Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports



Week 6 turned out to be a major turning point for the San Francisco 49ers, as the team elected to focus more on 2018 by releasing linebacker NaVorro Bowman and benching quarterback Brian Hoyer for the rookie, C.J. Beathard.


If you thought the 2017 season was going to be about wins and losses for the San Francisco 49ers, you were wrong.

Week 6 was a major paradigm shift for the organization, marked by two key events -- the release of linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Friday and then Sunday's benching of starting quarterback Brian Hoyer for the rookie, C.J. Beathard, in the second quarter of the Niners' eventual 26-24 loss to the Washington Redskins.

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In all reality, this year has become an elongated audition for 2018. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have long since cast away any thoughts of San Francisco somehow surprising the NFL world and sneaking into the playoffs. Sure, putting the best team on the field is ideal. But a rebuild process is just that, rebuilding.

Parting ways with Bowman makes sense if you can see beyond the emotions of it. He was an aging veteran no longer playing at the same level fans saw during his perennial All-Pro years not long ago. In fairness to Bowman, the fact he was able to come back from two season-ending injuries is remarkable, and he's still a better linebacker than anyone the 49ers can field outside of rookie Reuben Foster.

Bowman's release is a win-win for both sides. For Bowman, 29 years old, he'll have the chance to sign on with a contender and hopefully compete for a Super Bowl now rather than waiting for the 49ers' rebuild to reach its peak. Meanwhile, the Niners have fully dedicated themselves to their future, and that future looks bright with Foster.

Whether or not you agree with Bowman's release matters little now. He's gone, and it's time to move forward.

But an even bigger indicator of future planning was Shanahan's decision to bench Hoyer after he went 4-of-11 for just 34 yards. Five-plus games with Hoyer under center has given Shanahan and the 49ers enough evidence he's not the answer at quarterback. Not during a rebuild, not because he knows the system, none of that. Simply put, you know what you'll get out of Hoyer at this point. It's not much, certainly not enough to justify keeping him in a starting role.

Beathard, however, is more of an X-factor. We don't know if he'll have continued success this season or beyond, but at least there's a chance he can outperform his predecessor.

Beathard's first game at the NFL wasn't perfection, going 19-of-36 for 245 yards and one touchdown against an interception. But that touchdown toss -- a 45-yard find to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson -- showed a lot of promise:


More importantly, Beathard was instrumental in two touchdown drives during the game -- something Hoyer hasn't had the luxury of saying for the vast majority of the year.

Shanahan later indicated Beathard would be the starter moving forward. Again, another indication the head coach is now fully committed to the future instead of rolling with what might have worked during training camp earlier.

So this will be the theme for San Francisco for the rest of 2017 -- seeing what other players, who possibly have a role next year, have to offer. And it's something we could see continuing elsewhere on the roster too. Running back Carlos Hyde, a pending free agent in 2018, could see his snaps cut by rookie tailback Matt Breida as the season wears on. And veteran safety Eric Reid, also a free agent-to-be, looks a bit more expendable thanks to the emergence of fellow defensive back Jaquiski Tartt.

As the season wears on, keep an eye on the players the Niners likely want around next season. They'll see more of the field in coming weeks, possibly pushing out veterans in favor of analysis for the future.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise and 49ers Webzone and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.