Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports

Post-Draft Focus: Six more 49er veterans who may be gone in 2020

Don Atkinson
May 10, 2020 at 3:00 PM0

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Oh, what a difference a few weeks make.

In my initial version of this article, created just before this year's NFL Draft, I penned in the names of ten veteran 49er players who I believed might not be with the team on the opening week of the upcoming regular season. With wide receiver Marquise Goodwin traded recently to the Philadelphia Eagles, accompanied by a trade of running back Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins, that group of ten was pared down, then shaved again when 49ers all-pro tackle Joe Staley announced his retirement over the Draft weekend.

Still another name was snatched from my list two weeks prior to the loss of those three, not by departure but via re-signing, when the team secured cornerback Jason Verrett to a one-year contract in mid-April. The loss of Breida and Goodwin was perhaps predictable. The retirement of Staley less so, as most people, me included, anticipated the 49ers' long-standing anchor of the offensive line would be playing one last year of football. The re-signing of Verrett few people saw coming.

Admittedly, nothing is ever a certainty in professional football until it happens, but realistically, it is hard to envision that 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan had not come to some private agreement about both Breida and Goodwin months ago. Both are talented players, but each in his own way had suddenly become an after-thought to the 49ers' plans as a team.

The facts and circumstances of Goodwin's downfall with the 49ers will always be a bit murky. He had flashes of being a worthy offensive weapon early in the 2019 season, but as the season moved on, and with Emmanuel Sanders coming to the team from Denver, Goodwin's role dwindled. He struggled, too, with family problems off the field, which rendered him a healthy inactive for the second half of the season.

Little if any of that may have been Goodwin's fault. But regardless, by the opening of the 2020 draft, it was obvious to most observers that the speed-based receiver had more than one foot out the door.

Breida's case was different. He had a few fumbles in a later season game that some believe put him on shaky ground in Shanahan's game plan, but he still seemed to be productive when he got his hands on the ball, though those chances were clearly diminished as the 49ers rolled into the playoffs.

Still, much of what kept Breida off the field seemed less about Breida himself than it did the undeniable rise of 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, combined with Shanahan's clear fixation on getting running back Tevin Coleman the bulk of game carries. Breida quickly became odd-man-out in Shanahan's run-heavy offense, and the handwriting was then on the wall: Breida was expendable.

Staley's retirement was going to happen at some point. There's little else to say about it, and though losing Staley on its face was unfortunate, it couldn't have happened at a better time for the 49ers.

Enter all-pro tackle Trent Williams, who finally managed his escape from the Washington Redskins and landed in San Francisco for the lowly price of two mid-round draft picks. At four years younger than Staley, the 31-year-old Williams has effectively solved the team's need at left tackle for the next couple of seasons.

The real head-scratcher in the group was certainly Verrett, whose renewed contract was an oddity, given what's happened over the last four years of his career. After a Pro-Bowl season in 2015 with the then-San Diego Chargers, Verrett suffered an ACL injury that knocked him out of the 2016 season.

He lived for the most part on the injured reserve list for the next three seasons, and now four years and several other medical conditions later, Verrett has a record of having appeared on the football field about as often as Janet Jackson, and with a lot less attention.

Verrett's future with the team is secured, at least for the moment, but it's not likely to remain so if something drastic doesn't happen for him early this season. There are simply too many reasons to part ways with Verrett, and virtually none to support keeping him on the roster.

With Goodwin, Breida and Staley no longer in red and gold, and Verrett granted another season of "wait and see," there are still a number of other players who seem destined to exist "on the bubble" in the weeks moving closer to a potential team training camp.

Dante Pettis. It should be no surprise to anyone to see the name of the third-year receiver here. Once the prospective golden child in the Shanahan offense, Pettis became persona non grata early last season, after some iffy performances stemming from what Shanahan himself suggested was Pettis' lack of competitive drive. Pettis, despite some undeniable talent, seemed to lose heart thereafter and was largely outplayed by the defensive backs covering him in games, a circumstance that led Pettis straight into Shanahan's doghouse by mid-season.

He hasn't come out since.

Pettis was a non-factor from then on and was rarely seen on the field in the team's drive for the Super Bowl. What happens to him now is not an absolute, but looking at the 49ers roster, with first-round draft pick Brandon Aiyuk vying for playing time, along with veteran wideouts Travis Benjamin and Kendrick Bourne, and the now-healthy receivers Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor returning, there's at least a strong likelihood that Pettis is playing somewhere else after the final roster cut in 2020.

Solomon Thomas. Let's get this right out there: There's nothing really wrong with defensive lineman Thomas, the team's first-round draft choice in 2017. He's earned his spot on the team's roster up until now. Unfortunately for Thomas, he has plied his trade in a group that also contains some serious defensive stars, and he's yet to play up to their level. He's an NFL caliber lineman who could make most rosters, but he's in danger of being tagged a first-round flop if things don't improve for him, and quickly.

Not too many weeks ago, John Lynch suggested Thomas' role might be expanded but that was before Lynch and the 49ers spent their first pick of the draft on South Carolina defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. Now, the 49ers' front office has started to show its hand by declining to pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas' contract. Could the team hang on to Thomas for rotational depth? Absolutely. But Kinlaw's arrival may prove to be the catalyst that ends Thomas' time with the 49ers.

Marcell Harris. The 49ers' third-year backup safety has played well in spots and is remembered for a huge play in stripping the ball from Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson in a critical game against the Ravens last season. Unfortunately for Harris, he's also remembered for getting burned repeatedly in games during the last half of the season when starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt was out injured.

The 49ers secured starting free safety Jimmie Ward on a new contract earlier this year, and Tartt is healthy again. The 49ers aren't otherwise deep at the safety position, and that may be the principal reason Harris hangs on. But the 49ers did sign rookie safeties Jared Mayden (Alabama) and Ronnell Perkins (Missouri) as undrafted free agents. If one of them steps up in the pre-season and rallies for a backup spot, Harris may be on his way out.

C.J. Beathard. The 49ers' third string quarterback behind Jimmy Garoppolo is much-liked in the locker room, but it's becoming a hard-sell to back the argument he should be kept on another season. Other than his time on the practice field, Beathard isn't much involved in the 49ers' week to week success, and with many NFL teams running with just two quarterbacks, the 49ers seem a bit out of step in keeping three.

Nick Mullens is the team's undeniable backup to starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Beathard also holds down a valuable roster spot that might be otherwise freed up to add an extra defensive back or receiver.

To make matters gloomier for Beathard, the 49ers signed UDFA Broc Rutter (North Central) immediately after the draft, and Rutter, while very green, seems like he has development potential. If Shanahan can be convinced to get past his desire to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, and Rutter does well in the pre-season, the scales are not likely to tip back in Beathard's favor.

Trent Taylor. This idea of scuttling Taylor might shock many, given his potential flair as an NFL receiver, but the ranks are deepening in the 49ers' wideout unit post-draft, and there's becoming less and less of a reason for the team to continue carrying players who cannot get healthy. Taylor has just 69 receptions for 649 yards and 3 touchdowns in his three years with the 49ers.

Despite being an electrifying player with an apparent on-field chemistry with Garoppolo, those are not numbers that in any way justify a de facto spot on the team's roster. Second year wideout Hurd also missed the regular season last year, but it's unlikely the 49ers give up on him anytime soon.

Hurd and Taylor are now reportedly healthy, and perhaps those issues are behind them both. We can hope that's the case, but another extended stretch of inactivity with Taylor is going to very rapidly make him a candidate for the "what might have been" list in the NFL's archives of shortened careers.

Richie James, Jr. Unlike Trent Taylor, James has been healthy during his time with the 49ers. Like Taylor, the path ahead to a spot on the roster is becoming rockier with every week that passes. James is fast and has shown moments of brilliance on the field, and he's at least a capable return man on special teams. But his involvement in the passing offense seriously waned during last season and being "adequate" as a kick returner probably isn't enough to hold down a place on this team.

Much of the wide receiver depth chart will get worked out during a potential training camp and pre-season, but with the others that will be jockeying with him for a handful of wideout spots, James may now be fighting an uphill battle.

A professional football roster is like an arctic ice floe: cracks appear, then masses come back together, some components solidify, and others are sent out to sea. The 49ers' roster, while still fresh from an NFC championship, is not immune to those changes. The makeup of this team will become more complicated before it is clarified, as evidenced by what's happened just in the past four weeks.

Somewhere ahead lies the answers to questions surrounding Dante Pettis, Solomon Thomas, Richie James and all the rest. Some of those players may remain, others may not. And there will likely be a few additional surprises along the way --- moves that none of us saw coming. As nerve-racking as that can be, most especially for the players, it's part of the process.

Matt Breida is going home to Florida to a Dolphins team that will undoubtedly hold him in high regard. Marquise Goodwin will get a fresh start and may get the throws from the Eagles' Carson Wentz that he no longer could get in Shanahan's offense. And Joe Staley's body, apart from playing golf, will finally get the rest it deserves.

Whatever happens with the rest of the 49ers' roster will unfold as it's intended, and the team will probably be the better for the changes. But whether for better or worse, it should be fascinating to watch.
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.


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