The 49ers had their mandatory minicamp last week, but TE Vernon Davis and RG Alex Boone were not in attendance. Both players feel they’ve outplayed their current contracts (which run through the 2015 season) and are withholding their services, seeking lucrative extensions. Following last tuesday’s session head coach, Jim Harbaugh, had less than encouraging words for the holdouts:
(via CSN Bay Area) “I’m disappointed in that decision not to be here,” Harbaugh said. “As a voluntary segment to the offseason and we appreciate those guys volunteering to make the team better,” Harbaugh said. “Now, it’s mandatory and wish they could’ve . . . (it’s) not the decision I envision being the 49er way.”
It’s interesting to hear this criticism coming from Harbaugh and not General Manager Trent Baalke. That’s not to say I disagree with Harbaugh’s comments; the 49ers are coming off a loss to division rival and reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Seattle Seahawks. There’s work to be done and missing two key starters can’t be anything but disappointing for a team looking to make it’s 4th straight appearance in an NFC Championship game (hopefully) on the way to a Super Bowl title.
The use of the phrase, “not…the 49er way,” seems particularly telling of where the team stands. The 49ers have been stoutly team first, and haven’t been afraid to let players walk in free agency once the cost of keeping them gets to high. (SS Donte Whitner, FS Dashon Goldson and WR Josh Morgan come to mind as recent examples.) And when it comes to hold outs…it wasn’t all that long ago that the 49ers let #9 overall draft pick Michael Crabtree holdout all the way into October of his rookie season before ultimately signing with the team on what were largely their terms.
In short, Jed York and Trent Baalke are not guys you want to get in a staring contest with; Baalke’s done a good job of building a deep roster and should be able to field a competitive team even without Davis and Boone. Third year man Joe Looney has been taking Boone’s snaps at RG, and there’s always the possibility that the loser of the Center position battle between Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin could slide into the spot. The 49ers also still have veteran Adam Snyder on the roster, who Boone inherited the job from in 2012 when Snyder joined the division rival Cardinals for a season. Make no mistake, Boone is still the best man for the job, but on a line that boasts 3 pro-bowlers the 49ers can feel comfortable with their options at RG with or without Boone. Should they suffer any injuries along the line though, Boone absence could become much more significant. (He has filled in for Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis at various points in his career.)
Vernon Davis is in a bit of a different situation. 2nd year TE Vance McDonald has struggled to hold on to passes and if he doesn’t improve his hands in training camp he could be a liability in the passing game. The bright side to that is the 49ers are better equipped than ever to run an offense with a more traditional TE with a talented WR pool all the way down to the 6th man on the depth chart (Brandon Lloyd or Quinton Patton.) Without Davis Garrett Celek would jump into the 2nd TE spot. He’s got some promising talent and the 49ers have kept him around for a number of years, but it’s unclear if he’s ready for a bigger role. A bit of a wild card in this situation is Trey Millard. He’s still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in college, but once he’s back on the field and fully healthy he could factor in as an H-back, as he’s well known for his blocking prowess and soft hands.
There’s no question Davis and Boone would be missed, but the 49ers are surprisingly well equipped to handle life without them, and if you ask me that’s the reason both Davis and Boone are holding out with 2 years left on their contracts. If it’s fairly simple to replace them now when they were presumed starters, imagine how easy it will be for the 49ers to let them go in 2 years. Vernon Davis knows the market for a 32 year old TE is significantly lower than it is for a 30 year old TE coming off a highly productive season who’s replacement isn’t quite ready yet. If he could get a lucrative 3 year extension out of the 49ers he’d secure his playing future through age 35 and then venture out into other endeavors. Much the same holds true for Boone. At 27 years old Boone is in his prime, when he hits the market in 2016 he’ll be 29 and seen as exiting his prime and no one wants to pay top dollar for a lineman they think has only 2 years of top quality play in them.
It’s hard to imagine a solution that makes everyone happy, but I could Boone showing up to training camp and requesting a trade or his release if the 49ers don’t intend to resign him. I could also see him returning to camp under a promise to begin work on a new deal that likely wouldn’t be completed until the 2015 offseason. (It’s not much, but I just don’t see the 49ers handing out a new contract immediately following a holdout, it sets a bad precedent.) With Davis, I can see a similar situation, a return to training camp under the promise of working out a new deal in the off season, but I can also see the 49ers calling Davis’ bluff. According to sportrac.com Davis will be the highest paid pass catcher on the 49ers roster in 2014 and has the 2nd highest base salary on the team ($4.7 million.) He’s also still the 3rd highest paid TE, at least until Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas’ new deals come through.