Before the season, I made a friendly wager with @Tre9er, a writer at NinersNation. He was pretty sure that Brandon Jacobs wouldn’t make it through training camp before getting released by the San Francisco 49ers, and I was just as certain that he’d make the Week 1 roster. So we bet a 49ers t-shirt (winner’s choice) on whether he’d break camp with the team.
Jacobs did make the team, but I still haven’t collected. It just doesn’t feel right since the giant (no pun intended) running back has only been active in one game and he hasn’t carried the ball once all season.
That brings up an interesting question. An egregious example of “hindsight is brought to you by your favorite Lasik provider” perhaps, but a question that seems sort of obvious, nonetheless.
Did the 49ers make an error in keeping Jacobs on the 53-man roster?
There were two reasons to keep No. 45 around.
1. Frank Gore has suffered several lower-body injuries over the past few years, and Kendall Hunter could also suffer an injury. They’re running backs. These things happen.
2. Jacobs is a well known player, and a quick sign-and-release of a veteran of Jacobs’ caliber/reputation might give veterans pause before signing with the 49ers in future off-seasons.
Clearly, No. 1 is a much more important reason than No. 2.
Back when the 49ers broke camp, they had an embarrassment of riches at seemingly every position (besides outside linebacker after Parys Haralson went down). If there was one team in the league who could carry a James as a sort of luxury item, it was San Francisco. But the 49ers aren’t perfect. Their 6-2-1 record is good enough for first place in the NFC West, but not in line for a first round playoff bye. And while the offense has improved somewhat and their outstanding defense is playing at more or less the same level as a year ago, one of the team’s strengths in 2011 has become a weak spot at times in 2012.
What if the 49ers had cut Jacobs in August?
1. They probably wouldn’t have looked like a callous organization that treats vets with disrespect, because the knee injury Jacobs suffered in the 49ers’ second preseason game against the Texans would’ve given the 49ers an out.
2. The running game wouldn’t have suffered, as Gore and Hunter have been healthy and productive all season.
3. Special teams would probably see an improvement. Jacobs’ roster spot could’ve been saved for either Rock Cartwright (who was supposed to replace Blake Costanzo as a leader in coverage) or Colin Jones (another special teams ace who was traded before the season).
4. LaMichael James might have seen the field this season.
Now about those coverage teams…
In 2011 the 49ers ranked 11th in punt coverage, allowing an average of 8.1 yards per return. They did not allow a touchdown all season. They ranked 13th in kickoff coverage last season, allowing an average of 23.1 yards per return.
This year the Tony Montana unit has treated punt and kick returners like little friends.
They rank 13th in yards allowed per punt return (9.6) and have allowed one touchdown, and that number would’ve been higher had Anthony Dixon not gotten shoved in the back on a certain Danny Amendola punt return. In kickoff coverage the 49ers have been dreadful, allowing 28.8 yards per return (31st in the NFL) — pretty poor seeing as they haven’t allowed a kickoff return for a TD yet.
Is Brad Seely having a down year as a special teams coach, or does he have less to work with? It’s probably smarter to assume the latter.
In Jacobs’ defense
He did look pretty explosive in preseason, and he’s a more proven option as a No. 3 RB than Anthony Dixon, Cartwright or James. The 49ers also have a long way to go before this season is complete — if Gore or even Hunter goes down against Chicago, Jacobs’ role suddenly becomes vital. There could also be some off-field considerations Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh were looking at, things we’d never know unless we were in the 49ers’ locker room.
If Jacobs does end up getting several touches in the second half of the season, I’ll happily pick out an expensive t-shirt and send @Tre9er the bill. In the meantime, the 49ers have to be wondering why exactly they’re paying Jacobs, who hasn’t seemed all that content over the last month or so.