49ers' rebuild effort proving a success
The 49ers became the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team when the Baltimore Ravens gave the New England Patriots their first loss of the year Sunday night.
And with San Francisco playing unquestionably its biggest game of the season against the division rival Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, perhaps it’s time for an introduction into the NFL’s most surprising powerhouse of the 2019 campaign.
New to the bandwagon — or you’re simply unfamiliar with how a team that went 10-22 over the past two years suddenly finds itself with the league’s best record halfway through the schedule? We’re here to help you ahead of the 49ers’ biggest game in years.
How did they get here?
This is the culmination of a two-season, organization-wide rebuilding project started by coach Kyle Shanahan and his hand-picked general manager, John Lynch, who were both hired in the winter of 2017 following two one-and-done coaches, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. They tore down nearly the entire roster and entered their first season with a giant question mark at the game’s most important position: quarterback.
With journeyman Brian Hoyer under center, the new regime’s first season began with an 0-5 record before Hoyer was benched midway through a game in Washington for rookie third-round pick C.J. Beathard. The losses piled up and San Francisco began the year 0-9.
But the team made a franchise-altering trade at the Halloween deadline, landing Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick. He started the final five games, all wins, helping his new team become the first in league history to start 0-9 and finish 6-10.
Garoppolo not only played well during that stretch, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His 8.44 yards per attempt was the most among all signal callers. His 297 yards per game was third and the team’s 28.8 points ranked fifth after the team scored just 17 per game during the first 12 weeks.
It led to Garoppolo getting a five-year, $137.5 million contract the following winter — on the strength of just seven NFL starts. Sure, he looked like a franchise quarterback, but there was considerably risk in signing a deal with nearly $50 million in true guarantees for a player that had seen such a limited sample size during his first four NFL seasons.
The hype of the 5-0 finish in 2017 led to high expectations surrounding the 49ers in 2018. They were widely considered a club that would make a jump toward playoff contention with Garoppolo under center. But he tore his left ACL in Week 3, adding more fuel to questions surrounding Garoppolo’s viability as a long-term solution, despite the promise he showed in his first season with San Francisco.
The 49ers finished with a 4-12 record, down two games from the previous season, with the No. 2 pick in the draft. That led to taking pass rusher Nick Bosa, who is already a star providing a massive boost to a lackluster pass rush, in addition to Dee Ford, who was also traded for a second-round pick after getting the franchise tag from the Kansas City Chiefs.
The appeal of the 49ers to Bosa and Ford was simple to understand. They joined a team that was far better than 4-12, a record which was mostly a product of losing the franchise quarterback three weeks into the season (on top of a slew of other injuries all throughout the roster, which led to San Francisco also overhauling their player performance staff this offseason).