Nothing is ever simple for your San Francisco 49ers. As the team gears up for its stretch run with its third-string quarterback, they face some difficult roster decisions that could have ripple effects during the most important time of the year.
The NFL allows you to activate up to eight players from injured reserve per season. So far, the 49ers have already used six of those spots on Elijah Mitchell, Jimmie Ward, Azeez Al-Shaair, Jordan Willis, Curtis Robinson, and Colton McKivitz.
The tricky part is what to do with those last two spots. Elijah Mitchell is dealing with his second MCL sprain of the year, but he did look very good before the latest injury, and he would be back in time for the playoffs if activated. We haven’t heard much about Javon Kinlaw, but Kyle Shanahan did say that the former first-round pick was “close” to coming back for the first time since Week 3.
Then we get to the quarterbacks. Garoppolo would be a candidate to go on IR, of course, but if he really could return in the Divisional/Championship round, do the Niners really want to have to use one of their final two activations on him? Or do they roll the dice and hope they won’t need the roster spot for the final games of the regular season?
It’s also possible that Garoppolo returns earlier than the timeline reported by Adam Schefter. According to this article from Matt Barrows, David Lombardi, and Jeff Howe, number 10 could be back before the Divisional round of the playoffs:
There also seems to be a chance that Garoppolo might be able to return a week earlier than the seven- to eight-week timetable that’s been initially reported — or six weeks from now. According to medical experts, six weeks can be a standard baseline for return to play from a foot fracture — but exact timing depends on a multitude of factors, including which particular bones are fractured and their proximity to the Lisfranc joint.
One other potential wrinkle in all of this - money. Thanks to his reworked contract, Jimmy makes about $29,000 every week just for being on the active roster - regardless of whether he’s the starter or the backup. That means Garoppolo would lose out on $145,000 if he were placed on IR. Is that a lot of money to either Jed York or Jimmy? No, but could it be a potential tiebreaker? Only the 49ers themselves can answer that.
(Due to various other incentives in his deal, by the way, Garoppolo is also set to lose at least $1.5 million that he would have made if he finished the regular season healthy.)
Trey Lance, meanwhile, has been on IR since the end of September, but people have wondered about a return this season. Kyle Shanahan has been asked multiple times about that possibility. Most recently, he told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, “From what I’ve been told, no. He’s not physically able to. If he could, hell yeah. But right now, I’ve been told no on that.”
There are those famous Shanahan caveats.
So what do you do if you’re the 49ers? Do you use your last two IR activations on Elijah Mitchell and Javon Kinlaw and just hope they can stay healthy the rest of the way? Both could have a big impact if they returned, but given their histories could also immediately get injured again.
Does Jordan Mason’s emergence cause the team to keep Mitchell on IR to rehab his knee? Where does Hassan Ridgeway being out 6-8 weeks factor into the Kinlaw decision?
These are the choices that Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch, and company will have to make, and the outcome of those decisions (along with some luck) will help shape the rest of the 2022 season for the 49ers.
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