Jimmy Garoppolo — or Jimmy Jesus, or Gucci Garopp, or Jimmy GQ… I haven’t settled on my favorite yet — has shown that he can make average receivers look good and good receivers look great. I’m giddy thinking about what he can do with a true No. 1 option at his disposal next season. The San Francisco 49ers don’t have one on their roster now. They have an OK second option in Pierre Garçon, a burner in Marquise Goodwin and a reliable third-down target in Trent Taylor.
So where do they search for a top flight wideout this offseason? Well, the options in free agency are going to be slim. There isn’t a guy that is going to hit the market that will put much fear into a defense or demand a double team to open things up for Garoppolo and the running game.
Terrelle Pryor might come at a bargain after his disappointing one-year stint in Washington that ended with him on the injured reserve. Even when he was healthy, the quarterback-turned-receiver never quite lived up to the massive bet he made on himself — he reportedly turned down several longterm deals in the neighborhood of $8 million per year before signing the one-year, $6-million deal with the Redskins.
But I still believe that he can return to the monster he was in 2016, and if Niners General Manager John Lynch can grab him at around the same price as Garçon ($6 million), I’m for it. That, however, seems unlikely. Other far more desperate teams are going to be in the market for a big-bodied wideout and Pryor, with his 6-foot-4 frame and massive claw-like mitts, will fit that bill.
Quick thought on Pryor... remember when some people — I’m looking at you Raider fans — thought he might be the best QB in the Bay Area even though the Niners had Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick on the roster? NFL fandom knows no limits.
As a pure prospect, Jarvis Landry is the best receiver available, but he has been somewhat of a headache on and off the field in Miami, and he’ll demand to be paid like a top five player at his position, which I’m not so sure he deserves and I don’t believe the team can afford.
In four seasons he has 400 catches, 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns. Only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown have made more receptions than him in that span of time. But he hasn’t been in the national spotlight as much as either of those two. One can make the case he hasn’t been surrounded with as much talent as Jones in Atlanta or Brown in Pittsburgh, and let’s not forget that his quarterbacks over the last four seasons have been Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and Jay Cutler (shudders).
You would think the Dolphins would be jumping at the opportunity to resign him this offseason, but the team’s brass was iffy on the idea in its season-ending press conference. Maybe they’re only blowing smoke, or maybe Landry’s antics — getting kicked out of practice last season and losing his cool in game with teammates and coaches this season — have worn out the Dolphins’ braintrust. The Niners are in need of talent on the perimeter, but are they fine with bringing on some baggage and a big contract that will handicap what they can do in the future?
The rest of the free agent crop is meh. Mike Wallace and Sammy Watkins do the same thing as Goodwin but at a much higher price, and Eric Decker wouldn’t completely solve the team’s need on the outside. Plus, I think the NFL has a rule against having more than one extremely handsome man on one team. Why else did the Patriots trade away Garoppolo to the Niners for peanuts?
I don’t watch much college football, but most experts believe there are two or three receivers that could go in the top 15 picks of the upcoming draft. Depending on a coin flip, the Niners will pick ninth or 10th come April. This bodes well for them, but I’ve always believed it to be risky when a team picks by need rather than best player available inside the top 10, unless it’s a QB or offensive lineman.
Receivers, in particular, have had a hard time finding success after being picked in the top 10. Corey Davis (5th), Mike Williams (7th) and John Ross (9th) were all selected within the first 10 picks of last year’s draft by teams desperate for help at receiver. Davis was the most productive of the trio this season with only 34 catches and 375 yards. Amari Cooper was a hit for Oakland two years ago, but just three picks later Chicago whiffed on Kevin White with the No. 7 pick.
From 2000-2016, a total of 24 receivers have been picked in the top 10 but only 10 have gone on to have multiple seasons in which they surpassed 1,000 yards receiving.
I don’t know if the next A.J. Green, Mike Evans or Calvin Johnson is in this year’s draft. What I do know from my limited amount of time watching college football is that if Saquon Barkley or Minkah Fitzpatrick fall into Lynch’s lap, he needs to pull the trigger — after he’s done cracking open the champagne bottles, of course — and if it’s anyone else, he should trade back and get more picks.
In the past, having a need at receiver was such an offense-killer for the Niners because the quarterback talent — probably since Steve Young retired — was never able to make up the difference. The excuse with Smith, Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer, Blaine Gabbert, Troy Smith and [insert another mediocre-good QB name here] was always that the supporting cast around them was weak. Yet they all had Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin — in their prime, no less — to throw to.
Garoppolo has changed things to a degree, but the lack of a true first option shone through in the team’s inability to find much success in the red zone — having an average interior offensive line didn’t help either.
San Francisco needs to get better at receiver, but they shouldn’t take massive risks to do so. Garoppolo is like the Paul Thomas Anderson of football. He can take a schlub like Adam Sandler, throw him in “Punch-Drunk Love” and get him nominated for a Golden Globe. The Niners will win because of who they have behind center, not in spite of. It’s been a long time since the franchise has been able to say that.
Editor’s Note: In the weeks leading up to NFL free agency, Register-Pajaronian Sports Editor Tony Nunez will dive into the Niners’ roster needs following their 6-10 seasons. Up next, the offensive line.