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49ers will be looking for receiver help

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The 49ers’ starting wide receivers during training camp were Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin.

No wonder oddsmakers in Las Vegas predicted the 49ers would win only eight games.

Pettis and Goodwin flopped. The 49ers benched Pettis during camp, and then benched Goodwin after six games. Neither played at all after Week 9.

The 49ers seemed to have a debilitating weakness at a vital position, until rookie Deebo Samuel and third-year receiver Kendrick Bourne emerged midseason. Those two made Goodwin and Pettis irrelevant.

Samuel emerged as a dangerous offensive weapon who can run the ball and catch it. He finished the season with 1,190 yards from scrimmage. And Bourne emerged as the 49ers’ secret weapon. He never started a game, but caught a team-high six touchdown passes and developed a strong connection with Jimmy Garoppolo, whose passer rating when targeting Bourne was a whopping 113.7.

Bourne will be a restricted free agent in March, but the 49ers can match any contract offer he receives from another team. So he almost certainly will be on the 49ers next season.

Now they need a third wide receiver to emerge for 2020. Here are the 49ers’ options:

1. Emmanuel Sanders

The 49ers traded a third-round pick in the upcoming draft for Sanders at midseason. He instantly became a starter and the grownup in a young wide receiver room that needed a mentor. Both Samuel and Bourne have said Sanders helped them mature and improve.

But on the field, Sanders was inconsistent. He didn’t have a strong connection with Garoppolo, whose passer rating was a mediocre 86.3 when targeting Sanders. And Sanders was invisible in the playoffs —he caught just five passes for 71 yards in three postseason games. The 49ers stopped using him for long stretches.

Sanders will turn 33 next month and become a free agent. He earned more than $10 million last season, so he’ll be an expensive 33-year-old. The 49ers currently have less than $13 million in cap space. They probably can’t afford to re-sign Sanders.

2. Trent Taylor

Taylor might be Garoppolo’s favorite wide receiver on the team.

Those two developed an immediate rapport in 2017 when the 49ers traded for Garoppolo, and built on that rapport during training camp of 2019. Taylor caught more passes in camp than any other player on the offense, including All-Pro tight end George Kittle.

But Taylor broke his foot and missed the entire season. The previous year, 2018, he had back surgery and played poorly. He hasn’t been healthy since 2017, so the 49ers can’t count on him to play a major role. Anything he gives them is a bonus.

3. Jalen Hurd

The 49ers took him in the third round of the draft last year, and he played well during the preseason. But he broke his back and missed the entire regular season and playoffs. The 49ers still haven’t cleared him medically, although they hope to do so before April 1.

The 49ers also hoped Hurd would return to the team at midseason last year, but he suffered complications and setbacks, so he stopped traveling with the team and attending meetings. The mere act of sitting in one place for an extended period caused pain in his broken back.

Hurd had injury issues in college, too. He had two shoulder surgeries, a knee surgery and a concussion. He’s a violent player who might be injury prone. If he emerges as a key contributor for the 49ers, great, but he’s another receiver they can’t count on.

4. Dante Pettis

The 49ers had no use for him the second half of the season. He was a healthy scratch the final five games, meaning he dressed but didn’t play, not even on special teams. And in the playoffs, he was inactive, meaning he didn’t even get to wear his uniform when he watched the games from the sideline.

The 49ers probably will give Pettis another opportunity to turn around his career this offseason, because they traded up to take him in the second round of the 2018 draft. They’re invested in him. But they gave him plenty of opportunities in 2019 and he did nothing with them. He caught just 11 passes.

If a team offers to trade for Pettis, the 49ers would be smart to accept, because they might have to cut him otherwise.

5. Marquise Goodwin

Goodwin earned more than $4 million last season from the 49ers, even though he caught just 12 passes. He was a huge disappointment. Finished the season on I.R. with a knee injury, and the 49ers didn’t even invite him on the team plane to Miami for the Super Bowl. He had to fly midweek with family members.

Goodwin almost certainly will not play for the 49ers next season — he’ll be 30 in November and is due to earn almost $6 million in 2020.

Will the 49ers trade him or cut him?

Clearly, they would prefer to trade Goodwin and not lose him for nothing. But he’s an expensive veteran, meaning it might be even tougher to trade him than Pettis. The 49ers may have no choice but to release Goodwin before the season. Releasing or trading him would create $5.85 million in cap space for the 49ers.

6. A rookie

The 49ers can add a young, talented receiver to learn and play behind Samuel and Bourne in 2020 — an ideal setup. Fortunately for the 49ers, this year’s class of draft-eligible wide receivers is historically good.

“It’s as good as I’ve ever seen,” general manager John Lynch said at the NFL scouting combine. “You kind of get whatever flavor you like. If you like a smaller, quicker guy, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that’s there.”

Meaning this is the perfect year to draft wide receivers.

But the 49ers have no picks in Rounds 2, 3 or 4. And they can’t afford to draft a wide receiver in Round 1 — they have bigger needs in the secondary and along the offensive line.

So they can trade down with their first-round pick, trade down more than once if necessary and turn that one pick into as many as possible. Maybe five or six. Then draft a wide receiver in Round 2 or 3.

This is the cheapest, most effective move, if Lynch understands it and can pull it off.

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