PHOENIX — The 49ers have been known for signing players that were recovering from major injuries, but team brass believes that their 2019 group is different.
In the not-so-distant past, the 49ers had the dubious nickname “Team ACL.” Running back Marcus Lattimore, defensive end Tank Carradine, offensive lineman Brandon Thomas and defensive back Keith Reaser were all acquired with the hope that they would return to their pre-ACL injury abilities.
Fast forward to 2019 and the team has brought a few more players to Santa Clara after suffering significant injuries. Granted these players were acquired through free agency as opposed to the draft, but their abilities after surgery are still to be determined.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander inked a four-year, $54 million contract with the team even though he is recovering from ACL surgery. 49ers CEO Jed York explained why he is confident in the 24 year-old’s return, even if it’s not immediately.
“There’s no reason why he can’t recover for an ACL,” York said. “He’s done it before, I think it was in high school when he had an ACL and he’s recovered. Kwon is the type of kid that he’ll be ready to go but we made a long term investment in Kwon.
“We’re not going to force him if he’s not ready to play Week 1, that was a big conversation that we had. This is a guy that we want to be here for a long period of time. We’re not going to force him to be ready. Every indication is that he will be ready.”
General manager John Lynch explained that Alexander can report to the facility as early as April 2 to start working with the 49ers training and medical staff.
“As an injured player you can be part of the offseason and we can get our hands on him. We know he was in good hands with the Bucs but all of the sudden, once we acquire him, he can no longer continue doing his rehab with (them)”
Lynch also emphasized that the plan for Alexander is long term.
“When you do a deal like that, you want the return right away but we had discussions,” Lynch said. “When you’re making an investment like this, we’ve got to make sure he’s right. So we will hold true to that.
“From all accounts of our conversations with the people from the Buccaneers, he’s on track. We’re going to do what’s right by him. This is a long term relationship with us. With any player we are going to make sure they are right when they are out there.”
Cornerback Jason Verrett is a little further along in his recovery than Alexander. He suffered an Achilles injury at the beginning of training camp last summer. He will remain in Southern California where he has been training during the offseason until he reports for OTAs.
“That’s part of the deal in free agency,” York said. “There’s very few perfect guys in free agency and the perfect deal.
“It’s not a buyer’s market, so you have to take some risk and I think we got unbelievably character driven people and great football players and it might take all of them a little bit of time to get ready to get out there and play but we aren’t playing for August or September.”
The 49ers potentially took risks with edge rusher Dee Ford who had back surgery after the 2017 season and receiver Jordan Matthews who has dealt with knee issues in the past. They also have yet to see what defensive lineman Kentavius Street is capable of. He tore his ACL in a pre-draft work out prior to the 49ers selecting him in the fourth round.
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York reiterated that no one will be rushed back to play as the goal is for long term productivity.
“We’re playing for later in the season and making sure that we have the team that gets us to January."