Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How to Upgrade the WR Position Without Antonio Brown

Levin T. Black
Jan 17, 2019 at 9:00 AM

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Much has been made of the statistical fact that the San Francisco 49ers didn't have a wide receiver reach 500 yards in 2018. Yes, tight end George Kittle had an historically great season at his position but those who split out wide could certainly use an upgrade ... or two.

There are three routes the 49ers could look to take. Free agency, a trade or the draft could all produce a quality wide receiver.

(Before diving into what the team should do please read the break down of the free agent class from earlier this week. Some information will be taken from there when discussing those options. Click here for Book of FA WRs.)

Many are looking at a single receiver to take Kyle Shanahan's offense to the elite level. While someone like Antonio Brown has the possibility to do it on his own, the 49ers should not count on a single player addition alone, even if it is a four-time All-Pro like Brown.

Let's begin by operating on the assumption Pierre Garçon is released. The team would have a $7.2 million dead cap hit instead of a regular cap hit of $8.275 million by keeping him. His cap hits of $11.3 million and $12 million in subsequent seasons would also be removed.

Releasing Garçon would leave the 49ers with Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor and Richie James Jr. at the position. Only Goodwin and Pettis should be locks to make next year's team. Others have good chances but the 49ers should not sit by and just let them have the roster spots.

The 49ers should go into the offseason being comfortable with moving on from Taylor if his back still limits his ability, comfortable cutting a decent but very average Bourne and comfortable without the promising returner but inconsistent receiver James Jr. This doesn't mean the 49ers shouldn't return one or two of these receivers. Their spots simply shouldn't be a given.

The 49ers can accomplish this by bringing in two receivers. One of these two should be a free agent. Shanahan should know which free agent receivers would be a great fit in his system and general manager John Lynch should pay what it takes to get the safer play.

Free agents have shown what they can do. They have provided plenty of tape at the NFL level to scout. It still isn't a sure thing but it is the safest option between the three listed because it only costs money and the 49ers have plenty of cap space. The 49ers can structure the deal in a way similar to Jimmy Garoppolo's from a year ago. Get a lot of the pay done early so the cap hit is smaller in the future.

So which free agent receiver should they choose? There are two that fit much better than others. Tyrell Williams and Donte Moncrief. They bring what Shanahan covets. Superior athleticism and game changing speed.

Lynch and Shanahan have coveted elite athletes in the offense with the premise being Shanahan will find ways to get them open in space. This is why the 49ers drafted Kittle in 2017, it's why they signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk in their first offseason and it's why they signed running back Jerick McKinnon last offseason. They got a tight end, they got a fullback, they got a running back and now it is time to get a wide receiver.

As stated earlier this week when previewing free agent receivers, Williams and Moncrief will likely cost about the same. Williams was predicted at four years, $46 million while four years, $41 million were Moncrief's figures.

Both are physical freaks. Moncrief confirmed that at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. The 6 foot 2 inch receiver ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash which was the third fastest among wide receivers that year. He also placed third for his position in the vertical jump with a height of 39.5 inches and led all receivers with a broad jump of 11 feet.

Williams didn't get a Combine invite coming out of Division II Western Oregon University. He did get to attend the Oregon State University pro day in 2015, however. He ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash. That's a ridiculous time for a 6 foot 4 inch receiver.

Many fans of the 49ers will also be delighted to know Williams did pretty well in the red zone in 2018. He caught seven of eight targets overall and three of three targets inside the 10-yard line. He only scored two touchdowns on these plays but another three went for first downs.

They are both young as well. Moncrief is 25-years-old and Williams will turn 27 in February.

Neither Moncrief nor Williams have produced at Pro Bowl levels for different reasons but both feature the skills that excel in the Shanahan offense. They may never actually produce a Pro Bowl season for the 49ers. They wouldn't have to in order to justify the contracts they are likely to get. Both would significantly help propel the 49ers into the consistently dominant offense people expect of a Shanahan-coached team.

The other piece to that puzzle can come from a trade or the draft. Much as been made of the available trade options, especially Antonio Brown. The 49ers should inquire about the star receiver but unless the draft pick cost is cheap, they should look elsewhere.

Yes, much has been made about how little Brown is owed in the final three years of his deal. $38.925 million in three seasons for a truly elite receiver is a bargain but what Brown is owed and the actual cap hit are not the same. According to multiple websites, including and, Brown's cap hits in 2019, 2020 and 2021 are $22.165 million, $18.34 million and $19.54 million, respectively. That's a total of more than $60 million.

That's a hard hit to take for a wide receiver. Even more so for the 49ers who already pay a quarterback and running back among the best in the league. Trading for Brown limits the 49ers' ability to pursue top free agents at other positions considering the players on rookie contracts who will need rewarded in the next three years.

There may be other trade options at the receiver position. Ones that would likely come cheaper than Brown both in terms of trade capital and pay once acquired.

One that comes to mind is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers DeSean Jackson. The 32-year-old Jackson was rumored to have requested a trade in October. He still has elite speed evidenced by his league leading 18.9 yards per reception among qualified receivers this season.

Jackson is often forgotten about when Jameis Winston is the quarterback but with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jackson still dominates. In the first four games of 2018, all started by Fitzpatrick, Jackson had 424 yards and three touchdowns.

Jackson could very likely be had for a single late-round pick in this year's draft. He has only one year at $10 million remaining on his contract. There is a chance he is released outright as his deal has no guaranteed money left. If the 49ers wait, they will have to contend with other teams and likely have to give a multi-year deal. They should give up a late pick and get Jackson for a season while younger receivers develop.

The 49ers need to do something at the receiver position, that much is clear. How to address the problem isn't quite so clear. Signing Williams or Moncrief for $10-12 million per season while trading a late-round pick for Jackson would set up the offense to jump into the top five next season.

Williams/Moncrief, Goodwin, Jackson, Pettis and two of the three between Bourne/Taylor/James Jr. would be one of the best receiver corps in the league and one deep enough to still perform with an injury or two. The last part is key.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • GBW
    Steven Dunbar Jr. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Jan 20, 2019 at 6:47 AM
  • Goldlame2013
    So here's the problem with this, the 49ers have no number 1 go to wide receiver. All they have is 2's and 3's, but no number 1. The people listed are also 2's and 3's, so how is this different from shifting chairs on the Titanic?
    Jan 18, 2019 at 9:41 AM
  • Michael
    Yes Antonio Brown has the $60 million cap hit for the Steelers. Yet if they trade him they have to take the 21.12 million cap hit for his signing bonus. The prorated bonus does not transfer to the new team. The niners would only take a cap hit on what is still owed him when the trade occurs. So if it is after the 2.5 million roster bonus is paid then we only have 12.625 million for salary cap in 2019.
    Jan 18, 2019 at 7:06 AM
  • shoooop
    the moment you mentioned desean jackson, I stopped reading. This team is too far away from competing to waste money and time on a 32 year old receiver
    Jan 17, 2019 at 1:56 PM
  • Peter
    "Williams/Moncrief, Goodwin, Jackson, Pettis and two of the three between Bourne/Taylor/James Jr. would be one of the best receiver corps in the league" This guy must be on some hard drugs
    Jan 17, 2019 at 1:34 PM
  • Ted
    You do realize that those cap hit's for brown include his dead money that would count toward the steelers cap not the team who trades for him
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:59 PM
  • MT9er
    While I agree the 9ers need to continue to upgrade the position, I disagree that they need to go full throttle after someone like Brown or OBJ. In my opinion, top flight WRs are fun to watch and have on your fantasy team, but less related to team success. Look at the best teams or even Super Bowl winning teams over the past decade in the increasingly offense heavy NFL; how many have had true top flight (e.g. top 2-3) WRs? Not many.
    Jan 17, 2019 at 10:43 AM
  • mbniner
    A good evaluation of addressing the WR position. I am leery of trading for Brown even though he is a great WR. The cost of our 2nd round plus other picks would hamper this teams ability to keep building with young players. I like the DeSean Jackson possibility. His only problem has been his me-first attitude which seems to have softened over the years (Brown has the same issue). I also like Moncrief, a fast athletic WR who should flourish under Shanahan. If we went in this direction we could address our other big needs in the draft.
    Jan 17, 2019 at 10:08 AM

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