Joshua Garnett: That Guard Just Isn’t Worth It Anymore

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When I turned 16, I decided that the 1967 yellow Mustang gathering dust in the garage should be my car.

On the surface, the car was in good shape. The interior had held up well, despite the sticky nicotine leeching from underneath the dashboard. The original radio lacked an FM dial but picked up AM radio signals bouncing off the ionosphere from across the country.

Unfortunately, something was always broken and it refused to start in chilly weather. Despite an initial $800 tune-up, the vacuum hoses kept disintegrating, rendering the car as powerful as my original Knight Rider Big Wheel.

Another time, the trunk lost its ability to latch correctly and would fly open at random times as I drove down Geer Road. I had to tie it to the bumper with twine until I could get it fixed. The gas gauge always indicated an empty tank, causing me to often over-fill the receptacle.

My favorite moment came when the power steering unit exploded in the student parking lot, resulting in another tow-truck trip to Heckendorf's Auto Electric.

Much like my Mustang, the San Francisco 49ers have a player who, on the surface, looks like he could be an outstanding offensive lineman. He entered the league with an Outland Trophy, the Morris Trophy, and a consensus All-American. When the 49ers selected him in the 2016 draft, he was an immediate upgrade to the likes of Jordan Devey, Marcus Martin, and Erik Pears.

The NFL reality that guard Joshua Garnett has lived is far harsher than anyone expected.

Since 2016, Garnett has played in 22 NFL games, making only 11 starts. He missed the entire 2017 season due to an arthroscopic knee surgery that he decided to have during the first part of August. The next season, Garnett showed up to camp 25 pounds leaner and ready to finally play football. Garnett had the opportunity to beat out journeyman Mike Person for the starting guard position, and it certainly looked as if the odds were in his favor.

That hype was short-lived. After two-and-a-half practices, Garnett hurt his knee again in a collision with a defensive lineman. He played 75 snaps last season, with 30 occurring in a back-up role in Week 17.

The last time Garnett made a start was when Faithful fans were defending quarterback Blaine Gabbert's greatness.

This season, the 49ers' brass decided against upgrading its interior offensive line, even after injuries to guard Laken Tomlinson and center Weston Richburg. The team did extend Person's contract, though I still felt Garnett had an opportunity to win a starting role.

On July 28, head coach Kyle Shanahan noted that Garnett dislocated his finger the day before and again that morning. On August 1, Shanahan noted Garnett was going to have surgery on the problematic finger.

There are two constants with the 49ers' offensive line. First, count on Garnett to find a way to be injured at the start of camp.

Football finger injuries are as common as cheap vodka at a liquor store. Anyone who's strapped on a helmet has left practice or a game with a finger ouchie.

Faithful fans know the lore of Ronnie Lott's decision to amputate his broken pinky finger in 1986. I'm not suggesting Garnett lose a digit to a biohazard bag. I am, however, wholly unclear how a heavy tape job, combined with additional padding, wouldn't solve the problem and allow Garnett to remain active.

The second constant: the 49ers' offensive line has its weak interior.

The 49ers have two top-end tackles bookending the offensive line, but the three men in the middle remain a severe weak point. Tomlinson is a reliable player, but his year-by-year numbers remain average at best. He's reached his peak as a player. Person found success in Shanahan's offense last year, but he needs to cut his allowed pressures and hurries in half. Last season, he averaged 2.1 pressures and 1.6 hurries per game. Further, Richburg is still listed on the team's physically unable to perform list.

Garnett will have missed at least a month of football by the time he's ready to don a blue jersey and helmet. At best, he could serve as a back-up guard for the 49ers if undrafted free agent Ross Reynolds and veteran Ben Garland do not pan out.

But is that the best role for a former first-round draft pick? Let's not use Trent Baalke as an excuse; Garnett's had every opportunity dropped in his lap, and he's done little with it. He's had a dismal career, bleeding the 49ers for $9,787.79 for 775 career snaps.

General manager John Lynch won't get much by trading Garnett now, despite teams thirsty for a guard with a modicum of ability in the starting lineup. Lynch needs to rely on the benevolence of the football gods to keep his starting offensive line healthy and keep Garnett on the roster. Once the season ends, Lynch needs to find a suitor willing to give up draft picks and finally put real investment in the interior line.

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