Be a Decent Niners’ Choice…If He’s Released

There is some speculation today that the 49ers are interested in pursuing a possible deal with Buffalo Bills’ QB Tyrod Taylor, assuming the Bills decide to release him. His release is hardly a foregone conclusion and some of the speculation is probably being fueled by Taylor’s agent in an effort to put him in a better bargaining position for this, his final option year with Buffalo.

Taylor is 29 and has seven seasons of NFL experience. He was a full-time starter the last two years. While his numbers showed a slight dropoff in 2016 compared to 2015, they were still respectable (61.7 completion percentage for 3,023 yards with 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions). His career passer rating is 92,3.

The Bills are on the hook for $30.5 million for Taylor this year as part of the six-year contract extension he signed before the 2016 campaign.

Other teams will undoubtedly perk up their ears at his availability if it happens, which NBC Sports reports is somewhat likely.

Bye-Bye, Colin

The ink was hardly dry on last night’s post in which I agonized over the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback vacuum before the option I suggested went up in smoke. Several unconfirmed reports this morning indicate that veteran QB Colin Kaepernick has decided to opt out of the final year of his current deal with the Niners and give free agency a try. With several teams looking for a QB solution, I don’t see Kaep lasting very long on the market.

For the record, you can count this as the second quarterback 49ers’ owner Jed York has all but ruined with his ego producing constant coaching changes.

Anyway, this may call for a change in the strategy I recommended yesterday for the new front office team of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. In the absence of any quarterback on the roster who is clearly a capable NFL quality player (sorry, Blaine Gabbert), the Niners are going to be forced to trade for an available player or pick up a free agent. (Of course, they could still land Kaepernick if free agency is a bust for him; I just don’t think that’s likely.)

As expected, the Redskins named Kirk Cousins their franchise guy. This means, according to Wikipedia, “[The] player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.” According to preliminary figures released by the NFL, a quarterback with the exclusive franchise tag would command a salary of not less than $19,953,000. In essence, then, the Niners would have to offer Cousins a better deal after getting the Redskins’ approval to talk to him.

I’m not Cousins’ biggest fan and I’m not sure he’s the best QB available by trade or free agency. Take a look at this table that tracks all NFL free agents.

LA Rams Backup QB Case Keenum

As of right now, Cousins is the only franchise-tagged player (so his name isn’t in that list because, technically, he’s not a free agent.) I studied this table for some time before deciding that I would champion the cause of Case Keenum of the Los Angeles (Again?) Rams. Keenum has proven value as a starter; last season he started nine of the Rams’ games before being benched for rookie draftee Jared Goff and compiled a record of 61% completions for 2,201 yards, nine TDs and 11 INTs. His passer rating was an unimpressive 60.9 but he showed flashes of brilliance at times, like the 2015 loss to Tampa Bay in which he recorded a Rams record near-“perfect game”, racking up a 158.0 passer rating by going 14 for 17 for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Better yet, his 2016 salary with the Rams was just north of $3 million. This makes him a bargain even if the Niners have to pay him in the neighborhood of $10 million. At 29 and with three years of reasonably solid NFL experience under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the regular starting role, Keenum has a breakout 2017 season, living up to the potential he had coming out of college in Houston where he became the NCAA’s all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns, and completions.

Of the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) available, he’s easily the best of the crop given age, experience, salary and other conditions.

 

How Should the Niners Fill the QB Vacuum?

Ever since the San Francisco 49ers “solved” their head-coaching and front office problems by hiring Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, respectively, the entire Niner Nation has been focused like a laser on how to solve the “Quarterback Problem.”

But let’s face it, folks, we don’t have a quarterback “problem”, we have a quarterback vacuum.

As of this moment, the team has exactly zero quarterbacks on the likely roster of players to start the 2017 season. And that may be just as well. The only legitimate QB on the roster is Colin Kaepernick, who is widely believed to be looking to cut loose from the team before the season begins.

So how should the team go about filling this vacuum?

There are only three ways to get a quarterback in the National Football League. You can trade with another team, pick up a free agent, or select a college graduate in the annual draft. (The other way, of course, is to keep one you already have, but that seems a little unrealistic at the moment; but don’t close that door just yet.)

As you can imagine, the Niners, who hold a number two pick in the first round and have a significant amount of room under the salary cap, are seen as a team with many options for filling this vacuum. Unfortunately, the stars are aligned against them in all three of those places where they might find a franchise signal-caller.

Let’s start with trade and/or free agency.

Patriots QB Jimmy Garapollo

The Niners have been frequently linked with the fortunes of New England Patriots’ backup quarterback Jimmy Garapollo. The third-year man out of Eastern Illinois was a late second-round pick by the Patriots in 2014. Since then, he has appeared in very few games and has run up a quarterback rating of 106.3, which is nothing to brag about. On top of that, there is an old adage in the NFL: the best way to come out ahead in a deal with Patriots’ head coach Bill Bellichick is never to do a deal with Bill Bellichick. Word on the street is that the Pats want a first-round pick for the guy. If the Pats are ready to release him as a backup to an aging (but apparently ageless) Tom Brady, there may be something more to him than meets the eye. The last thing the Niners need now is a quarterback project.

The other possibly tempting trade bait out there is the Washington Redskins’ Kirk Cousins. The team may have put the kibosh on that deal today when they slapped cousins Cousins with the dreaded “franchise” tag for the second year in a row. That makes it more expensive than need be for a team to pick him up, and for a guy with a career passer rating of 93.6, that would be too high a price.

Redskins QB Kirk Cousins

There are two other possible NFL quarterbacks the Niners could be interested in for the short term: Matt Schaub of the Atlanta Falcons, and Jay Cutler of the Bears. The problem with Schaub is his age (35) and in the recent fall off in his productivity caused by making appearances in very few games. Cutler is at the end of his career as well, playing this year at the age of 33, and is clearly not worth any high draft picks or other good talent, of which the Niners have almost none anyway.

What about the college draft?

So if the current crop of available NFL quarterbacks is that sparse, the Niners need to look to the draft as a possible source. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst years for quarterbacks in the college draft that I can recall seeing. Probably the top-ranked college quarterback is Mitch Trubinsky out of Clemson. His stats look really good, but he’s only played one full season as a starter and that came in a spread offense where he always took snaps from the shotgun. That will give any quarterback great accuracy statistics. Not one single NFL scout that I’m aware of has him as a top 10 prospect, and for the Niners to waste their their number 2 pick would be a bad financial decision. Particularly with some really special defensive talent up for grabs at a time when the Niners need help there as well.

So, what to do?

SF QB Colin Kaepernick

Still, the Niners do need a quarterback. With the slim pickings in both trade bait and free agency, and a poor field of draft choices, I think the Niners only have one choice. They must find a way to convince Kaepernick to stay with the team, even if it’s on some sweetheart deal that only gives them one or two years with the club and sets him up for life. I know that’s not a popular idea. I know that Colin has already indicated strongly that he’s not interested in staying, but I also know his value on the open market is pretty low, not only because of the drop-off in his performance but also because of his unpopular political views. He could destabilize a locker room pretty fast.

Then I think the Niners should look to using their second round pick for a long-term backup solution by finding someone who has the potential to be a top-flight NFL quarterback with some work. The two guys who seem most likely in that capacity are Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech and Reuben Foster of Alabama.

As of this evening, there are rumors that the Niners could go with Foster as their first-round pick, but I think that would be ill-advised unless they know they’ve got Kaepernick locked in as the kid’s mentor.

So there you have my current thinking on the question. The vacuum must be filled, obviously. If Colin is a non-starter, the Niners are pretty well screwed in 2017 because they won’t have a quarterback on whom they can build a long-term franchise, let alone one ready to step in and win this year. That’s probably okay, because none of the fans expect the team to be a winner again for 2 to 4 years.

Can you say “long rebuild”, boys and girls?

 

Niners’ Lynch’s First Hire Gives Me Hope

When the 49ers announced they’d hired rookie front-office guy John Lynch as their new general manager recently, I took a jaundiced view. The team, I said, is about to enter a rebuilding period that will likely last 3-5 seasons. What they needed in the front office was a guy with some real football savvy, particularly when it comes to evaluating talent. Lynch has no track record in that department at all, so I said I didn’t believe his hiring was a good move, particularly since Jed York, the Niners’ owner, gave the guy a six-year deal.

Now Lynch may have begun proving me — and many other equally skeptical fans and observers — wrong. In his first hire, he recruited Denver Bronco director of college scouting Adam Peters to be the team’s new VP of Player Personnel. In that role, presumably, Peters will have significant input into draft, trade, recruiting and roster decisions. If so, this guy’s credentials and track record suggest he might be just what Lynch needs to shore up one of the new GM’s most glaring weaknesses: an unfamiliarity with NFL rosters and upcoming collegiate players.

I don’t think Peters’ hiring accelerates the Niners’ rebuilding schedule, but it might bring a new degree of sanity and logic to the table, which can only be a good thing when you have a numbskull like York at the top of the pyramid.

 

The Great Tom Brady Resurrection of 2017

Wow.

Midway through the third quarter of yesterday’s Super Bowl LI, I turned to my wife and said, “This one’s in the bag.” The Falcons were up by 25 points (28-3), the Patriots had been looking like crotchety old men stumbling around an unfamiliar country, and, after all, no team in Super Bowl history had ever come back from a deficit of more than 10 points to win the game.

tom-bradyAnd then it happened. The Great Tom Brady Resurrection of 2017. In something like 23 minutes of clock time, he had led his Patriots to a 28-28 tie. Un-freaking-believable. Superlatives fail me.

Can there now be any doubt in anyone’s mind that Tom Brady is the greatest NFL quarterback of all time? It’s not just the numbers, either, though they are impressive. It’s the heart, the confidence, the sheer guts of the guy. A season that started with a four-game suspension as a result of one of the silliest controversies in pro sports history, ended with the Brady Bunch winning a Super Bowl that broke so many records it would take a longer column than this to list and explain them.

You can hate the NFL overtime rule (I do) and prefer the college game’s way of determining winners in tie games (I do), but you can’t take anything away from the Patriots.

kyle-shanahan-falconsOr, for that matter, from the Falcons and QB Matt Ryan and offensive-coordinator-soon-to-be-Niners-Head-Coach Kyle Shanahan. They put together an awesome game plan that had the New England D on its heels most of the evening. Ryan was near-perfect at reading the Patriots’ backfield and schemes. His accuracy was astonishing and his awareness of the field nothing short of superb. On any other field against any other team with any other QB, he’d have waltzed to victory.

But not this time. Not with the Great Superhero Quarterback of All Time calling signals for the other guys.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the result but I have to say: this was one of the best Super Bowls of all time.

(BTW, interesting betting sideline. The over/under for the game — which is a bet based on the total scoring output of both teams — was 56-½, an absurdly high number that certainly looked dead in the water in the third quarter. But the final total was 62 so those folks who took the over made out like bandits.)

Great game, Patriots! And, Mr. Brady, what more can be said about you?

Wow.

“One of the Most Bizarre Hirings in NFL History”: Niners Bring in Rookie GM

In what Matt Barbato of all22.com called, quite correctly, “one of the most bizarre hirings in NFL history,” the San Francisco 49ers just hired a former player with zero front office experience to be their new general manager.

This is almost a stunning to football fans in general and to Niners’ loyalists in particular as Trump’s upset of Hillary in November 2016.

New 49ers Rookie GM, John Lynch

New 49ers Rookie GM, John Lynch

ESPN’s Adam Schefter earlier reported that former All-Pro linebacker John Lynch got the job at the urging of the presumptive (and apparently presumptuous) new, as-yet-unnamed head coach Kyle Shanahan.

As Barbato summarized the story: “Lynch woke up one day and thought it’d be a good idea if he became San Francisco’s GM, even though he has no front office experience. The FOX NFL commentator called a head coach who hasn’t been hired yet to pitch him the idea. Now, the nine-time Pro Bowl safety is the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.”

Yup.

New 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan

New 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan

The Niners had three veteran front-office people in their sights for the GM position, created at the end of the 2016 season, any of whom would have been a more intelligent, predictable, safe pick for the post. But from the beginning CEO Jed York (the guy really ought to be replaced but, of course, can’t be) had emphasized he was looking to fill those two positions with guys who were sympatico. So if Lynch (who has been publicly critical of Shanahan’s “arrogance” by the way, although in the next breath he said he’d “hire that buy in a minute”) pushed hard on Shanahan and the new head-coach-in-waiting-for-the-Super-Bowl-to-be-over pressured York, then there’s at least a glimmer of comprehension for the selection.

But that’s pushing it.

I was sort of hoping maybe York would give Lynch a short leash. Like a 90-day trial period? Wrong again! Just like the Donald, this series of surprises just keeps coming. The contract is for a nearly unprecedented six years! WTF?

This ought to be fun. A rebuilding period calls for front-office savvy which the Niners now lack in spades.

Yeesh.

Is the “New Colin” a Ray of Hope for Niners?

The murkiness of the 49ers’ quarterbacking situation for 2016 gained a little illumination this week from an unlikely source.

According to press reports, last season’s starter, Colin Kaepernick, conducted an unusually long and entirely upbeat press conference as part of the on-going minicamp. Beat reporters were astonished. Last year, Kaepernick was sullen, private, and curt in his interactions with the press. So this is quite a change!

SF quarterback Colin Kaepernick

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

During the exchange, Kaepernick made several positive comments about the new Niners’ head coach, Chip Kelly, and the two coaches primarily responsible for dealing with the quarterbacks as well. He says he’s looking forward to the 2016 season and to making a major contribution to the team. When asked about the trade rumors that swirled around him during the off-season, Kaepernick said, “What trade rumors?”

This may be an aberration. He’s not one of the more outgoing guys in the NFL. And he’s of course highly motivated at this point to ingratiate himself again with the team that treated him so disrespectfully in 2015, albeit not without some justification.

Assuming it’s not an aberration, however, this has to be a delightful development to Niners fans, even though it probably doesn’t signal a major improvement in their prospects for the upcoming season. I, for one, am sure I will enjoy the team under his leadership far more than I ever would with the mediocre and unexciting Blaine Gabbert at the helm.

Go Niners?

Niners Appear Ready to Screw Up Yet Another QB

It feels like about time that I cast a jaundiced eye in the direction of the San Francisco 49ers once again. And in the current state of things, that means essentially kibitzing about the quarterback situation.

kaep_running_towardUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that one-time potential superstar Colin Kaepernick had a rough season last year. Halfway through the campaign, he was replaced by a seriously mediocre Blaine Gabbert and during the off-season he has undergone shoulder surgery, rendering his future with the team more than somewhat questionable. On top of that, the Niners have hired a new head coach in Chip Kelly, whose offensive mindset is very much aligned with Colin’s strengths. Say what you will about Kap, he is among the top two or three quarterbacks in the NFL, when evaluated based on athleticism. His arm is a cannon. His legs are like helicopter blades. In general he fits very well into the kind of spread offense Kelly has always championed.

So it would seem a good fit. The problem is, Kap appears to be in a bit of a bad mood. Several weeks ago, it was widely reported that he had demanded to be traded, was no longer interested in being in San Francisco, and was just unhappy. For a short time, it seemed like the Denver Broncos might give him a new home, one in which he would also have been well-suited to the head coach’s offensive strategies. But the Broncos were unwilling to part with anything higher than a mid-level draft choice, which the Niners apparently concluded wasn’t sufficient compensation. So an April 1 deadline which resulted in the QB’s receiving close to $12 million in guaranteed payments, came and went.

Speculation then became rampant that the Niners would draft a quarterback in the college draft. They did not. Which seemed to indicate, at least to some of us, that they were in fact going to be happy with Kap at least for the 2015 season.

Apparently not.

Today, it appears that, whether or not Kap returns as the starter or rides the bench in the second or third position, the team wants to place its future bets on Gabbert. Which, to me, means that they are taking seriously the clear truth that they are going to be in rebuilding mode for the next two or three seasons. Gabbert is not the kind of guy you build a playoff contender around. It’s not even clear he’s a decent day-to-day quarterback in the NFL.

Interestingly, former superstar quarterback Joe Montana, in a recent interview, suggested that the potential for breaking this logjam lies with Kap himself. According to him, Colin is a quiet guy who does not communicate much with his fellow players or with the coaching staff and management. This sense of isolation makes it difficult for him to overcome any obstacles or disagreements or disappointments that may arise between him and other parts of the organization. So it might be argued that the situation is entirely in Kap’s control. Get an attitude adjustment, open up to your fellow players and your coaches, and pitch in to build a decent season for a rebuilding team.

Call me a pessimist, but I’m not inclined to believe that that scenario has any likelihood of happening. Rather, I fully expect the Niners will blindly ignore a man who is easily the best quarterback on the roster in the interest of protecting the egos of those in the front office who have consistently in recent years demonstrated their impatience with anyone who doesn’t conform to their ring-kissing demands. This can only serve to prolong the rebuilding time for the team.

The best possible outcome I see for 2015 would be for the Niners simply to cut Kap and let him find a new home where his athleticism will be appreciated and where his skills fit the offensive scheme. Short of that, this season could ruin the career of otherwise perfectly capable signal-caller who deserves much better.