As kicker Robbie Gould banged through his fourth field goal of the game, this one for the OT win over the NFC West rival Seahawks, a thought started to run through my head: was this win really worth it?
Although I live in Seattle, my disdain for the Seahawks runs deep, especially as the Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson team have buried the 49ers in recent history. A late-season 49ers’ victory to drop the Seahawks to 8-6 and put them in jeopardy of losing a playoff spot seems exciting in the moment, but I may not have the same sentiment in April when the 49ers are jockeying for top draft position.
Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin to see if the 49ers should continue to tank these late season games for the No. 1 overall draft pick or win as many contests as possible in hopes of building momentum for 2019.
Why the 49ers should tank these games:
1. It’s all about the Nick Bosa sweepstakes and the 49ers shouldn’t take a step back.
It’s like San Francisco is having a déjà vu moment from the tail end of the 2016 season. Chip Kelly’s 49ers were 1-13, heading on the road to Los Angeles to play the Rams. A meaningless win in December pushed the 49ers down the draft order, pushing them to No. 3 instead of No. 1.
The result of that victory? The inability to draft star edge rusher Myles Garrett, who’s put up 38 tackles and 12.5 sacks with the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers ended up taking defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who hasn’t been nearly as productive as Garrett in their first two years in the NFL.
In the moment, fans get riled up over the victory, but two years removed from that game, I’d much rather have Garrett rushing the passer in a 49ers’ uniform than a meaningless December win in a lost season.
Similarly, the consensus No. 1 pick in this upcoming draft seems to be Ohio State’s defensive lineman Nick Bosa. With the 49ers’ win on Sunday over Seattle, they’ve dropped from the leader for the first overall pick to the fourth position, taking them out of the Bosa sweepstakes for now. Is this win over Seattle going to be worth the loss of Bosa? Hmmm, I don’t think so.
2. GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan aren’t worried about their job security.
When bad teams are trying to win, it’s most likely because the general manager and head coach are feeling the heat from ownership and are trying to put out a solid product on the field.
In the case of the 49ers, owner Jed York has given Lynch and Shanahan six-year deals and hasn’t made any indication of their jobs being in jeopardy — and nor should he. This season was lost as soon as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo landed awkwardly in Kansas City.
It’s become evident over the latter half of the season — despite a 4-10 record — that Lynch and Shanahan have steered the 49ers in the right direction and just need health and time to do so. Given that, they should be more focused on trying to improve their roster for 2019, rather than trying to win the last few games in an empty season.
Why the 49ers should not tank these games:
1. San Francisco should try an establish a winning culture with the younger players on the roster.
They say that experience is the best teacher in life. Well, what’s better experience than playing a potential playoff team at home in a December game?
For players like defensive backs Tarvarius Moore, D.J. Reed, Marcell Harris, tight end George Kittle, wideout Dante Pettis, running back Jeff Wilson Jr., quarterback Nick Mullens, this was an important game. These players haven’t experienced a playoff-like atmosphere against a division rival.
The 49ers are bound to be in the playoffs in the next few years under Shanahan, so games like this will help build winning habits and provide an experience that players can lean on in important January games. Youth-laden teams don’t get very many opportunities to play spoiler against a playoff team, so it was definitely worth it for the 49ers to go out and beat Seattle.
2. It provides an opportunity for the 49ers’ brain trust to evaluate their roster.
With injuries to numerous veterans on the roster, there’s lots of opportunities for the younger players on this 49ers’ roster. Not tanking and actually competing in these games allows for those players to grow and also show off their skill set.
Last season, the 49ers un-earthed running back Matt Breida and safety Adrian Colbert late in the year due to their productive play in a lost season. This season, Moore, Reed and Harris are all earning chances to prove out why they deserve playing time in 2019.
If the 49ers are able to prove that the rookies and second-year players can really develop into full-time roles at their respective positions, it allows for San Francisco’s front office to get rid of the veterans at those spots and improve the roster in other areas.
The argument can be made for either side, but watching the 49ers’ locker room celebrate on Sunday after defeating the Seahawks sure showed every fan something — this team doesn’t have any quit, despite a 3-10 season.