Bonta Hill: With Garoppolo down, it’s time to evaluate, not tank

It’s amazing how one play can snatch excitement away from an entire fan base, and change the course of a season, but that’s exactly what happened this Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers.

With 5:46 left in their loss to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the face of the franchise — Jimmy Garoppolo — tore the ACL in his left knee when he tried to cut back and gain extra yardage. His knee buckled before getting popped by Chiefs corner Steven Nelson, and just like that, Garoppolo’s 2018 season was over.

So what now? After months of anticipation, months of hype surrounding the quarterback with the face ladies love and passes receivers love to catch, the excitement about the 2018 49ers went down quicker than a mid-1980s Mike Tyson opponent.

Some of you may be in favor of the 49ers tanking for a high draft pick. That’s comical and idiotic. First of all, is there a guarantee that a top pick will become a Hall of Famer? No. It sends the wrong message to potential free agents as well as the young core the 49ers have on their roster. Besides, this is the San Francisco 49ers. Losing isn’t in this franchise’s DNA. Save your tanking takes. Please.

They’re still trending in the right direction, and they’ll have close to $70 million in cap space, more if they decide to part ways with veterans Richard Sherman and Pierre Garcon — from whom the team can move on after the season.

Panicking and trading picks for a guy like Le’Veon Bell isn’t the move at the moment. Just wait and see how this season plays out. I don’t want to say the season is lost, but damn, it certainly feels like a 4-5 win team as opposed to an 8-9 win team.

We’re the 49ers destined for the playoffs with No. 10 throwing darts all over the field? Nope, especially considering they lost one of their prized free agents when running back Jerrick McKinnon tore his ACL on the last play of practice on Sept. 1.

The 49ers are 1-2 heading into their tilt with the high-powered L.A. Chargers. This defense that was hammered in Kansas City will have to worry about the likes of Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and they’ll be without Richard Sherman, who needed help walking off the field at halftime San Francisco’s loss to the Chiefs. He’s out 2-4 weeks with a calf strain.

As I wrote before the season, in my eyes this organization was a season away from making any real noise in the NFL. Take away Garoppolo, DeForest Buckner, Fred Warner and Reuben Foster, and this is arguably one of the least talented rosters in pro football.

So how would 2018 be considered a success for the 49ers? Is it about wins and losses or growth from its young core? I would contend that it’s about evaluation. Now is the time to find out who you want to be here when Garoppolo and Breida return. Who will be here during the next phase of the rebuild, and who’s here just to punch the clock and get them through the season?

Despite securing the bag this past February when he signed his five-year, $137.5 million deal that included a total of $74.1 million in injury guarantees, his inexperience was glossed over partly due to his 5-0 start to finish the 2017 season.

Garoppolo wasn’t flawless. Whether it was his week one pick-six against the Minnesota Vikings, or holding onto the ball too long in week two versus the Detroit Lions, Garoppolo is far from a finished product.

He’s got to shed that linebacker mentality and remember how important to this franchise. Taking unnecessary hits and risks is a no-no. But the worst part about Garoppolo’s injury is it halts his progression while stunting the growth of this receiving core.

C.J. Beathard will be tasked with replacing Garoppolo. The second-year Iowa product is a serviceable quarterback, but is he capable of helping this team win and make noise in the NFC? I have my doubts.

All it took was one play for 2018 to turn into 2017. Another season of evaluating talent and trying to figure out who can help this team get back into the Promised Land.

Injuries are brutal, especially when it’s to your franchise quarterback.

Bonta Hill
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Bonta Hill

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