Bleacher Report’s recent feature on the San Francisco 49ers paints an interesting and provocative picture about the red and gold in 2019. But how much pressure actually exists this season?
It’s worth the read, scoping out the multitude of things that have gone wrong for head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, their relationship with each other and the numerous reasons why there should be a lot of excitement this season.
And a lot of pressure, too.
"There have been rumblings of friction—rumblings that all the pressure might be leading to a schism between Lynch and Shanahan. In late April, B/R’s Matt Miller was told by sources in the team’s scouting and coaching staff that “the two aren’t in lockstep as far as the vision of the offseason and the future of the franchise.” But no one B/R spoke to for this story had seen signs of that schism, and Lynch is quick to dismiss it, saying, “Don’t believe the hype” and then detailing how the opportunity to work with Shanahan was a reason he took the job."
Rumblings should be common right now, especially after the team has a combined 10 wins in the two seasons since Lynch and Shanahan took over.
But there has to be some asterisks placed next to the record. In 2017, the Niners turned over nearly 70 percent of the roster Lynch and Shanahan inherited. Last year, amid a glowing hype following the late-2017 trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the franchise signal-caller’s Week 3 ACL tear all but washed out any 49ers serious hopes for contending.
Injuries were a big theme to the 2018 season, so perhaps both Lynch and Shanahan get a pass.
Entering year three of the
(it’s no longer a rebuild), though, the bottom-line nature of the league will come to the forefront.
Garoppolo, who signed what was then a record-setting five-year, $137.5 million contract early in 2018, still has just 10 pro-level starts under his belt. That was the going rate. And in a year or two, that contract may look like the proverbial “steal of the century.”
"The quarterback who intimated to B/R a year ago that he believes he’s better than Tom Brady hasn’t changed his opinion one win, two losses and a torn ACL later. The franchise is on his back. He’s the one who determines whether these 49ers sink or swim. So, hell yeah, Garoppolo still feels the same way.“If you don’t have that mindset, you don’t have a chance to be that good,” Garoppolo says. “You’ll never get there. I’ve always had confidence, but it’s from the stuff you do in the offseason. … You don’t get that confidence from just showing up and going through the drills. You have to put in the extra work.”We can only take his word for it. Garoppolo’s been a five-year tease. A mystery."
That right there is the pressure point. The great “what if?” behind the 49ers’ upcoming 2019 campaign.
Good quarterbacks can mask a lot of problems elsewhere on the roster. This is why the Green Bay Packers have stayed relevant for years and will continue to be so, as long as future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is under center.
Garoppolo isn’t anywhere close to that point yet. But the Niners future hinges on him at least showing signs of being that guy.
And right now.
B/R’s Gary Davenport stressed how now is the time for Garoppolo to live up to his five-year deal, and it cuts both ways — both for Jimmy G and the 49ers:
"[All the changes the 49ers made this offseason and last aren’t going to amount to much if Garoppolo doesn’t play up to his paycheck—doesn’t perform like the sixth-highest-paid signal-caller in the NFL. … Those weapons may help the 49ers move the football, and those new additions on defense may help keep the team in games. But at some point, it’s going to fall to one person to lead the Niners to victory."
San Francisco can get out from under Garoppolo’s contract in 2020 relatively easily. The deal was front-loaded for a purpose.
That said, should Garoppolo struggle and the Niners again finish below .500, there will be no shortage of grumblings from Santa Clara.
Whatever reported rift between Lynch and Shanahan will be magnified; examples being used on how the team gaffed on linebacker Reuben Foster and have yet to receive the kind of impact desired from the regime’s first NFL Draft choice, defensive end Solomon Thomas, who went No. 3 overall back in 2017.
Thomas, who was a major figure in Dunne’s article, went through one of the worst tragedies a person can endure, losing his sister to suicide early in 2018. Dunne described how Thomas went into a “dark place” in the weeks and months that followed.
Thomas’ story is inspirational, without doubt. And while it seems blunt to get back to the wins and losses, that will ultimately be the bigger story for the red and gold this season. Thomas will need to be a positive part of the equation, too.
It’s another one of those “what ifs” for San Francisco. Just like, what if all those defensive changes don’t pan out to desired results right away? Or what if wide receivers Dante Pettis and Deebo Samuel don’t make as big an impact as thought? What if all those running backs fail to meet the expected levels?
Or what if Garoppolo, for whatever reason(s), struggles or gets hurt again? But the concerns, and how the Niners could be projected across the league, may also work in San Francisco’s favor.
“If they want to look at our team and say, ‘They don’t have a No. 1 receiver,’ OK, cool,” Pettis told Dunne. “Don’t focus on anybody. Just play defense normally. And we’ll pick you apart. I’m completely fine with that.”
In all honesty, the confidence and context looks good. Lynch and Shanahan deserve a world of credit for ultimately changing the culture in San Francisco. Despite the woeful records the past two years, the Niners haven’t been the victims of player griping, complaints, leaked controversial reports and so on.
So much of that falls on Lynch and Shanahan.
But again, it’s a wins-losses business. Up to this point, Lynch and Shanahan have failed to reach that mark. In 2017, it was excusable, as it was a transformation year. 2018 provided injuries as an acceptable excuse.
In 2019, though, the record will ultimately matter the most. And if all those “what ifs” don’t go in the team’s favor, it will be impossible to predict the consternation.