As the San Francisco wrapped up their 2020 season, a season that was filled with adversity, a season that was disappointing, a season that ended with a 6-10 record, there were emotions, questions and reflections. Here’s what the 49ers had to say as they start looking towards 2021.
You may have noticed that there has been a lot of talk about one Jimmy Garoppolo and his status as the 49ers’ 2021 starting quarterback. When he tore his ACL in 2018, the 49ers went 4-12. Last season, when he started a full season, they went to the Super Bowl. This season, with Garoppolo out most of the season with a high-ankle sprain, the 49ers went 6-10.
“…Jimmy’s everything that you want in a franchise quarterback, in my opinion. And yeah, I think sometimes he gets flack because everyone’s like, ‘Well, his leadership is the first thing everyone brings up.’… Jimmy’s attributes that he brings on top of the leadership are the types of passes that he throws and getting us into the right plays. I mean, everything that he does, he just kind of elevates the level of play on everybody around him because he expects greatness from his teammates. And I know he expects greatness of himself. And so when you’re around a guy like that, that expects that out of you and requires it of you on a daily basis, it makes you a better football player…[T]here’s a reason we went to the Super Bowl with him when he played in all 16 games, including the playoff games. And I think it’s definitely a reason that he’ll bring us back to where we want to be. And Jimmy is a good friend of mine, but I think he’s also a hell of a football player.”
“…This year, our backup and our third right now, one’s restricted and one’s unrestricted. So, you have to look into everything when you’re trying to fill out a quarterback roster. We have a starting quarterback, but in order to know where these guys are going to be, we’ve got to get either resign the guys we’ve got or see if we can upgrade them through the draft or free agency. In order to do that, you have to evaluate everything, so you know how to stack them and stuff. So, definitely will be looking at a lot more of that stuff this year than we did last year.”
“…As for the quarterback position, Kyle and I both have spoken and spoken fairly directly as to the fact that we expect Jimmy [Garoppolo] to be our quarterback and that’s consistently met with other stories, but that’s not of concern to us because, as of right now, [CEO] Jed [York] has charged us with being the two guys. Obviously, with a lot of input from a lot of people who make those types of decisions and I think we’ve spoken clearly to that.”
“Jimmy is one of the most natural born leaders I’ve ever been around. Since the moment I stepped onto this team, he was the one that guys looked to. There’s certain points before a game or after a game where guys are talking to the team or bringing the team up. And he’s for sure, one of the number one guys that guys look at to see that leadership role and to step up in those moments, and that’s what you got to expect out of your franchise quarterback…[A]s a player…you see what the record is when he’s on the field compared to when he’s not on the field…So, I got a lot of respect for Jimmy and love him to death for what he’s done for this team.”
“…[A]t the end of the day, I’m a 49er. I’m here to play quarterback. I’m here to be the quarterback of this team and every day I go out there and try to prove that to my teammates and my coaches. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. So, the people in this building, I love them. I love every one of them. Like I said before, it’s a great group to be around. John and Kyle, I think they’ve talked to the media and said what they’ve said, and I love those guys for it. Yeah, this is where I want to be and I love it here.”
All Those Injuries
If 49ers fans never hear the term high-ankle sprain again, it will be too soon. This season saw a multitude of injuries throughout the NFL, but no team had it worse than San Francisco, which is something that took its toll not only physically, but mentally as well.
Certainly the lack of a true offseason due to COVID-19 played its part, but it was not the only part, and the 49ers want to do what they can to not have a repeat of the situation, like ever.
“…[E]verybody’s got their own theories as to maybe what happened for the inordinate amount of injuries. I think we played long, we had a number of guys with offseason surgeries, who were going to be on PUP or NFI. So, COVID took the roster down to 80. For us, it was really closer to 70. I think it was 71 as we started camp. I think there’s a trickle-down effect that, that affects everybody on a roster when those guys aren’t there. We got behind the eight ball and then sometimes stuff just happens…We got hit by it, not only in the quantity of people that got hurt, but the quality. I looked over in the suite yesterday and three suites over, it looked like an All-Pro team…[W]e have tremendous faith in the team that we’ve assembled as with our performance staff and our strength and conditioning staff. That remains. We are resolute in our belief in them, but we’re asking everyone to take a hard look, just as you do with the coaching staff, with the personnel staff. You self-scout and say, ‘What can we do better?’ We’re going to look. We’re going to turn every page and every detail as to what we can do better and to improve our processes…”
“…I thought we got behind the eight ball because we had some guys who came in injured, and some of those guys didn’t come back when they were supposed to, and that takes a toll on a roster. When you lose starters, now all of a sudden, the backups who were special teams players are now starting and playing special teams. So, everybody’s load kind of goes up. So, you try to deal with that as best you can. I just felt like we kind of got behind early and we never caught up. You kept saying, as soon as we start losing guys, we’ll start getting guys back with the short-term IR. The problem was, we never stopped losing guys. It was relentless this year, as were a lot of things.”
“…I got down a lot. I talked to Kyle a lot and I talked to John a lot…I use football as a getaway so when football is taken away, I mean, you just think about everything you’ve been through in life and it just kind of brings you down. I was going through it bad. I talked to John and Kyle almost two, three times a week just to keep my head on straight.”
“…I think Deebo was hurting because he loves football and then he was stuck in a place where he couldn’t play football and he was only there for football…Deebo doesn’t want to let people down. It’s not that he let anyone down in terms of you’re upset with him, but he knows how important he was to us and he knew how hard it was going to be for us when we did lose him because he was one of the guys getting back that our quarterbacks really needed. Our whole team really needed. When he pulled his hamstring on that first play of the game, he knows how much that hurt the team which that sucks for a player. Deebo cares a lot about his teammates. Cares a lot about people. He didn’t envision it that way, and I think that reality hit him the last month and how big a deal that is. That’s where I hope that’s a good thing for him. I mean, to feel that pain, to feel like what it does because that’s the reality of this league. You deal with a lot of players and a lot of situations and it really comes down to that…Players, is that why you aren’t going to have the money when it’s said and done because just a couple of decisions you made is why you’re going to be out of the league at 27 instead of 32. And that’ll be the difference in you having to work a lot sooner or your kids having not the life that you had and all that stuff matters. Guys are young and you’re a product of your environment, but when you go through some of these experiences, that is reality. I think some of that stuff hit Deebo a little bit and that’s why I think it’s going to be a good thing that he went through it. It’ll make him more mature in how he responds to it and I think it will help his career and his life out…”
“…I have to do my best to prevent it and do whatever I can in the offseason to get my body right, to handle a whole season and just get my mind right in that way. Just the motivation that comes with the injuries though is something that is unlike anything I’ve ever had. You’re not out there with the guys, you’re not out there with your teammates. As a quarterback, it’s really hard. I hate the feeling. It’s a very helpless feeling, but at the end of the day, I just want to be out there with my guys battling on the field.”
With a plethora of free agents on their roster, the 49ers are going to have some decisions to make this offseason, and they may not be easy ones. This is a group of players that have been together several years now. There’s chemistry on the field, and there’s chemistry off the field, and the team could look very different next season.
It was a tough reality for many, including an emotional fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is one of those aforementioned free agents.
“Just be totally honest with you, it’s just a sense of just unsure. Just not totally sure what’s ahead for me. I don’t want it to be a sense of finality. Honestly, it’s just been a lot of emotions the past weeks. And even you just asking that is already got me choked up. But just a lot that will come into play here. And Kyle and I continue to have discussions and he’s made it very clear, Kyle, John, everybody that they want me here and I want to be here. So, we’re going to work towards that. But free agency is a tricky thing. And with the cap number being lowered so much, that’s going to come into play. So, it’s just a wait and see and let some pieces fall in place.”
“…[C]oming here and seeing how they turned things around for me physically, mentally, it’s kind of hard to not want to come back. It’s kind of hard not to want to see if we could work things out just because, like I said, it’s a class act organization. They’ve done a hell of a job with me throughout my time last year and throughout this year. And so now that I’m healthy and I love where my body is, it’s definitely, it’ll be a tough decision for sure.”
“…I don’t even want to think about it honestly, because all the guys that we have here, it’s just like, we…built the brotherhood with them…I haven’t really sat down and thought about it. Now that you say it, I’m kind of thinking about it. It’s just kind of crazy how this league is. You never know what coach is going to be here. You never know what player is going to be here. This, that, and the third. It was kind of rough. It’s going to be kind of rough though.”
“…[I]t’s always emotional. That’s why it sucks. We were having some conversations today and John was like, ‘Man, this sucks.’ That’s why this business is hard…We enjoy the people in this building. We enjoy the people we work with. That’s why I feel comfortable calling a lot of players and coaches and personnel, everybody in here, friends. I’m okay doing that and still being the head coach, because I know what this business is about and no matter how hard it is on myself or John to make a decision that alter someone’s life, I truly know that it’s our responsibility to make that decision, because if you stick with what’s easier or what doesn’t seem as hard, all you’re doing is altering 400 other people’s lives. You have to make the right decisions…So, you’ve always got to remind yourself, no matter how hard it is, when you know and can think clear of what the right decision is, you always do it to the right decision, regardless of how hard it is.”
One of the biggest for the 49ers this offseason will most likely be defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who Lynch confirmed is interviewing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions for a potential head coaching position.
“I know how much the players respect Robert as a coach and love him as a person…[W]hen you’ve got coaching staff who knows what they’re doing and also is connected and invested in the players, all guys want to do is be coached the right way and they want you to care about them. And Saleh does that as good as anyone. I was very happy with what he did throughout the whole year. I will be very surprised…if we don’t lose them. I don’t know what’s wrong with people if they don’t hire him. I mean, he’s as good as you can get and knows more about football, all three phases. And he’s going to hire the best staff. He knows about players. He knows who knows what they’re talking about. Who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And he also knows how to deal with people. So, I hope everyone’s not very smart and doesn’t hire them so I can keep him. But, I’m expecting not to have him. But, we’ve got a lot of other good guys on our staff and I know there’ll be a number of options and we’ve got a number of good players. And what we built here over the four years with Saleh, with the whole coaching staff, and we haven’t made many changes. So, there’s a lot of guys who we’ve all grown here together. And we’ve got a lot of players who are used to it too. So, I expect whatever we ended up deciding here. And obviously we’ll wait to see what happens with Saleh. But, I know that the Niners will be all right.”
On to 2021 49ers fans.