Ex­am­in­ing the ros­ter brings forth questions

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Cam In­man cin­[email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

When it comes to de­bat­ing which 49ers merit bring­ing back to 2019, more questions are cen­tered on those with cur­rent con­tracts than ex­pir­ing ones. Let’s ex­am­ine their in­house op­tions to pon­der ahead of the March 11 free-agency kick­off:

Un­der con­tract

DE­FEN­SIVE END ARIK ARMSTEAD (SIGNED THROUGH 2019) » He’s started every game in a ca­reer-best sea­son, and coaches rave about his run de­fense (46 tack­les, 6 for loss). His three sacks are, gulp, a ca­reer high. 2019 salary: $9.046 mil­lion. Verdict: Best-case sce­nario for all par­ties is he takes that $9 mil­lion in a two-year ex­ten­sion. Jul­lian Tay­lor and Ken­tavius Street are younger, cheaper op­tions. WIDE RE­CEIVER PIERRE GARÇON

(2021) » In­juries halted him after eight games each of his two sea­sons with the 49ers, pro­duc­ing just one touch­down in all and to­tal­ing 24 re­cep­tions (286 yards) this sea­son. 2019 salary: $5.65 mil­lion. Verdict: That’s too ex­pen­sive for a gritty but 33-yearold flanker.

WIDE RE­CEIVER MAR­QUISE GOOD­WIN (2021) » Last sea­son’s 49ers debut earned him a three-year ex­ten­sion. In­juries and per­sonal is­sues im­pacted this sea­son’s per­for­mance (23 catches, 395 yards, 4 TDs). He hasn’t prac­ticed this week (calf), not a good sign for Sun­day’s fi­nale at the Rams. 2019 salary: $2.95 mil­lion. Verdict: No team of­fi­cial has hinted at his exit but it’s worth exploring. He seems best suited as a down-field spe­cial­ist or pack­age player than full-timer, es­pe­cially with Dante Pet­tis prov­ing him­self a play-mak­ing split end. Cut­ting him would cost $1.9 mil­lion in dead money.

LINE­BACKER MAL­COLM

SMITH (2021) » Crazy to re­call in Au­gust 2017 how the line­backer corps starred NaVorro Bow­man, Reuben Foster and Smith. Out all of 2017 (pec­toral tear), Smith was lim­ited this sea­son (Achilles) and got benched in fa­vor of Eli­jah Lee this month. 2019 salary: $3.75 mil­lion. Verdict: Dura­bil­ity con­cerns make him ex­pend­able, but that de­ci­sion isn’t ur­gent, not with a bloated salary cap.

GUARD JOSHUA GARNETT

(2019) » He’s played only 29 of­fen­sive snaps un­der Shana­han, all com­ing this sea­son while hin­dered by in­jur ies ( knee, hand) as Mike Per­son’s backup. 2019 salary: $ 968,800. Verdict: First- round pick out of Stanford sure seems on his way out. NOSE TACKLE EARL MITCH

ELL (2020) » Vet­eran leader of de­fen­sive front played OK be­fore be­queath­ing his spot to D. J. Jones. 2019 salary: $2.85 mil­lion. Verdict: Likely gone rather than re­turn at age 31. PASS RUSHER CASSIUS MARSH (2019) » Play­ing about half the snaps, he’s pro­duced a ca­reer-high 5½ sacks, in­clud­ing two last game. 2019 salary: $3.8 mil­lion. Verdict: Up­grad­ing at pass rusher is this off­sea­son’s top pri­or­ity, and keep­ing Marsh for in­surance isn’t a bad idea but it’s an ex­pen­sive one. CORNER­BACK RICHARD SHER­MAN (2019) » The 49ers de­fense would have been so much worse had he not bat­tled through his Achilles pain. “My health has got­ten bet­ter so that’s put me in bet­ter spir­its,” Sher­man said Thurs­day. 2019 salary: $7 mil­lion. Verdict: No brainer, keep him, even at the high­est salary be­hind Jimmy Garop­polo ($17.2 mil­lion) and Joe Sta­ley ($8 mil­lion), and have him re­cruit safety Earl Thomas.

Top free agents

KICKER ROB­BIE GOULD » He’s been su­per ac­cu­rate on field goals (39 of 41 in 2018, 32 of 33 in 2019), though his long­est of that bunch is 53 yards. He mer­its a mul­ti­year deal, and if comes else­where in the best mar­ket for a kicker in his ca­reer, he at least will give the 49ers a chance to match it. DE­FEN­SIVE BACK JIM­MIE WARD » If he wasn’t so in­jury- prone, he’d al­ready have an ex­ten­sion. The 49ers should let the mar­ket set his value and then try re-sign­ing him, more so as a free safety. Said de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Robert Saleh: “We need to pin­point what he was ex­celling at. He was do­ing a re­ally nice job back there at free safety.” GUARD MIKE PER­SON » He’s started every game and ad­mirably played through in­juries to bol­ster the line’s con­ti­nu­ity. If he’s in­deed the line’s weak­est link, the 49ers should try up­grad­ing be­fore re-sign­ing him. RUN­NING BACK RAHEEM MOSTERT » He’s a re­stricted free agent who must be re­signed, hav­ing shown rush­ing abil­ity to com­ple­ment his spe­cial-teams prow­ess. He’ll be play­ing with two plates and 13 screws in his right fore­arm. RUN­NING BACK AL­FRED MOR­RIS » Fum­bling at the goal line in Week 1 and be­ing in­ef­fec­tive in the red zone (22 car­ries, 23 yards, 1 TD) led to his bench­ing. He might see ac­tion Sun­day, how­ever. PUNTER BRADLEY PINION » His four-year ten­ure hangs in the bal­ance. His 39.0-yard net av­er­age ranks 24th, and his 43.5yard gross av­er­age is 30th. SAFETY ANTONE EXUM » He’s had mixed re­sults as a re­place­ment starter, and whiff­ing on Doug Bald­win two weeks ago wasn’t good. But Sher­man said Exum has been “in­valu­able” to re­cent wins. LINE­BACKER MARK NZEOCHA » He has just 17 tack­les and one sack as a strong- side line­backer, plus six spe­cial­teams tack­les. OTH­ERS » Safety Tyvis Pow­ell (re­stricted free agent), corner­back Greg Mabin (ex­clu­sive rights free agent) and line­backer Eli­jah Lee (ex­clu­sive rights free agent).

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

49ers corner­back Richard Sher­man is un­der con­tract for next sea­son at $7 mil­lion.

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