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Shanahan explains why he thinks Kittle should play if cleared

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The 49ers have not shut down tight end George Kittle for the rest of the season.

In fact, coach Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday that Kittle could be back on the field Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kittle has been sidelined since Nov. 1 with a fractured cuboid bone in his foot.

Kittle returned to practice last week as the 49ers practice in Arizona. He remains on injured reserve, but could be activated at any time.

"I think he has a chance this week," Shanahan said. "That was the point of getting him back at practice last week, to see how he responded. I know he responded good from a medical standpoint and from him. So I'm looking to see how he is this week. And if he's good, I plan on him playing."

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The 49ers (5-9) fell out of playoff contention on Sunday with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The club has two more games remaining in the season.

Shanahan said if Kittle's foot is fine and he is cleared to play, he cannot justify sitting him out of action.

"If he's healthy I just don't see the reason why not to," Shanahan said. "I mean, (that's the) same with every other player on our roster. If you're healthy and you're not risking -- we'd never ask him to play injured or anything like that -- but he had a good week of practice last week. Most of the soreness was going away."


Kittle signed a five-year, $75 million contract extension with the 49ers in the offseason. He figures to be a key component of the 49ers for a long time -- at least through the 2025 season.

Kittle is also a team captain, and Shanahan said it is difficult for him to keep a healthy player on the sideline as merely a precaution against an injury. After all, he said, injuries are an unavoidable part of playing the sport.

"Players risk every time they step on the field," Shanahan said. "No matter who you are, you're risking your career. That's the tough thing about this sport, and that's why I don't think players get paid enough -- even though a lot of people would disagree with me on that.

"There aren't many people in the world who can do what you do, and you're risking your future every time you go out there. That's no different for George. That's no different than all the other 52 guys on our roster."

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Kittle has appeared in just six games this season. He missed time early in the year with a knee injury he sustained in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. Kittle has 37 receptions for 472 yards and two touchdowns.

"Obviously, I don't want to get George hurt or anything like that," Shanahan said. "That's why we're going to be overly cautious with it, and that's why we have been.

"But if someone is 100 percent healthy, I can't look the rest of the team in the eye and tell them they have to play but George doesn't. That's part of having a team and treating people the right way."