49ers should avoid Taylor Gabriel, sign Robby Anderson instead

Taylor Gabriel will be connected with the San Francisco 49ers after his release by the Chicago Bears, but the Niners should pursue Robby Anderson instead.

It did not take long for Taylor Gabriel’s name to be linked with the San Francisco 49ers following his release from the Chicago Bears.

The wide receiver was cut by the Bears on Friday and, given his history with head coach Kyle Shanahan, the Niners have naturally already been mentioned as a possible destination.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Gabriel would be a good fit for San Francisco. He was with Shanahan during his days as a coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, and the 49ers lack depth at receiver.

With Emmanuel Sanders set for free agency, the 49ers have only two receivers they definitively know they can rely on – Deebo Samuel and restricted free agent Kendrick Bourne.

Trent Taylor’s health is up in the air after a 2019 season lost to injury. Jalen Hurd did not play a snap in his rookie year and Dante Pettis spent much of the year in Shanahan’s doghouse.

Pettis and Marquise Goodwin, another whose 2019 was derailed by injury, are potential cap casualties as the Niners try to give themselves more room to work with.

The need at the position is clear, but a player of Gabriel’s quick-twitch slot receiver mold should not be high on San Francisco’s list of priorities.

Samuel plays a significant number of his snaps from the slot while Taylor and Richie James can also fill that role. Signing a 29-year-old to take snaps off younger receivers who can perform the same duties does not make a great deal of sense.

It is not that Gabriel cannot have success for San Francisco, it is that inking him to a deal – however minimal – is not an effective use of the franchise limited cap room. The 49ers are set to enter the 2020 league year with $17.8 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

A better use of that capital would be to pursue a wideout of the type they do not have – Jets receiver Robby Anderson.

At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Anderson is a downfield weapon who offers a blend of size, speed, and ability at the catch point that is lacking from the Niners’ depth chart at receiver.

Younger than Gabriel, Anderson will start the 2020 season entering his prime years at 27. He will undoubtedly come at a higher cost than Gabriel as a result, but his contract should not be a bank-breaking one after a 2019 season he finished with 779 yards and five touchdowns.

Gabriel would surely adapt quickly to the 49ers offense given his history in the Shanahan system. However, the Niners are not short of wideouts comfortable in the scheme. What they do need is a big-play threat on the boundary.

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Anderson would offer them that and, after the 49ers came within minutes of winning Super Bowl LIV, may be willing to take a discount to play for a true contender. Signing Gabriel is the obvious move for the Niners, but there is more significant upside in going after Anderson as a left-field alternative.