SANTA CLARA – Safety Antoine Bethea signed as a free agent with the 49ers in 2014 to join what he figured would be an annual Super Bowl contender.
In reality, the 49ers’ window was closing. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the organization would part ways after an 8-8 season, and the team’s veteran-heavy roster would soon dismantle in the spring of 2015.
“My whole thing was I wanted to go to a team that was a contender,” Bethea said Thursday on CSN Bay Area’s “49ers Insider Podcast.”
“At that time, I couldn’t say that I could see the changes that were going to happen. But there were some big changes that hit us hard. No excuses. We still have a lot of talent in the locker room now. I just think it’s a situation, this team has to get back to that point where you got to learn how to win.”
More changes are expected at the conclusion of this season, which wraps up on Sunday when the NFC West-champion Seattle Seahawks visit Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers (2-13) could match the fewest wins in franchise history with a loss on Sunday.
“It makes it tough to come to work,” Bethea said. “First, you look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better to help this team to get back to the glory days?’ Of course, it’s going to be other things that happen in the offseason. But at the end of the day, I don’t have any control over that. All I have control over is what I can do.”
After being limited to just seven games last season due to a torn pectoral, Bethea has appeared in every game this season. Bethea leads the 49ers with 103 tackles, which ranks third among all defensive backs in the NFL.
Bethea, 32, is an 11-year veteran who has one season remaining on the contract he signed with the 49ers after eight seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I feel I have good football left in front of me,” said Bethea, who has a degree in criminal justice from Howard University. “But at the end of the day, you have to evaluate everything in life. After this year, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I could be here. Maybe I’m not here.
“Of course, I’ve thought about life after football. I definitely want to walk away from this game healthy. If it ever gets to the point where I’m second-guessing myself or second-guessing my ability, I’ll be fine to hang the cleats up.
Regardless of where he might fit with the 49ers, Bethea said is not ready to step away from his playing career at this point.
“Not in the near future,” he said. “I still feel as though somebody can use my service, whether it’s here with the Niners or wherever it may be. I still feel as though I can play some good ball.”
This was a season that featured the 49ers’ franchise-worst 13-game losing streak and the controversy that centered around Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial inequality in America in which he took a knee during the national anthem.
Bethea maintains Kaepernick’s protest was never allowed to become a distraction inside the locker room because of the open channels of communication. He said he will remember this season for the protest, which became national news, and the team’s struggles on the field.
“I think what Kap did will be talked about for years to come – an NFL player using his platform for what he wanted to use it for,” Bethea said. “And, also, right now, we’re 2-13. So whatever our record will be, that’ll be talk, as well. I think it’ll be (remembered for) both.”