The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their season on Sunday with a 48-32 loss to the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams. The players convened in Santa Clara one last time on Monday before the offseason to clean out their lockers. Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch met with the media to talk about the 49ers’ 4-12 season and the team’s plans for 2019. Here’s our takeaways:
Good news for Tomlinson
Laken Tomlinson was carted off the field in the first half against the Rams on Sunday. The 49ers’ fears of a torn ACL for their starting left guard were eased after Tomlinson underwent medical examination to determine the injury.
“It’s good news in terms of what we might have feared,” Lynch said. “His ACL is intact so that’s a good thing. His MCL is torn and that’s going to take some time, but I think they are talking three months as opposed to obviously what an ACL could be.”
An ACL tear at this point in the year would’ve likely sidelined Tomlinson well into the 2019 season. The three-month recovery for an MCL means he should be ready to go when the team begins its offseason workout program in April.
Improvement despite record
The 49ers’ step back from 6-10 In 2017 to 4-12 this season didn’t discourage Shanahan and Lynch. The pair both acknowledged a disappointing season but focused on the positives of young talent getting a chance to prove themselves throughout a season plagued with injuries.
“I thought our guys got better our first year here playing young guys, not always by choice at the beginning, but they get their opportunities eventually and we got better,” Shanahan said. “This year it was a whole different group of guys with nine of those being practice squad guys. That’s two years in a row of young guys getting opportunities because of injuries that showed they can play in this league.”
The 49ers played eight different safety combinations in 2018 — a sterling example of just how much the roster fluctuated throughout the season. All 10 members of the 49ers’ original practice squad to begin the season saw action on a 53-man roster throughout the season.
Saleh returning as coordinator
Despite a turbulent 2018, Shanahan was quick to endorse defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and a return for his third season.
“I’m with him every day,” the 49ers’ head coach said. “So, I know how good of a coach he is. I know how he is schematically. I know how he is dealing with the players. I know what he can handle just with his personality and how smart he is and that’s a lot. I also know that he took over a 32nd-ranked defense.”
The 49ers’ defense ranked dead last in the NFL in 2016, allowing an embarrassing average of 406 yards per game. Saleh took over in 2017 and the defense climbed to 24th. The 49ers ranked 13th this season, surrendering an average of 346 yards per game.
Despite the baseline improvement, the 49ers also set the record for the fewest takeaways in a season with seven in 16 games. The previous record of 11 was set in 1982 by the Baltimore Colts.
“But, we need to get better at not giving up as many points, which will help the less we turn it over on offense, the more turnovers we can get on defense,” Shanahan said. “But, you know, Saleh’s done a good job and I think he’ll only get better.”
Armstead’s future uncertain
The 49ers exercised Arik Armstead’s fifth-year option last offseason, locking up the former first-round pick for the 2019 season at the cost of $9 million. While both made sure to compliment Armstead after his first complete and healthy season as a starter, both seemed tepid to offer any firm commitment to the 49ers defensive lineman.
“I don’t want to make any absolutes, ‘Yes, he’s going to be here,’ all those things” Lynch said. “But, we are pleased with the way Arik progressed and excited about his future.”
Armstead’s last two seasons with the 49ers both ended on injured reserve with hand and shoulder injuries. In 2018, he started all 16 games, totaling 48 tackles, six tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits and three sacks.
“All those decisions aren’t as simple as how do we feel about Arik, because if it was, then yes” Shanahan said. “Arik’s done a good job and you don’t want to lose good players. Those decisions are based off of how do you want to balance and allocate all the money because you can’t do whatever you want.”
Veterans on notice
The offseason will present some tough choices for Lynch and Shanahan. They were asked on Monday if they’d had any conversations with any of the veteran players in regards to their status with the team going forward.
“I’m not going to get into specifics of what we have talked about with certain players,” Lynch said. “Don’t want to have that play out, but you guys will learn. We have had good lines of communication. We have some decisions to make on some of the guys like those and we’ll make those at the appropriate time.”
Veteran receiver Pierre Garçon ended the season on injured reserve for the second straight year. Defensive lineman Earl Mitchell was inactive for the last two games of the season as the 49ers got a better look at second-year lineman D.J. Jones. The 49ers would add nearly $10 million in salary cap space with the release of both.
Changes to training staff?
The 49ers have struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. They finished 2018 with 14 players on injured reserve, to include franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon. They finished 2017 with a whopping 20 players on IR. Lynch and Shanahan were asked if the onslaught of injuries was an indictment of the 49ers’ training staff.
“It’s been too big of a deal for two years,” Shanahan said. “Injuries are pretty random, but it’s also affected us huge. So, that’s something that we definitely have to sit back and really look at it from all angles and put a lot of time into. Just try to find a better perspective at it.”
Should’ve been seven
Shanahan was his typically honest self on Monday, expressing his disappointment with a trio of losses throughout the season that he felt were winnable games for the 49ers.
“We were close in a lot of games, but there were three in particular that really bothered me,” Shanahan said.” I think we should have finished them and won. I think things might have been easier if we had our quarterback.”
Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers, Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 10 against the New York Giants were all close losses that saw the 49ers give up fourth-quarter leads. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was, of course, sidelined for all three with a torn ACL suffered at the conclusion of the 49ers’ Week 3 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Richard Sherman didn’t intercept a pass in 2018 for the first time in career. Despite the absence of takeaways, the former Seattle Seahawks cornerback was his typical lock-down self on the left side of the 49ers’ defense. He also proved invaluable off the field. Lynch was asked if Sherman proved his value in the locker room and leadership for a young 49ers defense:
“We couldn’t have been more happy with the way he was in terms of using his experience, his championship pedigree to bring up and to bring up those around him, not only in his room but throughout the team,” Lynch said. “You can see what has made him a special player over the years. You think you know, but you never truly know until you’re around someone and we got to see it firsthand.”
A hard no for Hard Knocks
“You had to go there,” Lynch laughed when asked about the possibility of the 49ers appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
Shanahan and Lynch couldn’t hide their distain for the idea of being the focus of the reality series. The 49ers are among the five teams that can’t turn down the NFL if they’re asked to appear on Hard Knocks, aired during training camp and preseason every summer.
“It’s a hard, hard, bad stance, ‘Hard Knocks,’” Shanahan said. “You will see the worst entertainment possible by me.”
See you in Mobile
The next time we see the 49ers coaching staff will be later in January when they travel to Mobile, Alabama for the 2019 Senior Bowl. The 49ers will coach the South roster and the Oakland Raiders will coach the North roster. This will give them a week coaching the two teams of All-Stars from the 2019 crop of college football players.
“This will be my third time,” Shanahan said. “Not proud of that. It’s the same thing as the Combine to me. It’s not as much about the players. It’s not about the athletes and stuff because you can see that on tape pretty well. You can see that when we work them out.”
Among the prospects that Shanahan and Lynch will get to see up-close is Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen, who has already accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl. Allen recorded 14 sacks this season along with 18.5 tackles for loss. He currently holds the second-best odds of being the draft’s top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, per OddsShark.
“There’s good pass rushers in this draft,” Lynch said. “I think that’s a strength of this draft. That will be. Everyone is looking for those guys, so I think we’re excited. Everybody is excited for that.”