The 49ers should be coming to the conclusion their revised six-year deal with Kyle Shanahan was a mistake, as 2021 is falling apart around him.
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t imminently going to fire head coach Kyle Shanahan. He’s not even on the hot seat for the rest of 2021.
As easy as it is to suggest so in light of arguably Shanahan’s worst loss with the franchise, a 31-17 debacle against an Arizona Cardinals squad that was forced to start journeyman quarterback Colt McCoy over the injured Kyler Murray, Shanahan is still safe.
In a way, CEO Jed York did this to himself and the franchise, first by making the unpopular decision to “mutually” part ways with head coach Jim Harbaugh at the end of the 2014 season, then by going one-and-done with head coaches Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly the following two years, respectively, creating an unstable environment for the franchise where the effects are still being felt to this day.
York is understandably gun-shy about pulling the plug on yet another head coach. The last thing he wants is to reestablish that reputation of being a terrible franchise executive, which he held for so long in the years post Harbaugh.
But that doesn’t mean York is without regrets.
49ers should regret Kyle Shanahan extension given in 2020
Another key reason why York and the Niners won’t fire Shanahan anytime soon is the simple financials.
Remember, in 2020, San Francisco rewarded Shanahan with a new contract, tearing up the remaining three years on his original six-year deal and adding on three more to keep him with the team through 2025, which made him one of the top-five highest-paid head coaches in the league at the time.
While the exact terms of the new contract aren’t made public like those of NFL players, teams firing their head coaches typically pay out the full remainder of whatever is owed.
That would be a lot of money the 49ers would have to dish out only two years removed from paying out the final year of Kelly’s contract in 2019.
Since taking over in 2017, Shanahan’s Niners have gone 32-39, including three seasons of 10-plus losses and a 2021 campaign that’s rapidly spinning out of control. Even though Shanahan has had viable excuses, including his first year being Year 1 of the rebuild before injuries took their toll in 2018 and 2020, the bottom-line business of the NFL is suggesting Shanahan’s deal is turning into a massive mistake.
So, about that deal going through 2025 again?
Kyle Shanahan should be on 49ers hot seat in 2022
There’s another X-factor working into the equation for Shanahan right now: rookie quarterback Trey Lance.
San Francisco mortgaged the future to trade up for Lance last April, sending off two future first-round NFL Draft picks, along with a third-rounder, to find an heir apparent for the veteran starter with whom Shanahan had the most success, Jimmy Garoppolo, albeit less the last two seasons.
A complete regime change between now and 2022 could spell complete disaster for Lance’s development, which would further set the franchise back even further than where it might be with Shanahan next season.
That said, if a Lance-led 49ers squad continues to flounder a year from now, Shanahan should and would be on a red-hot seat.
Perhaps that’s the conversation York needs to have with Shanahan. The phrased, “I know things are tough right now, but you need to have this cleaned up a year from now or else,” kind of conversation.
Otherwise, York will continue kicking himself for that Shanahan extension, much like he should have kicked himself for the original Tomsula and Kelly deals.