After spending two seasons in NFL purgatory, there was light at the end of the tunnel for the San Francisco 49ers going into the 2017 regular season. After back-to-back years of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, it looked like Niners’ owner Jed York had finally got it right when he hired head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager, John Lynch.
The fans were willing to be patient with the duo, knowing that departed GM Trent Baalke left the cupboards so bare. Shanahan and Lynch had to rebuild virtually the entire roster to turn the franchise around, which was expected to take a few seasons.
San Francisco had a total of 10 draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, and only two of them look like they will be with the team next season. Superstar tight end George Kittle and defensive lineman D.J. Jones are the best of the bunch, and neither went in the first four rounds.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s arrival via trade in late October of 2017 ignited the fanbase. The Faithful knew their beloved team wasn’t going to make the playoffs that season, but after Jimmy G went 5-0 as a starter to close out the season with a subpar supporting cast, fans were confident the Niners would contend for the postseason in 2018.
Lynch landed regular starters Mike McGlinchey and Fred Warner, plus current contributors Tavarius Moore, Kentavius Steet and Marcell Harris at the draft. The 49ers also signed perennial All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in free agency.
The 2018 regular season was over less than three games into the schedule. Garoppolo tore his ACL late in the fourth quarter of the Week 3 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, and San Francisco stumbled to a 4-12 record.
There was a silver lining to the lost 2018 season. The Niners landed the pass-rushing demon the defense desperately needed when they took Nick Bosa No. 2 at the 2019 NFL Draft. Lynch and co. adding veteran Dee Ford and receiver Deebo Samuel to the roster helped take the franchise from worst-to-first last season.
After the crushing Super Bowl loss, San Francisco looked poise to go on its Revenge Tour leading up to this season. With a deep and talented roster, the 49ers were favored to win the NFC going into Week 1.
Then, the New York Jets game happened in Week 2, where the Niners (already without Kittle, Sherman and Samuel) lost Bosa, Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Solomon Thomas to injuries. Just like most teams who lose basically all of their best players, San Francisco has been unable to overcome the injuries.
The 49ers are 4-6 and heading towards their 13th playoff-less season in the last 17 years. The organization has no control over who gets hurt, but that doesn’t change the disappointment of yet another lost season.
Everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Niners in 2020. The players came into the season focused on running it back and finishing the job with a Super Bowl title. Instead, they’re left to wonder how their team could be so snake-bitten.
This season reminds me of Jim Harbaugh’s final year with the team. San Francisco went into the 2014 season coming off a heartbreaking loss in the NFC Championship the year before.
All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered a gruesome knee injury and was expected to miss all of 2014, but the 49ers still had the great Patrick Willis to anchor the defense. Or so they thought.
Willis appeared in just six games before a nagging toe injury ended his season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who had taken the NFL by storm only two years earlier — regressed, and it was the beginning of the end of his tenure with the team. Garoppolo might suffer a similar fate.
Of course, this year’s 49ers aren’t dealing with a disconnect between the head coach and front office. Shanahan signed an extension through 2025, so we know he won’t be going anywhere this offseason.
Both seasons were disappointing in their own way. During the 2014 campaign, the feeling was that it was the end of an extremely short era of contending. San Francisco came oh so close to winning its first Super Bowl since 1994 on three-straight occasions, but the Harbaugh soap opera had to end.
This season feels confusing. Unless something unexpected happens, we know players like Bosa, Kittle, Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Fred Warner will be back with the team next year. But there a lot of question marks after that.
Sherman, along with 26 others who have suited up for the Niners this season, will be an unrestricted free agent. The team can get out of Garoppolo’s contract without any financial implications during the offseason, meaning the team could move on from his as well.
Just like the 2014 squad, this one could look a whole lot different next season, only one year removed from almost capturing the elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Since you have been a 49ers fan, what has been the most disappointing regular season?