The 49ers don’t know it, but they lucked out.
They think they’re unlucky, because injuries ruined their chances to make the playoffs. Now, be honest, they probably won’t win more than four games.
But that’s OK. They probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs anyway, even if Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon had stayed healthy and played like Pro Bowl performers. The rest of the roster just isn’t good enough. The 49ers are rebuilding.
Now, they can focus on rebuilding, which should have been their focus all along. In a way, all these bad breaks have been good for the 49ers. This season still can be positive. They can set themselves up to be even better next season, better than if they had fruitlessly pursued a playoff spot. Now, they can really build a team that can really win in 2019.
Now, they can evaluate their young players. Develop ones who will be around the next three seasons. Build a foundation, so there’s hope for the future. So Garoppolo doesn’t have to be the savior when he returns from his torn ACL. That’s too much pressure on a young quarterback.
In order to evaluate the young players, certain established ones must step aside. Their time is up. Here’s who they are.
1. WR Pierre Garcon
He’s 32, he struggles to get open and his hands aren’t good like they used to be. Last Sunday, he let one bounce off his hands, and the Cardinals intercepted it.
The 49ers threw Garcon a team-high 12 passes in that game. Makes no sense. He caught only five. He’s nearing the end of his career, and the 49ers should cut him at the end of the season.
Instead of featuring Garcon the next three months, the 49ers should give his playing time to the young receivers – Richie James, Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne. They can rotate. Maybe one can develop into a starter for next season.
James is the most intriguing of the three. He’s a rookie seventh-round pick, and during the preseason he caught 15 passes for 192 yards ‑ both team highs. So far during the regular season, the 49ers have thrown the ball to him just one time. He caught it. The 49ers should throw him the ball more often, and stop wasting the first year of his cheap, rookie contract.
2. TE Garrett Celek
The 49ers already know starting tight end George Kittle is part of their foundation. He’s a terrific young player. Now, they need to find a second tight end to develop.
It’s not Celek, the current backup. He contributes nothing but penalties and drops. Plus, he’s 30. The 49ers need to replace him.
Their third-string tight end, Cole Wick, seems like a stiff. He dropped an easy pass in the end zone against the Cardinals. Let it bounce of his chest.
Other than Kittle, the 49ers’ most talented tight end is Ross Dwelley, who plays on the practice squad. He’s a rookie from the University of San Diego, and he caught 20 touchdown passes his final two college seasons. During the preseason, he caught seven passes for 91 yards. He’s a natural receiver.
The 49ers should call him up.