Reuben Foster

49ers cutting Reuben Foster defines Shanahan-Lynch era, Jed York believes

reubenfoster49ers2018ap.jpg
AP

49ers cutting Reuben Foster defines Shanahan-Lynch era, Jed York believes

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ road to Super Bowl LIV has had its ups and downs, but what owner CEO Jed York sees as the current regime’s defining moment is likely not what you’d expect it to be. 

The 49ers' huge win over the Saints in the Superdome against future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees might be seen as a defining moment of the organization. The club punching their ticket to the Super Bowl by beating the Packers in the NFC Championship Game is also a moment that leaves a lasting impression. 

While York greatly enjoyed both of those wins, York views a less joyous moment as the turning point of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s six-year tenure.

On Sunday, Nov. 25th, 2018, four hours before the 49ers were set to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the announcement was made that they had decided to release first-round draft pick Reuben Foster. The linebacker had been arrested the night prior to the game on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence. 

The joint decision by Shanahan and Lynch not to tolerate the distraction and the alleged behavior was brought up by York as an important step in building the culture that has been so important to the success of the team.  

“I think a great example is Reuben,” York said. “I love Reuben. I wish that Reuben was still here. We gave Reuben opportunities. We’ve given a lot of guys opportunities but we set our limit, and said 'If we can’t fix this, we have to move on from a talented player.'

“I don’t know that that would have been the case with every other coach or every other general manager. Not just here, but across the league because it’s hard to give up on talent. And I think that to me, is one of the defining moments of John and Kyle of being able to say, ‘This is a first-round pick in our first year’ and we moved on from it and it was hard. 

“And we could have justified not moving on from it. You know there are other people that have been in worse situations than what Reuben was in but we knew where we had to be. And I think that, to me, if you look at a defining moment for those guys, I think that’s a defining moment for the culture of this team of we are ‘team first’ and we are ‘We got your back’ first.”

[RELATED: When York thought 49ers could reach Super Bowl]

That “team first” attitude is very prevalent in several aspects of how the team operates. It is exemplified in how are selfless they are on the field, how it doesn’t matter who shows up on the stat sheet as long as they are winning games. And when they have lost games, there has been no finger pointing. 

While that fateful Sunday in Tampa might want to be forgotten by many, it has proven to be an example of how the identity of the team was shaped into what you see today.

Ex-49ers LB Reuben Foster reportedly suffers torn ACL, possible artery damage

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USATSI

Ex-49ers LB Reuben Foster reportedly suffers torn ACL, possible artery damage

Organized team activities began Monday for NFL teams, and Washington suffered a loss shortly after the opening of camp.

Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster went down during the second play of OTAs with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. He was on the ground for several minutes before being carted off while in tears.

After an receiving an MRI, Foster's injury appears to be very serious.

That's a brutal development for Foster and Washington.

[RELATED: 49ers have important competitions beginning during OTAs]

Foster was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was the beginning of a tumultuous time in the Bay Area.

The Alabama product was arrested three times and suffered multiple on-field injuries during his time with the 49ers. San Francisco cut ties with Foster last November after he was accused of committing domestic battery at a team hotel in Florida.

Washington claimed the linebacker off waivers a few days later. Foster recorded  84 solo tackles in his 16-game career with the 49ers.

The 49ers have since revamped their linebacking corps after Foster's departure. They signed Kwon Alexander to a four-year contract in the offseason and spent a fifth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Dre Greenlaw.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch hope Alexander, once he gets fully healthy, and Greenlaw can fill the role left by Foster's departure in the middle of the defense.

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

As 49ers GM John Lynch and his staff head into their third draft, Lynch admits that they are using lessons learned from Reuben Foster and Joe Williams to help prevent the same draft mishaps from happening again. 

Lynch has spoken about needing to be aggressive in taking players that will improve the franchise while taking into account a solid locker room environment. A few of Lynch's picks have backfired, but he says the team has learned from their mistakes. He spoke about how his past two seasons have been a learning process, while also admitting that sometimes you still have to take risks. 

“I think a combination of both,” Lynch said. “If you aren’t always learning, shame on you, shame on us. I think with Reuben, I think we somewhat accounted for it by where we drafted him. I think we had him at a certain value. We didn’t draft him there. That doesn’t excuse us. It’s a shame. 

“We’re very happy to have Kwon Alexander, but that came at a heavy price. We would’ve much preferred to have Reuben still playing here. So, of course, you learn a lesson.” 

The heavy price for the 49ers was Alexander’s five-year $54 million contract. Foster would have cost much less under his four-year rookie contract that was worth just over $9 million. 

Foster had a few red flags prior to the draft, including being sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine after a confrontation with a hospital worker and a diluted urine test. His troubles continued with assault allegations and other off-the-field issues. 

Lynch detailed the slight variations to their pre-draft vetting process that was made, in part, because of what they learned from Foster. 

“There are certain tweaks we’ve made,” Lynch said. “Our 30 visits this year, we brought people more in a group setting. We want to see how they interact with other people. So, those are subtle things that we do.”

Meanwhile, Williams spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve and then was released prior to the 2018 season. He was a player who had great game film, especially just before the draft when he ran for a record-setting 332 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium. 

As with Foster, Williams had his share of red flags as well. He quit football after being at Utah for a season to deal with issues regarding family matters. He rejoined the team when they were in desperate need at running back. 

Since drafting Williams, Lynch has been very vocal about acquiring players who love the game of football, almost reminding himself to not forget the miss in his first draft. The positive side is that the team released Williams after his second offseason instead of holding out hope that he would develop and pan out.   

“As to Joe, I think that was a pick, it didn’t work out,” Lynch said. “But, in every scenario, whether something worked or didn’t work, you take note. We try to do that in each individual case.”
 
“There’s so much that just goes into the research of these players. You learn something every year. I think the most important thing, you impart upon your scouts, upon your staff is, ‘We have to be as thorough as humanly possible.’”

[RELATED: Final first-round NFL mock draft]

For a GM without front office experience, Lynch surrounded himself with experienced people. The past two 49ers draft classes have been far from perfect -- but that can be said about every draft class. Lynch just hopes to improve each season by learning from his past. 

“Anything we can learn about these guys is valuable information,” Lynch said. “I’m real proud of the work we’ve done with our staff to get as much information to be equipped to make as good a decision as possible.”
 
“You work hard to try to identify what is the lesson that you learned. We know in-house what those lessons are.”