Rounding Up the Latest 49ers Offseason Buzz
With OTAs wrapped up, our focus will now shift towards mandatory minicamps (June 17-19). Now, minicamps don't elicit the same excitement as the start of the regular season or even training camp, but it's pretty darn close.
For what its is worth, the 49ers' offseason has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride. This was a team destined for a rather quiet offseason, but things never really turned out that way.
For starters, who could've predicted the tussle between coach and general manager? How about the 49ers trading for Blaine Gabbert and Jonathan Martin? This was just the start to a pretty eventful offseason for the 49ers.
In the lead-up to minicamps, let's discuss the latest offseason buzz coming out of Santa Clara.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back...
Thus far, the 49ers have done a solid job at locking up core players. Of course, the true test will come in the next three years or so.
Trent Baalke will have to make some tough personnel decisions going forward. That test starts with Vernon Davis and Alex Boone.
As we all know, both Davis and Boone are haggling for new contracts. Both players have stayed away from OTAs in the hopes of landing a new deal before the season starts.
Now, it's unlikely either gets their wish. However, it seems both parties are addressing this situation quite differently. From what we're hearing, Davis plans to attend the 49ers mandatory minicamp next week.
On the other hand, Boone, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, is unlikely to show up for the mandatory minicamp next week in Santa Clara.
If this mini "holdout" continues with Boone, the 49ers offensive line will suffer. Boone has been a revelation at guard for the 49ers since taking over as a starter two years ago.
Unfortunately, we may see situations like this play out over the next few years. With a team as stacked as the 49ers, everyone wants to get paid.
Baalke will have some tough decisions indeed.
Ward Will Have to Play Catch-Up
While many were initially disappointed at the Jimmie Ward selection in 2014 NFL draft, it seems fans have started to realize the versatility he brings to the table. The 49ers have big plans for Ward, and it starts with him manning the slot role.
The 49ers want use Ward as a hybrid safety/corner to begin his career; however, there is some worry that he'll be too far behind to make an impact his first year.
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio envisions some struggles for the first-round pick.
“He’s going to be behind,” Fangio said. “And it’s going to be important for him – and for us as coaches – to realize he’s behind and just fight through that. Because he’s not going to look good early. Fangio continues:
You can sit in all these meetings you want, but the best way a players improves is: meet, go practice, come back and meet some more, learn what you did wrong, learn some new things, go practice … He’s not getting any of that practice. He can be practicing mentally in his head all he wants. That only takes you to a certain point. He’s got to go out there and experience it.
While I believe Ward will end up with the job before season's end, I can imagine Fangio trotting out Perrish Cox or Eric Wright in the slot role to start the season. It should give Ward plenty of time to get his feet wet before assuming significant playing time.
With all the big money being handed down to quarterbacks, Kaepernick deserves a ton of credit for ultimately putting the team first.
Now, Kaepernick is still in line to make top quarterback money. Rather than accepting a boatload of guaranteed money up front, Kaepernick will have to instead earn those lofty figures. It was a win-win for both sides.
In all honesty, the reaction to the contract details is what surprised me the most. The same critics, who believed the 49ers were foolish in paying Kaepernick top quarterback money, are now balking at the team-friendly deal that came to fruition.
If this were Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck, fans would credit them for putting the team first. It seems all the commercials and increased spotlight has painted Kaepernick in a light unlike the two quarterbacks mentioned above.
Like many polarizing athletes, he'll have his fans and critics; however, I still feel Kaepernick is not receiving the due he deserves for this contract. How many quarterbacks with his leverage would take a similar deal?
Call Kaepernick what you want, but you can't call him selfish.
LaMichael James Frustration Continues
For LaMichael James, carving out a role as an elite returner should be his focus at the moment. Of course, James is still not satisfied about his role as a running back on the team.
“It’s nothing against our running backs,” James said. “I think Frank’s the best, and I think Kendall is super-good, too. It’s nothing against them. But with that being said, am I supposed to be happy just returning kicks and catching punts? No, not really.
As many have stated before, it's time for James and the 49ers to make this split happen. I can't imagine the 49ers will cut James, a former second-round pick in 2012. If a split does happen, it has to be via trade.
The 49ers have other players who can assume both return positions. Not to mention, we all know the 49ers are stacked at the running back position.
I'm sure there are several teams who could be interested in James' services, but not likely at the price Baalke has set. Even though a split is in the best interests of both parties, there is a possibility that James could be on the 49ers roster for the 2014-15 season.
Emergence of Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd has been a revelation for the 49ers during OTAs. Despite taking last year off from football, the veteran receiver still looks athletic and spry.
“I know that we played him, he got behind our defensive backs a few times. But when you see him on film, I swear I don’t know how he comes out of the breaks, comes off his start, as fast as he does,” Willis said after a recent organized team activity practice. “We’re glad to have him on our team and I know he’s going to make some plays for us.”
If Lloyd does make the team, the 49ers will likely have to make some tough cuts. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson are safe. I would like to think the youngsters, Ellington and Quinton Patton, are also safe.
Including Lloyd, the 49ers would have six receivers making the roster. Not to mention, special teams ace Kassim Osgood is also considered a receiver. Can the 49ers afford to carry seven receivers on the roster?
We'll just have to wait and see!