Image By Andrew Giesemann
Sunday was supposed to be the start of a stretch where the San Francisco 49ers could stack wins.
The operative phrase in that sentence is "supposed to". The 49ers have little right to label any game as favorable after throwing away a 12-point fourth quarter lead against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Yet the next two games before the bye give them some opportunity to build momentum as they face two fellow one-win teams with terrible defenses in the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.
However, while these matchups offer the Niners the chance to rediscover the winning feeling that has been missing for all but one week of the season, they must attempt to balance trying to improve their record with giving more opportunities to players who are more likely to help them in 2019 and beyond.
A few veterans who are unlikely to be on the team for much longer have received substantial playing time through the Niners five-game losing streak. Pierre Garcon has admirably battled through injuries this season but has struggled to make any kind of impact. At 32 and with the 49ers holding options on the final three years of the five year deal he signed in 2017, Garcon's San Francisco career appears to be approaching its end, with Kyle Shanahan conceding they have had discussions with other teams about trading him.
Dealing Garcon would be a wise move in a lost season for the Niners. His presence on the field had limited Kendrick Bourne's time on the field until Sunday, when he had seven catches for 71 yards in the veteran's absence. Getting Garcon off the roster would allow 49ers to evaluate what they have in Bourne for an extended period, and they would be well served by sending nose tackle Earl Mitchell to another team, or at least to the sideline.
Mitchell has received the vast majority of the work at the 1-tech but has offered little in the way of upside beyond occasionally clogging run lanes. The Niners can get out of his deal at the cost of just $1.5million in dead money and save $2.95m in cap.
With Mitchell turning 32 next September, that would be a prudent move for the Niners to make. Garcon's presence has limited the snaps of a wide receiver that has flashed potential, but Mitchell's presence is having perhaps a greater negative impact in restricting the development of two potential defensive studs in D.J. Jones and Jullian Taylor.
Jones is much more athletically gifted than Mitchell and has greater potential to make plays in space as a pass rusher, yet he has been inactive for all but four games. Taylor, who flashed ability to rush the passer from evey spot on the defensive line in preseason, has not been active for a single regular-season game.
On the back end of the defense, Tarvarius Moore has been limited to special teams work, the 49ers yet to give the rookie third-round pick the chance to showcase his undoubted phyiscal gifts in a Cover 3 scheme he should be an ideal fit for after transitioning from safety to boundary corner.
The 49ers have been reluctant to concede that they are building for 2019 after losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the season. However, that is the reality they face and, though they will be desperate to mount a winning streak, it will be more valuable for the Niners long-term prospects if they do so with the likes of Bourne, Jones, Taylor and Moore in the lineup.
Experience has obvious value to any team but the 49ers already have plenty of sources of that in the likes of Joe Staley and Richard Sherman, and trimming the likes of Garcon and Mitchell from the starting lineup is unlikely to have a negative impact on San Francisco's fortunes. The Niners may have been looking to save the likes of Jones, Taylor and Moore for the future but, for a team shorn of the ability to compete in 2018, the future needs to be now.
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