The San Francisco 49ers were universally lauded for their 2017 draft class, but only two years later, the group has been disgraced and disappointing.
On Saturday night, Reuben Foster was arrested at a Tampa hotel on charges of domestic violence. Come Sunday morning, the San Francisco 49ers announced his release, signaling the end of a sorry episode.
Foster, 24, had been arrested for felony domestic violence in February. The team stood by him, hoping his behavior would change (the February incident was dismissed). They were also hoping that their first-round investment in Foster wouldn’t be wasted, despite knowing Foster had off-field issues ranging from a failed drug test to being tossed from the NFL Combine.
Neither have come to pass.
In April 2017, the Niners were applauded by the NFL masses for their draft haul. New general manager John Lynch traded back from the No. 2 to the No. 3-overall slot, allowing the Bears to nab Mitchell Trubisky while netting third- and fourth-round picks in 2017, along with a third rounder in 2018.
San Francisco took Solomon Thomas at No. 3. The 49ers then traded back into the first round, moving to No. 31 in exchange for a second-round pick (No. 34 overall) and fourth-round choices with Seattle. There, the 49ers took Foster, a thumping linebacker out of Alabama with range to spare. The idea was both he and Thomas would be the cornerstones of a fast, aggressive defense alongside Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner under first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan. The results have been underwhelming.
Through 24 career games, Thomas has four sacks and Foster is sitting in jail on bond.
In the third round, San Francisco had the rights to the 66th and 67th-overall spots. There, Lynch took Ahkello Witherspoon before trading out of the latter selection for New Orleans’ seventh-round choice and a 2018 second.
The Saints took Alvin Kamara.
All told, the 49ers walked away with a quality talent in tight end George Kittle (fifth round), an average corner (Witherspoon), a pass-rusher trending toward bust (Thomas), a backup quarterback (C.J. Beathard) and, again, a man sitting in jail.
San Francisco initially seemed to be setting up a brilliant future. Instead, the 49ers whiffed completely on one first-round pick and appear to have missed on the other, all while electing to pass on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and trading the choice that became the league’s most electrifying running back.
Instead of a core that includes one of the aforementioned franchise quarterbacks and Kamara, the 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo and his $137.5 million deal. All this with an underperforming defense dotted with high-end athletes and low-end productions.
In the midst of another lost season, the 49ers will shortly turn toward their third offseason under Lynch and Shanahan. The sales pitch will be that Garoppolo is returning, the kids will improve and Shanahan will finally have his team.
In reality, none of those tenets are certainties. In fact, San Francisco is adrift, in desperate need of transformative talents to save the situation.