With two months until training camps open up, so many changes have come since the beginning of the offseason. From critical free agent acquisitions to surprising trades that have reshaped the NFL landscape, teams are looking much different from a year ago.
The same can be said for the San Francisco 49ers as they’ve gone through their own restructure of their roster. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have gone out of their way to help get the team back on track with some significant transactions. Moves like drafting edge rusher Nick Bosa and receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd and the massive trade for pass rusher Dee Ford will significantly improve the team moving forward.
However, with these changes to the roster, that will mean that some players will have the unfortunate experience of seeing their time in San Francisco come to an end. Some are players that have not met up to expectations, and others are veterans that will find themselves out of the mix. But as we all know, football is a business.
Here are a few players that are at risk of being cut or traded before the 2019 regular season for the San Francisco 49ers.
QB CJ Beathard
With an insurance plan of having two quarterbacks behind Jimmy Garoppolo (who’s coming back from an ACL tear), many would assume to keep the depth the way it is. However, Beathard has proven to be less than helpful when asked to come in for the starting offense.
Last season when asked to fill in for Garoppolo at starting quarterback he showed some improvement from his rookie season numbers. But he only completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards to go with eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. These aren’t the numbers of a capable backup. And in his ten appearances as the starter, he’s come away with a record of 1-9.
And when Nick Mullens was asked to step in when Beathard got hurt, Mullens proved to be a more significant improvement than the Iowa product. In the undrafted quarterback’s eight starts as San Francisco’s starter, he came in and flourished in the Shanahan system. He won three games and completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,277 yards and 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
It’s unlikely that Shanahan will get rid of a quarterback that he handpicked in the 2017 draft. But if Beathard can’t show that he can improve from a year ago, then he might be on his way out.
TE Garrett Celek
There’s no way of anyone challenging George Kittle for the top spot. Even though some on the team want to take that starting title away sometime soon. But someone like Kaden Smith provides an area of both depth and complementary assistance to record-breaking tight end.
With those two covering the top two spots, it could leave someone like Garrett Celek on the short end of the pass catching. Especially with the recent signing of an old Shanahan disciple in Levine Toilolo.
5 of Levine Toilolo’s 8 career receiving TDs have come within 10 yards of the end zone.
His two longest TDs were 46 and 32 yards – both came in 2016 in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
— Kyle Madson (@KyleAMadson) May 15, 2019
The signing of the Wake Forest product can provide the team with much needed red zone help and give the team someone familiar with the offense already.
This doesn’t bode well for Celek as his role on the team has already been greatly diminished since the inception of Kittle taking over. Last season, Celek came away with five catches on just eight targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns. A fall from grace after putting up back-to-back 300-yard campaigns before 2018.
It looks as if Celek time is coming to an end.
G Joshua Garnett
The 2016 first-rounder has not met up to expectations. The last first-round pick from the Trent Baalke era, the Stanford product has fallen off from long-term plans.
It’s not entirely his fault necessarily, but a slew of unfortunate injuries have taken a toll on him. After his first season when he was unprepared due to the league’s rule that rookies can’t attend training camp until they’ve finished their school year. He had to take a back seat from his time learning the offense. He struggled and came away with a Pro Football Focus grade of 45.7.
Then when the Shanahan era began in his second season, Garnett suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.
Last season, he was given a chance to fight for his starting spot on the offensive line. And he came up short to Mike Person and was given a reserve role. He ended his 2018 season because he needed thumb surgery, and now the San Francisco 49ers have chosen to decline his fifth-year option.
He could stay with the team to prove himself if there are injuries or underperformances from any of the guards. Laken Tomlinson is coming off of MCL surgery, so it’s up to see what the 49ers will do with Garnett. But he’s likely out the door if he continues to not live up to his number 28 selection from 2016.
LB Malcolm Smith
In the 2017 offseason, the 49ers signed Smith to a five-year $26.5 million deal with $11.5 million guaranteed and a seven million signing bonus.
With 35 total tackles (three for a loss) and only five starts in two seasons, it’s safe to say he hasn’t lived up to his contract. It is important to remember that in the first year of that contract, the Southern California product suffered a torn pectoral that ended his 2017 season with no regular-season appearances.
But even without the one year of no play because of injury, the numbers he put together and an inability to make an impact in his one season of play shows that he didn’t deserve the contract. Even the signing of that deal drew much speculation as to understand why the team spent so much on him.
As Sam Monson of PFF wrote:
You won’t ever be able to take away the fact that Malcolm Smith is a Super Bowl MVP, but that is by far the high-point of his NFL career, which has been heading in the wrong direction ever since. The year after his triumph saw his first bad season in Seattle, which saw them cast him off; he has since muddled through two poor years in Oakland, missing a monstrous 36 tackles across both seasons. In coverage in 2016, Smith allowed six touchdowns, one shy of the worst mark in the league among linebackers, and yet the 49ers signed him to a five-year, $24.5 million contract with $13 million in guarantees, giving him a substantial pay raise as a reward for bad play.
Smith worked out a deal in restructuring his contract with the team. It’s unknown if this will help out if he can’t secure a starting role on the 49ers defense. However, it’s better that the team is starting to pay him accordingly based on what he’s shown in San Francisco since signing on.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Of all of the second year starters from 2018 for the San Francisco 49ers, arguably the one that fell off the most was Ahkello Witherspoon (not counting Reuben Foster).
The Colorado product came into 2018 with high expectations after a strong rookie season. Once placed in the starting lineup he intercepted two passes and proved himself as a viable outside corner option.
But the second season wasn’t as kind to him. Playing opposite of Richard Sherman, he found himself being picked on many of times by opposing receivers and would be in and out of the starting lineup because of this. And before his season-ending knee sprain, his PFF grade was at an abysmal 44.9. A significant dropoff from his rookie year in which he posted a 74.5.
With the signing of Jason Verrett, the re-signing of Jimmie Ward, and the selection of Tim Harris, it’s up in the air as to what to make of the third year corner’s future with the team. But if he can’t impress, then he will be out of the Bay Area very soon.