Grant Cohn: Time for some 49ers to step aside so foundation of future can develop

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The 49ers don’t know it, but they lucked out.

They think they’re unlucky, because injuries ruined their chances to make the playoffs. Now, be honest, they probably won’t win more than four games.

But that’s OK. They probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs anyway, even if Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon had stayed healthy and played like Pro Bowl performers. The rest of the roster just isn’t good enough. The 49ers are rebuilding.

Now, they can focus on rebuilding, which should have been their focus all along. In a way, all these bad breaks have been good for the 49ers. This season still can be positive. They can set themselves up to be even better next season, better than if they had fruitlessly pursued a playoff spot. Now, they can really build a team that can really win in 2019.

Now, they can evaluate their young players. Develop ones who will be around the next three seasons. Build a foundation, so there’s hope for the future. So Garoppolo doesn’t have to be the savior when he returns from his torn ACL. That’s too much pressure on a young quarterback.

In order to evaluate the young players, certain established ones must step aside. Their time is up. Here’s who they are.

1. WR Pierre Garcon

He’s 32, he struggles to get open and his hands aren’t good like they used to be. Last Sunday, he let one bounce off his hands, and the Cardinals intercepted it.

The 49ers threw Garcon a team-high 12 passes in that game. Makes no sense. He caught only five. He’s nearing the end of his career, and the 49ers should cut him at the end of the season.

Instead of featuring Garcon the next three months, the 49ers should give his playing time to the young receivers – Richie James, Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. They can rotate. Maybe one can develop into a starter for next season.

James is the most intriguing of the three. He’s a rookie seventh-round pick, and during the preseason he caught 15 passes for 192 yards ‑ both team highs. So far during the regular season, the 49ers have thrown the ball to him just one time. He caught it. The 49ers should throw him the ball more often, and stop wasting the first year of his cheap, rookie contract.

2. TE Garrett Celek

The 49ers already know starting tight end George Kittle is part of their foundation. He’s a terrific young player. Now, they need to find a second tight end to develop.

It’s not Celek, the current backup. He contributes nothing but penalties and drops. Plus, he’s 30. The 49ers need to replace him.

Their third-string tight end, Cole Wick, seems like a stiff. He dropped an easy pass in the end zone against the Cardinals. Let it bounce of his chest.

Other than Kittle, the 49ers’ most talented tight end is Ross Dwelley, who plays on the practice squad. He’s a rookie from the University of San Diego, and he caught 20 touchdown passes his final two college seasons. During the preseason, he caught seven passes for 91 yards. He’s a natural receiver.

The 49ers should call him up.

3. OT Joe Staley

He’s 34, coming off one of the worst games of his career. And his contract will end after next season. Then, he probably will retire.

Do the 49ers have his replacement? They need to know.

They drafted Mike McGlinchey in the first round this year, and he’s starting at right tackle. Obviously, he will be a cornerstone player for the next few years. But will he continue to play on the right side, or will he move to the left, where Staley plays? That’s the most important tackle position, because he protects the quarterback’s blind side.

If the 49ers see McGlinchey as their left tackle of the future, they should move him there now, and move Staley to the right. Switch them. Accelerate McGlinchey’s development, so he’s ready to protect Garoppolo’s blind side next season.

4. OG Mike Person

He’s the starting right guard, and he’s playing well. But he’ll be a free agent after this season, and he’s 30. The 49ers probably won’t re-sign him.

Meanwhile, former first-round pick Joshua Garnett is under contract through 2019, and he’s not playing. He injured his toe Week 1, but he’s healthy now. He should start at right guard the rest of the season.

The 49ers need to know if Garnett is good or not. He’s only 24. When the season ends, they have to choose whether to pick up the expensive fifth-year option for 2020 in his contract. Playing him now will help them make the right choice.

5. DT Solomon Thomas

Thomas is only 23, but we know what he is: a run defender. Not a pass rusher. He has zero sacks this season. The 49ers should give someone else a turn to rush the quarterback. Thomas had his shot.

Arik Armstead deserves more chances to rush the quarterback. The 49ers still don’t know how good he can be, or if they want to keep around him for the future. He’s a former first-round pick.

Sheldon Day also deserves more chances. He plays hard and has one sack this season.

And Jullian Taylor deserves a chance. He’s a rookie seventh-round pick who tore it up during the preseason, but hasn’t played at all during the regular season. Has been inactive every game. He can’t get better or younger by standing on the sideline.

6. CB Richard Sherman

He’s 30 and he pulls a muscle every few weeks. He will be gone after this season, most likely.

The 49ers should trade Sherman right now to a team that’s in contention. Don’t waste the final act of his career. Let him chase a Super Bowl somewhere else.

Then, the 49ers should start rookie Tarvarius Moore. They drafted him in the third round because they think he can develop into a starting cornerback. They should let him develop. Should make him show what he can do, so they know whether to draft another corner next year.

Right now is the 49ers’ chance to accelerate their rebuilding process. This horrible start isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to them. Embrace it.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

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