By: Mike Messner (@teachermike72)
Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)
Howdy, friends and neighbors. This is my first foray into writing about football, or any sport for that matter, so a brief pedigree statement is in order.
I’ve been a Niners fan since 1981, when I was all of 9 years old and the team had been a joke for at least the previous three years. I’ve watched the team through the glories of the Montana era, the brilliance of Bill Walsh and George Seifert, and the grit of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. I have also witnessed the decline that happened in the post-Steve Young years, and endured the embarrassment of people that had no apparent idea what a football team was supposed to do. Think Mike Nolan, Dennis Erickson, and Jim Tomsula.
My brother in law and I share a PFF account, and we considered several account names, one of which was “f***baalke.” Get the idea?
By trade, I’m a high school history teacher and occasional community college instructor; I’ve been married to my wife for 16 years and we are raising our 9 year old son together.
So, I’m not a jock; I’m not a former player who thinks he knows it all, or even a wannabe athlete. I’m just a guy who has seen a lot, has some opinions, and likes to think he keeps up with the news about the team. And I always have the right to be wrong, like every other American wise guy.
Take that as you will, but when 49ersHive put out the call for writers, I thought I could fish my two cents out of my wallet and throw them out.
Okay, here we go with the content. With the new regime in Santa Clara, and with the addition of so many draft picks, UDFAs, and free agency signings, it’s clear to most observers that Shanahan and Lynch really want to wipe the slate clean — they have no sentiment about people who have been part of the organization and wouldn’t be terribly bothered about giving almost any of the old-timers their walking papers.
Without further ado, let’s get to the five veterans who should be feeling the flames underneath them.
5. Garret Celek, TE
Celek has been with the team since 2012, when he signed as an UDFA. He was placed on injured reserve late in the 2014 season, but was signed to a one-year extension with the 49ers in March 2015 and then again to a 4-year contract extension in February. In 2015 he caught 19 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, and last season he did…not much of anything.
Celek has never been much more than a back-up in an offense that was appallingly bad. He is also pushing 30, and even as a younger player there wasn’t much speed there; seeing him beat coverage was a rarity on the snaps he saw. It doesn’t help matters that he’s been injured a fair bit; in addition to the one mentioned above, he started 2014 on the physically unable to perform list after having back surgery over the summer, and then he missed the last 2 games of the season after a 3-game return.
I’m not carrying a torch for Vance McDonald, but the team does seem more invested in him than in Celek, dropped passes notwithstanding. Also, the selection of George Kittle in the draft, and Cole Hikutini as an UDFA, it will probably put too much competitive pressure on Celek to make the team. Celek is a well-rounded veteran, but he has probably worn out his welcome in San Francisco.
4. Ronald Blair, DL
I hate to say this about Blair, because I always want to give rookies a fighting chance to prove themselves beyond the first year — which is part of the reason why Joshua Garnett is not on this list.
However, Blair was a fifth round selection last year. He racked up a fair impressive set of statistics at Appalachian State, and was touted as a good interior pass rusher in the sub packages. Then the season started.
Aside from some solid moments against Denver and Green Bay, Blair just didn’t impress me. He did pull down three sacks on the season, but he finished the year in the middle of the pack for total number of tackles. In an era where the team will be investing in run stoppage, Blair doesn’t seem to fit in.
Unless Blair can suddenly be converted to an edge rusher, he will find that Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones will squeeze him out (literally?) out of his job. Put those factors together with his 44.3 PFF rating, and he may see his ticket out of San Francisco punched.
3. Chris Jones, DT
Another defensive lineman who has underwhelmed, Jones was drafted in the sixth round by the Texans back in 2013 out of Bowling Green. He was then promptly released by that team, and then by Tampa Bay after a 9-day stay there. To his credit, he was then claimed by the Patriots, and was part of the winning Patriots team in Super Bowl XLIX. A calf injury caused him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season; he bounced to Miami for a time and then was signed by the 49ers in November 2016 when Arik Armstead went on IR. Last season he started the last 6 games, subbing for both Armstead and for Quinton Dial when he went out.
Despite some solid play last season and an ability to pressure the pocket proven throughout his career, it’s just not clear to me what chance he has in a defense with the recent draft picks, with DeForrest Buckner rarin’ to improve in his sophomore season, and with a (hopefully) improved Armstead returning to action. Jones may simply be outclassed this time; I’m guessing he may make the practice squad, or he may be let go completely. Either way, he has little reason to feel confident about his odds.
2. Zane Beadles, OL
I actually really like Beadles, as a person and as an athlete, but facts are stubborn things, as John Adams once said. Beadles was once a Pro Bowl athlete, and Jacksonville bestowed a five-year, $30 million contract on him for 2015. The wheels promptly came off, as he was described as “awful” in the new blocking scheme there.
San Francisco signed him out of free agency in 2016, but most football writers thought that he wasn’t the long term solution the offensive line needed, and he proved them right. While he does have a ton of versatility and can play guard, center or tackle, his tendency is to favor motion and speed over power, which isn’t the greatest attribute when you’re trying to defend against pass rushers that ate both Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert for lunch all last year.
The arrival of Jeremy Zuttah could signal the end of the Zane Beadles experiment, especially when you factor in Beadles’ low PFF rating (it was 42.1, the lowest of any 49ers interior lineman). It wouldn’t surprise me if Beadles was kept as either a reserve or a practice squad guy, simply for his ability to take any spot on the offensive line. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he never played on the team again.
1. Eli Harold, OLB
With Harold, it has been a case of waiting around for him to come into his own. I just haven’t seen that arrival yet, and time may have run out for the waiting game.
Harold was brought on in the third round in the 2015 draft. He had been a fairly fast blitzer in college, and was thought to be an asset in the 49ers pass rush, which had been mostly based on power up to that time. That season, he didn’t get a single sack and he didn’t work well as a run defender. The tackles he did get all came late in the season, by which time the die was cast for the 49ers’ playoff hopes. Last season wasn’t much more impressive…
The Niners didn’t add a true edge rusher this year, but the answer they are looking for involves much more than speed and muscle, both of which Harold has. He just hasn’t proven he can get to the quarterback consistently.
Not to put myself in the same category as Brian Peacock or the writers over at Bleacher Report, but they both happen to agree with me. Three sacks in a two-year career doesn’t cut it in the Shanahan-Lynch regime.
Harold is in trouble this year, and unless he has a blowout training camp, he will find himself out of a job by August.