With the news that both quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain that won’t go away) and tight end extraordinaire George Kittle (fractured foot) will miss extended time, the San Francisco 49ers have finally completed the process of irredeemably rogering themselves that began in the preseason.
Well, maybe not completed. Their best remaining defensive player, linebacker Fred Warner, incurred a stinger in Sunday’s comprehensive loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but returned to the game.
No, I take that back. Warner’s not saving this. Nobody is. This team is well done on both sides and charred on the outside. Nobody is left standing, and the only thing left for Kyle Shanahan to do is appeal to the National Football League to give them some time off because they are insufficiently supplied at a position or six. (The SEC would call that “Vanderbilting.”)
Amazingly, the 49ers have had almost no COVID issues (backup tackle Shon Coleman opted out, if that counts), which means that whatever deal Shanahan cut with the devil for last year’s Super Bowl run has now come due, with interest. They’ve lost important (re: Super Bowl impact–level) players in every position group, and from the moment Nick Bosa went down with a blown knee in Week 3, Satan has been picking victims with a keen eye for talent. In sum, they have been the most injured and most catastrophically injured team in the NFL by any measure; by bed space alone, they are at least a full hospital wing ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles.
They have lost their starting quarterback, best running back, starting and backup center, both guards, best wide receiver, best tight end, best defensive lineman, best cornerback, best safety, and depth pieces across the depth chart diaspora. In other words, they are what we in the physics community call screwed.
They are eight games removed from nearly beating Patrick Mahomes in the Big’un, and now they are in the larval stage of what could be a rebuild. And if you are a 49ers fan who wants to believe in a miracle, take it somewhere else. The easy part of the schedule is already behind them, and they have not only Green Bay on Thursday, but New Orleans, the Weirdball Rams, Buffalo, Arizona, and Seattle again, with only the WTFs and Dallas as respite. Given their tattered roster, they may not even beat Bye in Week 11.
And after all that is over, they get to make a roster decision on Garoppolo that features the following agenda items:
•An easily burnable contract after this year.
•Ongoing health concerns.
•A competent but erratic resume that makes the fan base break out in leprous sores.
•The illusion that quarterbacks who don’t stink are easy to find.
On that last point, at 4-4 the 49ers can’t tank enough to rise to the top of the draft order, they don’t have enough assets to move up into the Trevor Lawrence dance mix, and the most appealing option among the already-getting-paids is probably Sam Darnold, who might not be available even though the Jets are still best positioned to take Lawrence on draft night.
So the issue here is not how hosed the Niners are, but for how long, and how many beasts must be sacrificed to appease whatever gods handle the injured reserve list. The rest of this season will be J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets bad, and the future is a lot less certain than … oh, who’s kidding who? Bosa was the sign that the 49ers were going to honor the jinx of Super Bowl losers deteriorating in the following year, and everything since then has been just backing over the flattened squirrel.
And in the end, this means one thing more than all the others: get the Packers at 2.5 while you can. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there ain’t no time for pity when there’s money to be had.