Expectations are the 49ers are going to scorch the earth this offseason looking for weapons to surround quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
And interestingly enough, leading up to that scavenger hunt, John Middlekauff of The Athletic suggested the possibility of some eyebrow raising trades being made around the league, perhaps around the combine where all the head coaches and important front office execs are in one place. This presents an opportunity for the 49ers to inquire about players, perhaps even a weapon for Garoppolo.
If you look around the league, you can get an idea of which big-name receivers may be on the block, or which ones are worth asking about.
Whether it’s unhappy veterans stuck on stale or rebuilding teams; anyone in a situation where the chemistry is bad with the organization or quarterback; cap-strapped teams; or a player that needs a new contract and the team doesn’t see eye-to-eye on his value; these are the signs general manager John Lynch should look for before probing a team about a player.
Given that criteria, here are a few worthwhile receivers that come to mind.
A.J. Green, Bengals
The stranded veteran and two-time All-Pro receiver has at least a foggy future with the Bengals, and could be highly sought after this offseason. He’ll be 30 years old next year with two years left on his contract. And Cincinnati, coming off consecutive sub-.500 seasons, can’t get out of its own way, and is wasting the final years of Green’s illustrious career. As an older, losing team, they look like a candidate for a rebuild.
If that winds up being the case, they could free up cash and acquire draft capital, and could do right by Green by trading him to a potential contender outside the conference that has a quarterback to take advantage of his tools. Green, one of the most elegant and dominant jump-ball receivers of this generation, has years left, and could be the type of acquisition that gives the 49ers a championship-caliber offense. However low the probability, Green is worth asking about due to the Bengals' situation.
Martavis Bryant, Steelers
Bryant, who not long ago requested a trade from Pittsburgh, was a hot name at the trade deadline. Even before, head coach Mike Tomlin was refuting drama-fueled reports, emphasizing that the receiver wasn’t going anywhere following his return from a year-long suspension.
But considering risk of keeping him, plus the contracts of Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, and Le'Veon Bell needing a mega-deal, and the arrival of Juju Smith-Schuster, it would seem Bryant is expendable. If a team were to offer the Steelers even a little compensation or a cap-friendly defensive player (say, Arik Armstead or Jimmie Ward) to take the long-strider off their hands, they'd be wise to accept it.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts
The Colts took calls for their star receiver leading up to the trade deadline, but didn’t see compensation they liked enough to cut a deal. Fast forward to today, and still, with the in-your-face uncertainty surrounding Andrew Luck, and in the midst of a rebuild with new GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich, the team looks set up to make big changes. In that evaluation and turnover, they could revisit what Hilton might net them in a trade.
If they do, San Francisco makes sense as a suitor. The four-time Pro Bowler led the NFL in receiving in 2016 and would immediately help Garoppolo and the 49ers in the deep passing attack. Hilton is a quality starter that can line up anywhere and provides the big-play element the Niners don't really have. If the asking price isn't too high, this is a proven commodity Lynch could look to bring in.
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos
The Broncos have a little depth at receiver, and Sanders is only getting older and more expensive, which could spell a parting of the ways. He’ll be 31 years old next season carrying a near $11M cap hit. Added to which, production has been hard to come by for Sanders — he's had a tough time staying healthy (four missed starts in 2017), and hasn’t been able to get in a groove in the Broncos' mess of a quarterback situation. So, Sanders might not be in Denver's plans, according to multiple reports.
If he becomes available, the 49ers would have to consider this: In the three years prior to 2017 he had 256 catches for 3,571 yards and 20 touchdowns. He'd also likely be attainable for low-round pick. And as a receiver that has a strong foundation as a route technician, Sanders could produce a few more very good seasons in the 49ers’ offense.
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