With free agency slowing down and the 49ers' roster about set headed into May's draft, it's time for Niners Digest's first ever Twitter Mailbag. We'd love to make this a weekly thing, so feel free to shoot me questions on Twitter @ChrisBiderman to have them answered in future mailbags.
Let's get this thing going.
@eric0430 asks: what would 49ers have to give up and do to make the trade for (DeSean) Jackson?
Chris Biderman: This was the hot rumor of the week after CSN Philadephia reported the Eagles were listening to offers for their star receiver and wanted at least a third-round pick as compensation. My sources have confirmed the report signalling the the team's interest. It makes sense because San Francisco has three third-round picks in the coming draft.
On paper, Jackson represents everything the 49ers' offense needs to go to the next level. He's perhaps the most lethal down-field threat in the NFL and is coming off his best season. He tallied career highs in both receptions (82), yards (1,332) and touchdowns (9, tying his career mark from 2009) last season. Jackson could come in and contribute right away as a much-needed deep threat alongside Vernon Davis and bring a spark to the return game.
All that being said, Jackson will count for $12.75 million against the Eagles' salary cap in 2014, which would mean his number would be somewhere in the $10.5 million range if he came to San Francisco while Philadelphia would be on the hook for his $2 million pro-rated bonus. After releasing Carlos Rogers and giving him the June 1 designation, the 49ers would have about $10.33 million in cap space, but only after June 1. Theoretically, they could find a way to restructure Jackson's contract and make his cap number shrink by backloading his new deal. But that would a tough negotiation after Jackson pined for a raise following the season.
Would it be possible to take on Jackson and his huge salary demands? Sure. But with Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Aldon Smith and Mike Iupati all becoming free agents following the coming year, it would be a very tight squeeze. And nothing Trent Baalke has done since taking over personnel decisions indicates he's willing to make an "outsider" one of the team's highest-paid players. The 49ers value leadership when it comes to dueling out huge contracts, hence why players like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are two of the team's highest-paid players.
There's also the issue of Crabtree, who the 49ers would very much like to keep around. Giving Jackson all that money while Crabtree is in a walk year would add quite a bit of tension to that meeting room. Both Crabtree and Jackson are outspoken about wanting the ball. And with Anquan Boldin in the mix, there might not be enough footballs to go around, especially considering how much the 49ers rely on the running game.
Jackson's skill set is unique and he's one of the league's best receivers. But armed with 11 picks in the coming draft that features one of the deepest classes at the position in years, it seems unlikely the San Francisco would go the expensive and route by bringing in Jackson. Instead, they could take a look at players like Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandin Cooks in the first round and pay about one tenth what it would cost to bring in Jackson. All three have the same kind of skill set without all the complications.
But if you like playing Madden, go ahead and trade Jackson to the 49ers. I'd imagine beating the Seahawks would be much easier with him as an option on the outside being able to run away from a certain outspoken corner.
@themutjsonwill asks: "What 9ers do you think will be gone after next year?"
CB: This is an important question. Going forward the 49ers will have a lot of decisions to make regarding some important players. As of now, the team has 19 players slated to become unrestricted free agents after the coming season, including the four key guys I mentioned earlier. Frank Gore will be a hot topic following the season, who will make $6.45 million in 2014, which is the last year of his current contract. The 49ers believe they have a strong candidate to replace Gore in Marcus Lattimore, but it remains to be seen if he'll be able to carry the load as an every-down back going forward after "red shirting" in his first pro season in 2013.
San Francisco is no stranger to letting key players leave as they age and decline. Gore appears to be the next one to do so. But as the heartbeat of the team for nearly a decade, it won't be an easy decision. If he were to come back in 2015, it would likely come on a very cheap deal. If not, many believe Gore is the type of person that would stick around the organization, possibly as an assistant coach or consultant. He loves the game too much to ride off into the sunset and leave it all behind cold turkey. And as a 32-year-old running back, there wouldn't be a huge market for his services as a free agent.
Shifting to the offensive line, it appears 2014 could be the last season we see Mike Iupati in red and gold. As good as he is, he would garner a ton of money on the open market, akin to what a number of franchise tackles are making. I have a hard time seeing San Francisco giving Iupati a competitive offer that would pay more than Joe Staley or Anthony Davis. Although the sample's been small, they like what they've seen from Joe Looney. Jonathan Martin could also be an option if he's able to transition from tackle to guard as the team hopes. It's worth keeping in mind the 49ers moved Alex Boone from tackle to guard and it's worked out very well for them. If they could do the same with Martin, there's little chance Baalke ponies up for Iupati giving him market value, somewhere in the $8-10 million per year range.
Other guys entering their contract years include Glenn Dorsey, Dan Skuta, C.J. Spillman, Adam Snyder, Eric Wright, Bubba Ventrone, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller. How these guys play in 2014 will ultimately decide their futures with the team.
@49ersholics asks: "Is Blaine Gabbert ring to be Harbaugh's new Caddy?"
By asking this question, I'm assuming you're asking if Gabbert is the next quarterback in line to benefit from the teachings of Harbaugh, AKA the "quarterback whisperer." The answer: maybe.
The 49ers liked Gabbert heading into the 2011 draft when he was taken 10th-overall by the Jaguars, 26 picks ahead of where the 49ers took Colin Kaepernick. Gabbert has the size, stature and arm talent evaluators love. The problem of course is his lack of production when thrown into the starter's role in Jacksonville, where he amassed a passer rating of just 66.4 in three seasons.
Since you're drawing the comparison to Smith, it's reasonable to assume San Francisco, and Harbaugh, are willing to take a chance on Gabbert as their backup behind Kaepernick because they believe the upside is still there. After all, Gabbert is just 24 and could very easily have his best years in front of him. Many scoffed at the trade initially, but finding a young, capable backup at the cost of a sixth-round pick is something just about every NFL team would do.
If you remember back to 2007, the Atlanta Falcons traded then-backup Matt Schaub, 25, to the Houston Texans for a pair of second round picks with a limited sample size from Schaub. If anything were to happen to Kaepernick and Gabbert stepped in and played well after learning the ways of quarterbacking via Harbaugh, the 49ers could find themselves with an extremely valuable trade chip going forward. If not, San Francisco invested very little in Gabbert to begin with. The 49ers and their coaching staff have been known for their reclamation projects, including Harbaugh's former caddy. Bringing in Gabbert was a classic low-risk, high-reward gamble.
Still, Gabbert won't prevent the 49ers from adding to the backup competition through the draft. They don't have many needs but own a volume of picks to play with. Should Gabbert have success with the 49ers leading to a big pay day elsewhere, expect him to be more than willing to carry Harbaugh's clubs around at Pebble Beach.
@Ronniekins01 asks: "Why do you think 49ers don't incorporate more of the screen game for Gore/Hunter/James? Getting them in space = nightmare!"
CB: This is a popular question, rightfully so. The 49ers rarely use the screen game, but there are legitimate reasons why. San Francisco ran the ball 52.23 percent of the time in 2013, which was the second-highest rate in the league. More runs means more defenders in the box. And while the passing game was extremely limited in the first half of the season, defenses were constantly loading the box with eight and nine guys.
The screen game works best against the blitz. Screens are designed to get linebackers going upfield while the running back leaks behind them and takes advantage of the open space. But screens rarely work against loaded boxes because they are easily diagnosed by safeties close to the line of scrimmage. The best look for a screen is a two-deep look from the safeties with a linebacker blitz. But the 49ers rarely got that look because of the lack of a deep threat on the outside.
The 49ers could incorporate more screens into the offense if they add a deep threat this offseason, forcing teams to leave two safeties high. Otherwise, they'd have a hard time finding any openings for the screen game.
@KSheetsOurFutr asks: "With such depth in this draft class do you see potential for trading late second and third-round picks for 2015 firsts or seconds?"
CB: There might not be a more valuable currency in football than a first-round pick. That being said, Trent Baalke loves to move back in the draft if it means getting something valuable in the future. As of right now, the 49ers have all 22 starting positions set giving them the option of moving back for future needs. They have 11 picks in this draft because they've been willing to move back in previous drafts if they aren't enamored with the players at those slots.
The 49ers have three third-round picks and if a team happened to be in love with a player at one of those spots, San Francisco wouldn't rule out trading a third-rounder this year for a second-round pick in 2015 if on the table. However, the new rookie wage scale from the latest CBA gives more value to early draft picks meaning teams are less likely to make those kinds of trades. But anything could happen.
That's one of the benefits of having a slew of picks and small number of needs. San Francisco can continue to turn current picks into more future picks allowing to build the roster they want at the lowest cost possible going forward.
That's it for our first mailbag. Keep shooting me good questions and hopefully we can make this happen every week!
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