I’ve been hard on LaMichael James. Probably a little too hard at times, but I wasn’t alone. A lot of people who cover and root for the 49ers have ripped the diminutive running back out of Oregon. It’s easy to take shots at a high draft pick who never really fits in, especially when he shows promise in his rookie season … but especially when his discontent is plainly obvious.
James was a lot of things during his time with the 49ers. He was a running back who averaged 4.5 yards per carry. He lost a fumble in the Super Bowl. Sometimes he was injured, sometimes he was inactive. He had the 10th-highest yards per punt return average in the NFL last year, less than a yard per return behind Golden Tate and 4.2 yards better than Darren Sproles (the player to whom James is so often compared).
James was released by the 49ers yesterday.
Former #49ers RB LaMichael James was not claimed on waivers. A bit of a surprise.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 9, 2014
With all due respect to Mr. Rapoport, it’s not even close to a surprise. James is set to make $640K+ over the next 15 games, and that’s too much for an unproven, small, oft-injured, immature (based on his Twitter habits) player who’s coming off a dislocated elbow and asked to be released. NFL teams don’t like to take away cap space at this time of year, and they certainly don’t like players who complain and request their dismissal from winning teams. Plus, the only teams who would presumably want James don’t really need him.
- The Ravens’ top rusher on Sunday was Justin Forsett, who’s about the same size as James.
- The Eagles could’ve traded for James if Chip Kelly really wanted him; instead they traded for Sproles.
- The Chargers replaced Sproles with Danny Woodhead.
- The Browns already have an ex-49ers running back (Glenn Winston) on their roster.
- The Chiefs have three similar backs — Jamaal Charles, Cyrus Gray and Joe McKnight.
“According to the sources I’m speaking with, including many in the 49ers locker room, Jim Harbaugh may already be losing the players. There is some serious doubts about whether Harbaugh is actually all in like he professes,” Ian Rapoport told Rich Eisen. “He says he is about the team, the team, the team. The players now wonder, is that actually the case?
“They have dealt with a lot over the last couple years. Some of the way he’s treated them, some lack of respect. And all because they are winning, they are fine with it, but some of the players wonder, if they lose, will it all spiral out of control?”
As an example, Rapoport was told that Harbaugh irked a handful of veterans by dragging the team to Baltimore to practice against his brother John and the Ravens.
While it’s an easy correlation to make, I don’t think Rapoport’s primary source is James. He may not have been a source at all. The story could’ve come from any other player, or possibly a front office person. Actually, “many in the 49ers locker room” could mean any 49ers employee, even guys who do the team’s laundry or stock athletic tape.
Rapoport was the first reporter (or one of the first) yesterday to notice when James’ agent tweeted that he was released. Rapoport was also the first reporter (or one of the first) to report that James wasn’t claimed today. Throw in some ill-advised tweets from James’ account that were cryptic at best, outright complaints about his role at worst, and there you have it. James must have hatched a diabolical plot to undermine the Harbaugh regime!
I wrote about this yesterday (and how James dealt with the same rumors when Ann Killion wrote about guys getting sick of Harbaugh earlier this year). But in light of Rapoport’s “surprise” today, it bears repeating.
For one thing, Rapoport is the first guy (or one of the first) to report a lot of NFL stories. It’s not like he’s on the LaMichael James beat.
Sure, it’s possible James said something to Rapoport that led to Sunday’s story. However, if we’re to take the NFL Network reporter at his word, James would’ve been one of several in the 49ers locker room who voiced their displeasure. And James was never a “face of the 49ers,” which is how Killion described those who had misgivings about Harbaugh’s coaching style and personality.
But here’s the main reason why I just don’t see it — to worry so much about Harbaugh’s actions or the tone of the locker room would mean James was invested in the future of the team. While it’s easy and perhaps even satisfying to sling these speculative arrows at an easy target like James, this seems highly unlikely. James wanted to play, and the best way for a 49ers running back to get more touches is to get away from Frank Gore. He got his wish in that respect; now he just needs a new team to give him a shot.
James was a lot of things over the last two-plus seasons, and with A.J. Jenkins gone he became the symbol of a mostly wasted draft class, but that doesn’t mean he was a Harbaugh-bashing source.