After avalanche of injuries, Shanahan says 49ers are rethinking players’ ‘risk-reward’


Two years ago, in the days following the end of their second straight injury-ridden season, the 49ers fired their head coach and strength and conditioning coach.

These moves were heralded when general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke the day after a 4-12 season ended.

Shanahan said the injuries were “too severe for two years”. Lynch said too many players weren’t available, “and that’s something we’re looking at closely.”

Two years later, however, Shanahan and Lynch attended a Groundhog Day press conference on Monday: it was a day after the 49ers had completed a 6-10 season that ended with an NFL top 19. on the injured reserve, a list that among those who had led their race to the Super Bowl 2019.

49ers leaders have made it clear that they are not about to overhaul their recently revamped training staff, but they will, once again, be looking into the matter during the offseason.

“We strongly believe in them, but we ask everyone to take a look,” said Lynch, speaking of the training staff. “What can we improve? We will look. We will turn every page and every detail to find out what we can do better and improve our processes.”

What are the reasons for excessive team attrition? Sure, they didn’t have off-season training and an abbreviated training camp, but it was the same circumstances for 31 other teams in a season contested in a pandemic.

Lynch noted that the 49ers had a long 2019 season that ended in the Super Bowl in early February. However, the Chiefs also played 19 games in 2019. And they went 14-2 in 2020 while finishing the season with the sixth fewest players (six) in the injured reserve.

“They’ve figured out how to stay healthy and they’re playing really good football,” tight end George Kittle said. “Then I do not know. I think a lot of injuries we’ve had this year, from ACLs to ankle sprains to broken bones – I’m not really sure what you can do to train yourself to prevent that sort of thing, to some extent. . It’s football. Things are happening. We were hit by a snowball and it went into an avalanche.

Injuries can be hit or miss, and it’s possible the 49ers endured a season in which they were unusually snakebitten.

However, Shanahan admitted to adding players with notable injury histories in recent seasons.

In 2018, they signed All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman as he recovered from surgeries on both Achilles. In 2019, they traded to Pro Bowl enthusiast Dee Ford, whose medical record included two back surgeries.

This season Sherman has missed 11 games due to a calf problem linked to one of his Achilles. And Ford has missed 15 games with a back injury that puts his availability for the start of the 2021 season into question.

There are other examples beyond Sherman and Ford. But there are also players like cornerback Jason Verrett. His brilliant 13-start season came after injuries limited him to six games from 2016 to 2019. Verrett earned a base salary of $ 910,000 in 2020.

“Sometimes you have to take risks, which we have been doing here in our four years,” Shanahan said. “Some have paid. Some did not. I consider Jason Verrett a perfect who paid off. It was a hell of a deal. That doesn’t mean you want to do this all the time, because we also see some that were too risky and we didn’t get the reward.

The NFL cliché isn’t true: the best ability is talent, not availability.

However, Shanahan suggested the 49ers need to put even more emphasis on sustainability in their player ratings. He referred to the fact that their 19 players on the injured reserve accounted for $ 78.6 million in salary cap space, according to

“That doesn’t mean you never take risks again – I think that would be overcorrection,” Shanahan said. “You have to take risks to get to the top of this league, but we also understand that you can’t be successful if the number (salary cap) I just gave you continues.

“It all goes into every decision we’ll ever make. And I would like to say that it always has been. But the more situations you go through, the more you realize what those decisions are and that the risk-reward changes a bit. “

The 49ers played long stretches without their No.1 quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), top running back (Raheem Mostert), returning wide receiver (Deebo Samuel) and four Pro Bowl players: Kittle, Sherman, Ford and defender Nick Bosa.

Those seven players combined have missed an average of 10.7 games this season, and many were spectators in last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks in the season finale.

“I watched (of) the sequel yesterday and three sequels, it looked like an All-Pro team,” Lynch said. “We need these guys on the pitch, not in the suite to watch the game.”

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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