On Wednesday, the 49ers announced their seven team captains for the upcoming season. For a lot of teams, this might be business as usual, but under Kyle Shanahan, nothing is done lightly.
Back in 2017, Shanahan didn’t think players asserted themselves enough to warrant a vote out of training camp. But, as the season grinded on, one that started with nine losses and made some ignominious history when they became the first franchise to drop five straight games by three or fewer points, the idea seemed imprudent.
In 2018, the coach felt similarly and waited until the end of October for the team to decide on their leaders. This was after Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo both ended their seasons with torn ACLs, at the end of training camp and in Week 3, respectively.
Shanahan thought, even with only a single win to that point in the midst of a lost season, the example set by certain players kept the locker room together and deserved recognition. This was the first time since 2010 that the 49ers stitched a “C” onto their jerseys, as they’d abandoned the practice under Jim Harbaugh and his successors.
They’ve taken a more typical approach for the past three seasons, selecting their captains leading up to the regular season’s kickoff. It’s easy to see why since some superstar stalwarts developed in that time and have become obvious selections, year after year.
Those players made the list once again, along with some new names that will undoubtedly make fans smile, seeing such good work rewarded. So let’s break them down.
Jimmy Garoppolo (3x Captain)
This should be no surprise. While many hoped Lance could come in and usurp Garoppolo immediately, the odds of that happening were always long. When it comes to quarterbacks and being captain, it’s only news if one isn’t elected to the spot, like Tua Tagovailoa in Miami.
More importantly, Garoppolo has always had the love and respect of his teammates. From wearing custom Jimmy G shirts to defending him post-2019 Super Bowl to standing by him as the team drafted his replacement, it’s clear they always had the man’s back. If I had to guess why, it’s his workman, former linebacker mentality that you can see on plays like this.
Raheem Mostert (1x Captain)
The former knock-around practice squad journeyman has made his home in San Francisco, entering his sixth year with the team. But, as if his record-setting MVP performance in the 2019 NFC Championship game wasn’t poetic enough, here he is receiving the ultimate nod of admiration from the team.
I’m sure for a lot of guys, he represents the rewards of hard work and dedication, after years of barely hanging on in the league to making his name on special teams to starting at running back. That kind of upward mobility in the NFL is rare and deserves to be highlighted. He’s also quite the sideline conversationalist.
George Kittle (4x Captain)
It feels like this one was probably written in Sharpie. The abundance of energy from Kittle, resulting in an over-abundance of practice and sideline clips, has to be the high watermark of what a player can bring to a team.
People forget, but this is a job, and like any other, you need people who can break up the doldrums of the workday and keep everyone focused. Fortunately, Kittle seems to have taken the torch from Joe Staley as the vocal and supportive leader on offense, who’s always around to hype people up, crack a joke, or sing to some Avril Lavigne.
Trent Williams (2x Captain)
After a trade brought him to the bay, the tackle’s impact off the field must have been immediate. Not only did Williams have to step into the role of a beloved All-Decade player in Joe Staley, he only had a few weeks of in-person practices due to COVID to acclimate himself.
The vet also filled another void of the team’s oldest player, save for Robbie Gould. His instant seniority on a relatively young roster provided an added layer of continuity along the line, the offense, and the team. Of course, it helps that he’s overflowing with personality, best exemplified by him getting everyone pumped up in the tunnel with a giant boombox before games.
Arik Armstead (2x Captain)
Drafted in the immediate aftermath of the Harbaugh meltdown, you could argue that Armstead came to the 49ers at the worst possible time. He suffered through injury-plagued losing seasons with underwhelming production. Then, finally, everything came together, and Armstead used his versatility to help power the team to a Super Bowl and earn an extension.
Meanwhile, his foundation, the Armstead Academic Project, has focused on raising money and providing resources to address educational inequality. He even did virtual storytimes with kids during the pandemic. Also, this past season, he turned his attention toward social justice and opened each press conference focusing on a different issue that he felt needed more coverage. As a result of his work, he was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Fred Warner (3x Captain)
Warner equates to Kittle on defense, a mid-to-late round pick, who developed into an All-Pro over a couple of years, and now this homegrown talent embodies the mindset of his unit. However, he’s accomplished it with a style all his own. His passion is fueled by a quiet intensity that makes you forget he’s only 24 years old.
His value has only skyrocketed as he’s become a touchstone for DeMeco Ryans, the first-year defensive coordinator, who has been Warner’s position coach up until now. As a middle linebacker, he’s calling out plays, organizing teammates, and making last-second adjustments. It’s made the two men closer, working together to evolve the way the defense approaches the game. Did I mention that he can give one heck of a pre-game speech?
Jimmie Ward (1x Captain)
It may come as a shock for some that since Joe Staley’s retirement, Ward has been the longest-tenured player on the roster. His career dates back to 2014, and it has been a winding journey for him to end up here. Entering the league as a free safety, he played out of position as a corner and nickel corner and fared well enough. That is until Robert Saleh took over the defense and reinstalled him to his natural spot.
As a free safety, Ward overcame injuries to become a massively important piece of the defense in the past two years. He’s outstanding in coverage, makes physical tackles, and causes turnovers with regularity. However, most fans and teammates agree he’s criminally underrated, and, hopefully, receiving this honor will help rectify that.