NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

49ers three-round mock

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:00
PM ET
I plan on revealing a full seven-round mock draft for the San Francisco 49ers, who have 11 picks, on the day the draft commences.

For now, I am going to take a stab at the team's picks in the first three rounds; no NFL team has more. Yes, these choices are subject to change:

Summary: This is defense heavy, but with needs at cornerback and at pass rush, it may be necessary. Jason Verrett and Stanley Jean-Baptiste would be a strong cornerback combination for now and for the future. Verrett is a strong slot presence and Jean-Baptiste a bigger cornerback. Paul Richardson would fill the need for a speed receiver. Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy would be the first Stanford players taken in the Jim Harbaugh era. Harbaugh and 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio coached Skov and Murphy on the Farm. Skov could help fill in for NaVorro Bowman now and be a piece for the future. Murphy could be a developmental pass rusher to help the team navigate through the Aldon Smith situation. Ward is a potential standout at safety.
In a predictable development, running back/returner LaMichael James is staying away from the San Francisco 49ers' offseason conditioning program, which started Monday, a league source confirmed.

James
The Sacramento Bee reported last week the 49ers were shopping the little-used 2012 second-round pick. A league source said James would welcome a trade if it meant more playing time. The source would not say if James requested the trade.

This move, even though it's missing out on a voluntary program, is another sign James is interested in moving on. The only part of the offseason program that is mandatory is the June 17-19 minicamp.

There have been rumblings of James' unhappiness since last season. He has occasionally made cryptic remarks on Twitter and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have had to discuss his situation. At the combine in February, Baalke said James still had a place on the team.

The 49ers have a crowded backfield and they could always draft someone to be a returner. I don't get the sense the 49ers are suddenly going to play James more in 2014, so if he stays, he will continue to be dissatisfied with his playing time.

James likely wouldn't command much in return for a trade. Perhaps the 49ers could use James as part of a trade in an attempt to move up in the May 8-10 draft.
One player who might be worth playing attention to leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft is USC center Marcus Martin.

Both ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Martin pegged to the San Francisco 49ers in recent mocks. They both had Martin going to the 49ers in the second round, where the team has two picks. Let’s take a closer look at Martin:

Size: 6-foot-3, 320 pounds

Experience: He moved to center in 2013 and played there for the first time. He was a starter at guard for his first two college seasons.

Known for: Great size and athleticism. He’s a bright player. However, some scouts question his toughness. Still, many scouts think he can be an instant starter.

Do 49ers need him? Daniel Kilgore, who just signed a three-year extension with the 49ers, will get the first crack to replace Jonathan Goodwin in the starting lineup. The 49ers are excited about Kilgore. However, if Kiper and McShay are right, Martin would certainly look like both an immediate and long-term option. Martin could also interest the 49ers because of his experience at guard. Mike Iupati is entering the final year of his contract, and it isn't a sure thing the 49ers will re-sign him.
The San Francisco 49ers' patience with troubled star pass-rusher Aldon Smith is wearing thin.

Smith
ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's report Friday that the 49ers are not expected to exercise the 2015 option on Smith says it loud and clear. The deadline on the option is May 3. Smith would be paid $9.75 million in 2015 if it is exercised. However, it is only guaranteed by a major injury and it could be pulled.

If the 49ers don't exercise the option, he will be a free agent after the 2014 season. If the 49ers then decide to give him the franchise tag, it would likely be in the $12 million to $13 million range.

Here's the bottom line: Not exercising this option isn't the prudent football decision. But the 49ers' frustration level with Smith, 24, apparently is so extreme that the best football decision may not be the focus here. If the 49ers do not exercise this option, it will mean they have lost faith in Smith and do not plan to have a long-term relationship with him.

Perhaps the 49ers are deciding public perception is more important than football in this case. Although it is low risk, exercising the option would be a sign Smith is being rewarded. With all the negative news surrounding him, it appears he has not earned a reward.

Smith's troubles escalated last Sunday when he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport and booked on a charge of false report of a bomb threat. He has yet to be formally charged. Smith is also facing felony gun charges and his second drunken driving charge since he entered the NFL in 2011. Smith missed five games last season while he was in a treatment center. There is a strong possibility he will face NFL discipline this season.

If the 49ers, indeed, stay away from this option, it is a strong sign Smith will not be with the team for the long-term and the team will instead spend on the long-term contracts of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Michael Crabtree and perhaps guard Mike Iupati. All three players are entering the final season of their deals.

Also, if the 49ers don't exercise this option, expect them to seriously consider taking a pass-rusher early in next month's draft because Smith will no longer be a big part of their future.
In this Insider story, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. offers his latest mock draftInsider for the first two rounds.

Below, we will review Kiper’s choices for the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have an extra pick in the second round as part of the 2013 Alex Smith trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Insiders can see who Kiper has the 49ers taking and my thoughts on his choices.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday evening the San Francisco 49ers are shopping running back/returner LaMichael James. Let's look at what it means:

James
Initial thoughts: There have been rumblings of James' unhappiness since last season. He has occasionally made cryptic remarks on Twitter and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have had to discuss his situation. At the combine in February, Baalke said James still had a place on the team. An NFL source said Wednesday night James would welcome a trade if he meant more playing time. The source would not say that James requested the trade. I don't get the sense the 49ers are suddenly going to play James more in 2014, so if he stays, he will continue to be dissatisfied with his playing time.

What can the 49ers get in return? I wouldn't think much. Just because James was a second-round pick in 2012, it doesn't mean the 49ers will get like value. Remember, the 49ers acquired quarterback Blaine Gabbert for a sixth-round pick this year. Three years ago, he was the No. 10 overall pick. I just don't see the market being high for a little-used running back/returner. Perhaps James could be used as a chip to move up in the draft a bit. It wasn't a good sign that his college coach, Chip Kelly, traded for Darren Sproles instead of James this year.

Would the 49ers miss him? Not really. The 49ers have a crowded backfield and they could always draft someone to be a returner. I could see the team drafting a cornerback or a receiver who can help as a return man.
We are going to hear a lot about Aldon Smith in the coming weeks.

Smith
The San Francisco 49ers' star pass-rusher was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of a false bomb report. He has a court date set for April 29 for previous arrests -- for felony gun charges and his second drinking driving arrest.

These issues, of course, have clouded his future with the 49ers as they must now make a decision about his future with the team by May 3. Because he was a first-round pick in 2011, Smith will become a free agent following the 2014 season should the 49ers decide against exercising an option for 2015.

Prior to the latest arrest, it appeared the 49ers would clearly give Smith the option, but that's now in question. NFL.com reported Monday night that the 49ers are not likely to exercise the option because they won't have all the information on Smith's legal issues by then.

However, others have -- including former Green Bay salary cap man Andrew Brandt -- opined the 49ers will likely exercise the option because there is little risk involved. Unless Smith suffers a major injury in 2014 that would affect his status in 2015, the 49ers have no risk. They can allow him to become a free agent next year if they don't feel they want to proceed with Smith.

But, by exercising the $9.754 option, the 49ers can lock in Smith rather than giving him the franchise tag in 2015, which will likely be more than $12 million or let him walk as a free agent.

If San Francisco doesn't exercise the option, it will be a clear sign that the team has many questions and possibly little faith in Smith. Watching this decision unfold will be fascinating.
It is reasonable to think the San Francisco 49ers will consider taking a pass-rusher early in the draft in light of Aldon Smith’s latest arrest.

Even though Smith, 24, is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers, his future could be clouded. Until Sunday, the 49ers’ greatest needs were cornerback and receiver. I do think those areas are still bigger needs than pass-rusher. But I could also see the 49ers, who have an NFL-high six picks in the top 100 in the May 8-10 draft, using a premium pick at the position.

I spoke with ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench about potential fits in the second or third round. Here is a look:

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State:

“He will likely be gone and they may not want to take a player who has been suspended three times over the past two seasons but he has the length, quickness and flexibility to develop into an effective edge rusher in the NFL.”

The Sacramento Bee reports Lawrence will visit the 49ers.

Kyle Van Noy, BYU: “He doesn’t bend as well as Lawrence and he has shorter arms but he can beat tackles with speed to power, he uses his hands well and he closes well.”

Muench mentioned these pass-rushers would be taken in the third or fourth-round: Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat, Alabama DE/OLB Adrian Hubbard and Stanford’s Trent Murphy all project as late third- or early fourth-round picks.

Murphy played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
It’s apparent the San Francisco 49ers are possibly interested in drafting a player coming off a major injury again.

Former Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin told Sirius XM Radio that he will visit the 49ers this week. Colvin tore the ACL in his knee during Senior Bowl week in January, but he could be ready to play toward the end of the season.

The 49ers have shown they are willing to wait for a good player, even if he's injured. Last year, they drafted defensive lineman Cornellius "Tank" Carradine in the second round and running back Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round after both had suffered ACL injuries.

However, drafting Colvin may come with more overall injury risk than Carradine and Lattimore. ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench said Colvin is a talented player, but his injury history is worrisome. Colvin missed almost all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. Muench also points out Colvin's weight -- he was listed at 192 pounds at Oklahoma, but weighed 177 at the combine.

“If he can regain the weight once he’s healthy and can stay healthy, he’s got the tools to be an effective No. 3 corner,” Muench said. “He’d see the field a lot with how often teams line up with three or more receivers. He’s instinctive, he has above average cover skills and he tackles well.”

Muench said Scouts Inc. had Colvin rated as an early third-round pick prior to his injury. Now, the group has him as an early fourth-round pick. The 49ers will likely add multiple cornerbacks and with a surplus of picks, they may feel like they can take a flier on Colvin.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee reported the 49ers will visit with several rookie prospects this week including Clemson speed receiver Martavis Bryant. He could be a target in the second round.
video Initial thoughts on the arrest of San Francisco 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith Sunday at the Los Angeles International Airport:

Troubling times: The arrest is the latest in a string of legal issues for the team, considered a favorite to make a run at the 2015 Super Bowl. Two weeks ago, starting cornerback Chris Culliver was arrested after a hit-and-run accident involving a bicyclist. He has been charged with a felony and two misdemeanors. Thursday, it was reported quarterback Colin Kaepernick and receiver Quinton Patton are being investigated as part of an incident in Miami involving a 25-year-old woman. Kaepernick took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing. Kaepernick and Smith are two of the 49ers’ best players and the team wants to keep both for the long haul. Seeing headlines like these has to be beyond worrisome for the club.

Smith
What’s Smith’s future? Because he was a first-round pick in 2011, the 49ers must decide by May 3 whether or not to give Smith an option for 2015. It was previously considered a no-brainer for the 49ers to lock in Smith, one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, for another season. If not, he will be a free agent at the end of this season. However, his latest arrest -- he has two other pending criminal cases -- will likely make the 49ers think about the option. The 49ers have other contracts looming (including Kaepernick's). If they feel they can’t trust Smith, they may not exercise the option, which would pay him more than $9 million in 2015. Smith missed five games last season (the team went 5-0 without him) when he sought treatment for substance abuse. The team has vowed to stand by him as long as he continued to stay straight off the field. It’s another reason why this arrest is so troubling.

League discipline is in play: The 49ers may have to play without Smith for a portion of this season. This latest incident could trigger discipline from the NFL. The league did not suspend Smith after the September arrest on a drunk driving charge. In October, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact that Smith voluntarily sought treatment could play a role in him not getting a suspension. I’m sure the league office is not pleased to see Smith in custody again.
Some fans of the San Francisco 49ers are a bit apprehensive that the team has not been overly busy in bringing in new talent this offseason.

While concentrating on keeping their own free agents, the 49ers added just four veterans. They signed safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Chris Cook and traded for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and tackle Jonathan Martin.

The small incoming veteran class is keeping in step with many of the winning teams in the NFL. Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, the chart includes the teams that added the fewest players this offseason and their 2013 record.

It's clear that many winning teams -- like the 49ers -- liked their roster and made some tweaks instead of wholesale changes.
In February, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said he didn’t think the team would necessarily have to ask running back Frank Gore to take a pay cut.

Gore
Fast forward a month-and-a-half, with the heavy financial lifting of the offseason completed, the 49ers have not adjusted Gore’s pay. His 2014 salary cap number is $6.45 million. Barring an unforeseen development, the 49ers likely will not approach Gore to take a cap hit this year.

Gore has the highest salary-cap number among running backs in the NFL. Gore turns 31 in May. That is an ancient age for an NFL running back. Check out this Kevin Seifert piece on how running backs decline quickly.

But that’s the point about Gore -- he’s still productive. Gore had 1,128 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per rush in 2013. Four of the running backs with a higher salary-cap renumber in 2014 had more yards than Gore last season. They were Adrian Peterson, whose cap number is the highest for a running back at $14.4 million, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch.

Gore is older than all of the running backs with a higher salary cap number in 2014. But with his production in the same range, it doesn’t appear to be a stretch that Gore remains among the highest paid players at this position despite his advanced age.
Five years ago this week, an NFL rarity occurred – a young, rising starting quarterback was traded.

Jones
Kaepernick
Ending a swift feud between new coach Josh McDaniels and Jay Cutler, the Denver Broncos traded the quarterback to the Chicago Bears. The Bears paid a steep price for Cutler. They surrendered two first-round draft picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton to Denver to secure Cutler.

It is doubtful we will see another trade like that again. No one trades standout quarterbacks these days.

But what if? What if the San Francisco 49ers decided to consider trading quarterback Colin Kaepernick rather than extend him to a deal that will likely pay him in the $18 million-$20 million range? The team’s brass indicated last week that it wants to keep Kaepernick and hopes to finalize a deal by training camp.

Again, there is little chance the 49ers will even consider trading Kaepernick. I’m not suggesting it at all. But if they did, he’d command more than Cutler.

Kaepernick is more accomplished and is a proven postseason winner, which Cutler wasn’t when he was traded. He also has a better reputation. So, the price would be higher. Any team in need of a quarterback would gladly give Kaepernick the deal the 49ers are going to give him.

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle, while acknowledging it was a pipe dream and not likely at all, wondered if the 49ers could trade Kaepernick and then draft Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. That idea was spurred by glowing words by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh about Manziel.

While such a move would save the 49ers money in the immediate future, Still, there is no guarantee Manziel would get to the level Kaepernick is that quickly and there is no guarantee Manziel will be better than Kaepernick in the long-term.

I talked to ESPN scout Matt Williamson. He doesn’t think any quarterback who will be drafted this year will ever surpass Kaepernick while he is in the league.

“Kaepernick has more upside than any of these guys, no doubt,” Williamson said.

It’s just another reason why we will likely not see another Cutler-type deal.

Let's chat about the 49ers

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
8:00
AM ET
Please join me for our San Francisco 49ers chat, which will run from 11-11:30 a.m. PT Thursday. I look forward to it.

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