49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

49ers focus on improving offensive skill positions

On the first day of the new league year, the 49ers reached contract agreements with nine unrestricted free agents, including seven offensive players and a kicker.

General manager John Lynch went from the “liberating” feeling of having no quarterbacks under contract to placing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the depth chart.

While Colin Kaepernick remains available at a fraction of his previously scheduled $14.9 million salary, the 49ers prioritized signing two quarterbacks who opened last season as reserves to Jay Cutler with the Chicago Bears.

The past four seasons the 49ers have ranked 32nd, 29th, 30th and 30th in passing yards. Under new coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers seemed intent on adding players to help improve their passing game.

[RELATED: Report: Kirk Cousins says 'I'm going to be a 49er' eventually]

Neither Hoyer nor Barkley is likely be viewed as a long-term answer at quarterback, so the 49ers remain open to using the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback such as Mitchell Trubisky or patiently waiting for Kirk Cousins to become available at a reasonable price. The 49ers' best option could be to wait after this season to obtain him at no compensation to Washington.

Cousins officially signed his exclusive franchise tender with Washington on Friday, according to his agent. With that formality, Cousins can now be traded. But Washington has shown no inclination to deal Cousins, who could walk a year from now as a free agent.

Here is a look at the players who saw action for the 49ers last season at the offensive skill positions, and how things look after the first day of free agency:

Quarterback
2016: Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert
2017: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley
The 49ers must keep all their options open at quarterback, but it’s unclear whether they remain in the market for another veteran to add to the mix unless an obvious starter becomes available.

Hoyer was clearly the 49ers’ top target among the available quarterbacks. Shanahan worked with him for a season with the Cleveland Browns. Hoyer averaged 329.5 yards passing in his four full games with the Chicago Bears last season before sustaining a season-ending broken left arm.

The 49ers, meanwhile, averaged a league-worst 181.9 yards passing per game.

Barkley is now with his third team in his short career after beginning with Philadelphia Eagles during the Chip Kelly era. Barkley will enter training camp competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. Whether the 49ers keep two or three quarterbacks remains to be determined.

Running back
2016: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
2017: Carlos Hyde, Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostart, Mike Davis
The 49ers are certainly in the market to add to the running back position. Carlos Hyde remains a work in progress but the clear choice to be the team’s top runner.

“Right now, I see Carlos being our back,” Shanahan said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We’ve studied a lot of the guys on tape. He’s the guy that’s got the most. Carlos is a guy who I was a fan of coming out of college. He had a real good career there. I looked at him hard when I was in Cleveland at the time and had a good feeling he was going to be a great back then. I don’t think he’s a finished product. I think there’s a lot more to his game and I look forward to us helping him bring that out.”

The 49ers now have a fullback with the addition of Juszczyk. He is a highly versatile player who can line up all across the formation to provide Shanahan with many options to find the best matchups. In the past two seasons with Baltimore, Juszczyk caught 78 passes for 587 yards. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Ravens.

Wide receiver
2016: Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Chris Harper
2017: Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson, Bruce Ellington, Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, DeAndre Carter, Rashad Ross
The 49ers released Smith this week and are obviously allowing Patton to leave as a free agent. After signing Kerley to a contract extension last week, the 49ers struck in free agency with the additions of Garçon, Goodwin and Robinson.

Here is what each of those players produced last season for their respective clubs:
Garçon (Washington): 16 games, 79 catches, 1,041 yards, 13.2 avg, 3 TDs
Kerley (49ers): 16 games, 64-667-10.4-3
Goodwin (Buffalo): 15 games, 29-431-14.9-3
Robinson (Atlanta): 16 games, 20-323-16.1-2

The 49ers should also look to add a potentially dynamic receiver within the first two days of the draft.

Tight end
2016: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm, Jim Dray
2017: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm
In one of Trent Baalke’s final moves as general manager, the 49ers awarded McDonald with a contract extension that basically amounts to three years for $19.7 million.

The 49ers on Thursday added Paulsen, who is considered more of a blocking tight end. He can be kept in for pass protection or he can be a vital component in the run game. Paulsen’s best seasons as a pass-catcher came with (surprise!) Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in Washington. Paulsen combined to catch 53 passes for 575 yards and four TDs over the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

Kicker
2016: Phil Dawson
2017: Robbie Gould
The 49ers have said their good-byes to Dawson, who had a strong four-year run with the organization and is remaining in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals. Dawson, 42, was named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the team MVP in 2015.

Gould, 35, appeared in just 10 games for the New York Giants last season. He made all 10 of his field-goal attempts but missed three of his 23 extra-point tries. Gould ranks seventh all-time with a field-goal accuracy percentage of 85.886.

Agent: 49ers to re-sign running back DuJuan Harris

Agent: 49ers to re-sign running back DuJuan Harris

PHOENIX – Free-agent running back DuJuan Harris will re-sign with the 49ers, his agent said.

Harris, 28, appeared in 10 games for the 49ers last season with one start. He rushed for 138 yards on 38 attempts. He also caught eight passes for 115 yards.

Harris has also seen time with Jacksonville, Green Bay and Seattle in his four-year NFL career.

The 49ers did not tender Harris as a restricted free agent, but agent Andy Simms revealed his client will re-sign with the 49ers via Twitter. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and defensive lineman Chris Jones are the only other free agents the 49ers have re-signed.

Bruce Allen: Kirk Cousins will play for Washington in 2017

Bruce Allen: Kirk Cousins will play for Washington in 2017

PHOENIX – Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will continue to be Washington’s quarterback for the 2017 season, according to team president Bruce Allen.

“That’s why we franchised him, yes,” Allen said during an interview with CSN Mid-Atlantic at the NFL owners meetings.

Cousins and Washington did not reach agreement on a multi-year contract extension before the start of the free-agent signing period. Washington tagged Cousins as the organization’s exclusive franchise player, taking him off the free-agent market for any interested clubs, such as the 49ers.

Cousins is set to earn $23.94 million in 2017, unless the sides agree to a new deal before the July 15 deadline. The price for Cousins to be franchised again in 2018 would be $34.47 million.

"We’ve had a lot of dialogue," Allen said. "He signed his tender. Obviously, we have an option for the ’18 season. Our goal from the beginning has been long term. I'm still hopeful and confident we'll do it."

The 49ers with new coach Kyle Shanahan are expected to be interested in Cousins, but there have no trade talks with any teams, Allen said. Shanahan was Washington's offensive coordinator under his father, then-head coach Mike Shanahan, for Cousins' first two NFL seasons.

"I can't keep up with the rumors," Allen said. "Kirk and I have talked almost a dozen times this offseason, and we get to laugh when we hear these different rumors. We haven't talked to anyone."