The 49ers are in the Super Bowl because the players on this roster won 13 games in the regular season, then two more in the playoffs.
But Niners CEO Jed York believes it’s also the absence of one player that also has helped this franchise succeed.
York told Mark Inabinett of Alabama.com this week that San Francisco’s release of first-round draft pick Reuben Foster in November of 2018 was a “defining moment” for the development of the culture of the team under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
The release of Foster – a talented former Alabama All-America linebacker who had been drafted in the first round – came after a series of off-the-field incidents. After his arrest on a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence, Lynch and Shanahan decided to release Foster and move on without him. It was a tough decision because the 49ers believed Foster had the potential to be an impact player.
At the time of Foster’s release, Lynch said Foster had taken some positive steps and was maturing, but the arrest was a signal something needed to happen.
"Unfortunately in life there’s consequences for your actions," Lynch said. "When you show bad judgment, particularly after something has been communicated very clearly what the expectations are, there are consequences."
Foster went on to sign with Washington but hasn’t been able to play yet because of a significant injury.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have re-stocked the roster with two solid draft classes since 2017, a trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the addition of several other veterans through free agency and trades.
Now, this 13-3 NFC West champion is considered to have not only good athletes but good chemistry – and York believes part of that chemistry and team culture can in part be traced to the release of Foster.
"We gave Reuben opportunities," York told Inabinett. "We’ve given a lot of guys opportunities.. But we set our limit and said, 'If he can’t fix this, 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 was a first-round pick in our first year and we moved on from it, and it was hard."
Sunday’s Super Bowl in Miami is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff (Bay Area time).