The 5 Biggest Issues Facing San Francisco 49ers as OTAs Near a Close
Not all of the news surrounding the San Francisco 49ers organized team activities (OTAs) has been positive.
Here, I focus on five of the biggest issues that have arisen since OTAs began two weeks ago.
On one hand, San Francisco can breathe a sigh of relief that none of its key players suffered a major injury, like Michael Crabtree did last year when he tore his Achilles.
On the other hand, unsolved contract disputes could put the 49ers in an impossible position, as they have just $5.75 million in cap space, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
As we all know, performance in OTAs isn't a deal-breaker. That's why only one of the following five slides focuses on performance.
The slideshow is dedicated to those players who aren't participating due to injuries and contract demands.
Alex Boone's Unhappiness with Contract
Starting right guard Alex Boone has not taken part in 49ers OTAs thus far because he wants a new contract, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN.com.
This situation has the potential to get ugly.
As CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco noted, the 49ers have a history of not backing down from potential holdouts:
Meanwhile, 49ers president Paraag Marathe has shown to be a tough negotiator, too. The 49ers did not cave into the demands of Michael Crabtree’s agent, Eugene Parker, on his 2009 rookie contract. Crabtree missed five games, did not get a contract outside of his slot and was even forced to add a sixth season onto his first contract.
There's no doubt he's underpaid. If he values himself as a top-15 guard, he could demand for his salary to be tripled.
San Francisco is already going to an inexperienced center for the 2014 season after it chose to not re-sign veteran Jonathan Goodwin. The Niners could use Boone's talent and experience to help the new starting center, whether it be Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin or someone else.
Veteran Adam Snyder would likely take the starting right guard position if Boone holds out into the regular season, but he's not nearly as talented as Boone. The offensive line could suffer as a result.
Vernon Davis' Long-Term Future with 49ers
Though San Francisco's speedy tight end told ESPN.com that he "should" attend mandatory minicamp, his contract demands suggest he won't be a 49er two years from now.
The 30-year-old's greatest asset is his speed. Will he be running by tight ends and safeties when he turns 32 after the 2015 season?
There's reason to doubt that he will. And that's why the Niners are unlikely to extend his contract.
With younger stars such as Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Aldon Smith also needing extensions to stay with 49ers, Davis isn't likely to be a priority over the next two offseasons. Especially if he thinks he's underpaid now as the third-highest-paid tight end in the NFL, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
It appears Davis believes tight ends in general are underpaid. As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett explained, the one-year franchise tag price for a tight end is about $5 million less than that of a wide receiver. This is why Saints tight end Jimmy Graham filed a grievance after receiving the tag.
"I think Jimmy Graham is trying to make an informed decision as far as his contract," Davis said on SportsCenter, per Triplett. "He believes that he deserves more, and I believe that he deserves more."
If Davis is angling to be paid like a wide receiver, there's no way he'll be around this year, let alone two years from now when he's older and the 49ers are potentially even more cap strung.
Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat reported that Blaine Gabbert fumbled twice and was "inaccurate and indecisive" in San Francisco's June 3 practice.
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote McLeod Bethel Thompson has looked better than Gabbert.
Gabbert also ended up on Cohn's "Not-So-Good" list for a terrible pass on May 28.
Basically, everything I've read about Gabbert's form in OTAs has been negative.
As Williamson noted, Gabbert's $2.1 million salary is guaranteed for this season, which makes him a heavy favorite to be the backup quarterback.
We may take it for granted sometimes, but Gabbert's struggles (and past) are reminders that Colin Kaepernick's health is the most important key for the 49ers in 2014.
Jimmie Ward's Late Start
Jimmie Ward is expected to be out until training camp starts in the end of July with a broken foot, according to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
Though this isn't a surprise, as the 49ers knew he was injured when they drafted him, it's still an issue as the regular season approaches.
Simply put, Ward needs as many reps as possible before Week 1. The 49ers don't have great options at nickel cornerback, which will make the quickness of Ward's recovery and subsequent development all the more important.
Chris Cook and Perrish Cox, two of San Francisco's other nickelback options, ranked outside the top 100 cornerbacks in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Cornerback Chris Culliver, who is a projected starter, could face a suspension for an offseason felony, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson.
The 49ers may need Ward ready to handle a starter's spot by Week 1. Will he be?
Ian Williams' Slow Recovery
When Ian Williams suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage nine months ago, he probably hoped that he would be healthy by now.
Unfortunately for the nose tackle, that's not the case.
Williams told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that he's hoping to be healthy by the start of training camp:
It's attainable. I just want to make sure I'm close to 100 (percent) because my position is very different from others. I have two guys, at times, pushing on me, so I've got to hold 700 pounds at times. So I want to make sure my ankle's as close to 100 (percent) as possible.
From this quote, it sounds like it's a possibility Williams won't be 100 percent by the beginning of the regular season.
The 49ers have defensive line depth, but Williams' absence would be a blow nonetheless. He beat out starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey during training camp last year. Dorsey filled in for him nicely, but there's no question San Francisco's run defense would have been even more fearsome with Williams.
A healthy Williams gives the 49ers more options on defense. And they may need extra options in the front seven with NaVorro Bowman expected to miss at least half of the 2014 regular season.