San Francisco 49ers have eyes focused on Washington Redskins QB Cousins

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers have positioned themselves to make a big-time upgrade at quarterback next season.

The 49ers are playing the 2017 season with the lowest payroll in the league, a full $62.8 million under the salary cap.

And they are winless almost one-third of the way through the season, which would give them a top-three pick if the draft were held today.

With big bucks and a high pick, the 49ers could find themselves with the pick of the available quarterback litter next offseason.

But with his team visiting the Washington Redskins and possible 2018 free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins this Sunday, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan took time Wednesday to caution the media — and in turn the team’s fans — not to get caught up focusing on one particular player as potentially being the future of the franchise.

“That’s one of the reasons that we were so excited to come here,” Shanahan said of the club’s flexibility in talent acquisition moving forward. “When you go to a team that has that much salary-cap room, has that many draft picks … we knew we were going to have to add some resources. What made this such an enticing spot is we had the ability to do that from a salary-cap standpoint and draft picks, so it was exciting.”

On top of having retained their own selections in Rounds 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 in April, the 49ers also have acquired a second-round pick from New Orleans, a third-rounder from Chicago, a fourth-rounder from Pittsburgh and a seventh-rounder from Kansas City.

Their priorities at this point would certainly include quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback.

Some would like to see the star-less 49ers use their top picks on a first-class wideout and shut-down corner, while pursuing someone like Cousins in free agency.

“He’s a talented guy who works at it. Very tough and accurate and very solid quarterback,” Shanahan said of Cousins, with whom he worked with in Washington as offensive coordinator and part-time starter during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. “Kirk is very poised and pretty locked in in everything he does and plays the position very well.”

While it’s assumed, there’s no guarantee the 49ers will move away from current starter Brian Hoyer next season. He is coming off by far his best game as a 49er — 353 yards and a 101.1 passer rating — in last week’s overtime loss at Indianapolis.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Hoyer’s style and Shanahan’s current playbook could transition smoothly to Cousins, who already has a history of tag-teaming with Hoyer as collegiate teammates at Michigan State.

“They are similar-type guys, the style of how they play,” Shanahan observed. “Guys who are pocket passers, who can both throw. Guys who you’re not going to design a huge run game around them, making plays with their legs. I think they are similar.”

Hoyer is another 49er who is quite familiar with Cousins.

“He’s very meticulous,” Hoyer noted. “He was always that way in college. You can see it play out in his game now. He has a good feel for what he does and the game plan. Obviously, he can throw the ball really well. He’s always been able to do that, and he’s been able to take advantage of his opportunities.”

SERIES HISTORY: 28th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 17-9-1. The 49ers have won the last four matchups, two at each site. They won the most recent meeting 17-13 at home in 2014. The last Redskins win came at home in 2005, a 52-17 thrashing. The clubs also have met four times in the postseason, with the lone Redskins win in 1984 denying what could have been the first 49ers-Raiders Super Bowl.

–Kyle Shanahan will be facing his former employer, the Washington Redskins, for the first time as a head coach.

But the former Redskins offensive coordinator from 2010-13 was quick to point out Wednesday he’s been there, done that when it comes to going up against his old pals.

“My first year after I left Washington, I think it was maybe a bigger deal then,” Shanahan said of a 2014 preseason game when he was the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns.

“I didn’t think I was going to go back there for a while. It was actually our second preseason game. So, I’ve been back to Washington before and I played them in Atlanta (twice — in the 2015 regular season and 2016 preseason).

“There’s a bunch of guys there that we did draft that are still there. There’s a bunch of guys in that building that I’m close to and consider friends. That’s always neat to say hi to those guys you haven’t seen in a while. But besides that … there’s absolutely nothing personal anymore.”

–Head coach Kyle Shanahan was working for the Redskins when they drafted Cousins in the fourth round in 2012.

It was not by design, he claimed Wednesday.

“I remember we went into that draft knowing we wanted to take two quarterbacks,” said Shanahan, who watched as the Redskins traded up to get Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick that year.

“After we made the trade, we knew who we were going to take with the second pick in the draft. Actually, our goal was we were going to take Russell Wilson in the fourth round knowing what type of offense we were going to run. But he went before that.

“We had Kirk ranked high. He was there in the fourth. He fell that far, so we thought it made a lot of sense for the organization.”

NOTES: FB Kyle Juszczyk (sore back) was held out of practice Wednesday. The fullback suffered a concussion and neck injury in the Week 4 loss at Arizona, but was able to clear the NFL’s concussion protocol in order to play last week at Indianapolis. It is unclear if the back issue is related to the previous neck problem. … DT Jeremy Liggins was signed to the 49ers’ practice squad on Wednesday. The undrafted rookie went to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks, but was cut on the eve of the regular season. Liggins was an offensive player (mostly tight end and lineman) while at the University of Mississippi. … DT Noble Nwachukwu was released from the practice squad by the 49ers on Wednesday in order to create room for the addition of DT Jeremy Liggins. Nwachukwu went to training camp with the 49ers this summer after having been undrafted in April. … OLB Reuben Foster (sprained ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Foster had not played or practiced since suffering the injury in the season opener against Carolina. While noting that the 49ers would be cautious with Foster’s return, head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated Wednesday the door at this point is open for the rookie to play Sunday at Washington. … CB Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion) is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He suffered the injury last Sunday at Indianapolis. He is questionable for this week’s game at Washington. … CB Asa Jackson (strained hamstring) was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list on Wednesday. The 27-year-old was injured in the Week 5 loss at Indianapolis. Jackson played in four games for the 49ers this season, recording three tackles. … CB Leon Hall was signed to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The 2007 first-round pick hasn’t been with any team since becoming a free agent in March after having started three games, including one in the playoffs, for the New York Giants last season. He has 121 games of NFL experience and has recorded 26 interceptions. … SS Eric Reid (strained knee ligament) was limited in his return to practice Wednesday. The veteran suffered the injury in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated Monday that Reid would be evaluated over the course of the week to determine if he were healthy enough to play Sunday at Washington.

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