Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan discusses finding a risk-reward balance while building the 49ers roster

Jan 5, 2021 at 11:34 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers always seem willing to take a chance on a player if the potential value appears to outweigh the cost. Take cornerback Jason Verrett, for instance. The 49ers' brain trust could have cut ties with the player, who was considered injury-prone, after he landed on injured reserve last season. It was the fifth time in six NFL seasons that Verrett landed on injured reserve. No one would have blamed San Francisco for cutting its losses and moving on.

Verrett proved to be one of the better storylines in an otherwise disastrous season. Not only did the cornerback stay healthy, starting 13 games, but he was Pro Football Focus' eighth-highest graded cornerback.

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Considering how the 2020 season unfolded, with what looked like an All-Pro roster sitting in a luxury box watching the team's finale against the Seattle Seahawks, will the 49ers focus on finding players who have a track record of being durable?

"There's a risk-reward with everything," head coach Kyle Shanahan explained on Monday. "Sometimes, you only wait in certain situations to get a really good player not in the first round or not by having to completely mess up your whole salary cap. Sometimes you have to take some risks, which we have done here in our four years. Some have paid off; some haven't.

"I look at Jason Verrett as a perfect one that has paid off and what he came through and stuff like that. That was a hell of a deal. That doesn't mean that you want to do that all the time because we also see some that have been too much of a risk, and we haven't gotten the reward."

Names like Dee Ford may come to mind. While Ford has proven to be a force when on the field, he has struggled to stay healthy since the 49ers traded a second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for the pass rusher.

"When you have a salary cap, when you have a roster, it's very tough to win in this league if you're missing a lot of your players," Shanahan continued. "For us, having $81 million of our salary cap not play this year, and I think that's the most in NFL history, that is a big deal."

That isn't an exaggeration. That's about the amount the 49ers had invested in players who were sitting on injured reserve this season.

"That's why it doesn't mean that you never take a risk again," Shanahan added. "I think that'd be an overcorrection. You have to take some risks to get to the top in this league, but we also understand that you cannot succeed if that number I just gave you with guys continues.

"So, all that goes into every single decision we'll ever make. And I'd like to say it always has too, but the more situations you go through, the more you realize what these decisions are and that risk-reward changes a little bit."

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