I had the 49ers circled as a team to not overreact to early. San Francisco faced one of the tougher early schedules, was breaking in a newish quarterback, and, after losing Jerick McKinnon to an ACL tear on September 4, would have to engineer a new running game. It was conceivable that the team would start out slow and still come on strong later in the season to compete for a playoff spot.
Now may be time to overreact, at least in the short term. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was carted off the field after a noncontact knee injury in the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ 38-27 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. Here’s a video in which you can see Garoppolo’s knee buckle—don’t hit play if you’re of the faint of heart:
Jimmy G's left knee buckles pic.twitter.com/tA5nqGEYf1— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) September 23, 2018
The exact extent of the injury won’t be known until an MRI test can be run on Monday, but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan fears that Garoppolo tore his ACL:
Kyle Shanahan said the 49ers fear Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL. MRI on Monday, per source. “It doesn’t look good,” said one 49er.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 23, 2018
An ACL tear would end not only Garoppolo’s season, but the 49ers’ as well. Garoppolo’s backup is second-year pro C.J. Beathard, who completed 54.9 percent of his passes for four touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 69.2 passer rating in seven games of action last year. Backup quarterbacks may seem invincible after Nick Foles’s Super Bowl run, but we’ve already seen what San Francisco looks like with Beathard, and it’s ugly.
While the Niners were one of the most hyped sleepers entering the season, the cracks were already showing through their first three games as they’ve gone 1-2. The offense struggled against the Vikings, and the defense looked slow against the Lions and the Chiefs. Without Garoppolo under center, the team’s hopes of a late-season run to the playoffs are virtually extinguished.
If there’s any hope for the 49ers, it’s that any injury to Garoppolo—whether season-ending or not—does not affect the team’s long-term outlook. San Francisco still has a player they believe to be a franchise quarterback under contract, will have the seventh-most cap space next season, and has one of the NFL’s offensive wizards as their head coach. This season could already be a lost one, but the 49ers’ rebuild is continuing apace.
Even if it is an ACL tear for Garoppolo—who was handed a five-year, $137.5 million deal this offseason—the fact that it is happening in September means that he should be available by the start of next season without issue. This isn’t like when Carson Wentz went down last December and the Eagles had to start this season without him. By next September, Garoppolo and McKinnon should both be back, and the 49ers can use some draft capital and cap space to put some more pieces around their franchise passer. The future in San Francisco may not come today, but it should next year.