Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Has the 49ers’ handling of the quarterback situation created ‘toxic tension?’ Steve Young thinks so

Marc Adams
Nov 12, 2021 at 9:00 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers loss to the limping Arizona Cardinals last Sunday has put the team in a difficult position. While there is still some hope for a turnaround, and post season play, the mounting losses are making it harder to see the 49ers making the playoffs.

Hall of Famer Steve Young was a guest Wednesday on KNBR's Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks Show. He spoke about being at a charity event earlier in the week, and speaking to Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice, about what he's thinking, in regards to the 49ers.

"I go, 'What do you think?'" Young said. "He goes, 'There's no dogs.' And I got to interpret that. There's no dogs on there. You watch the team go on, go off, everyone's like, 'OK.'

"When I'm talking about a locker room, I'm talking about a leadership committee that happens naturally, it's organic. And there are certain personalities that it's made up of, 'over my dead body' kind of guys, the guys that have the grit, that have the moral authority to turn, at any time as a group or individually, to the rest of the 50 guys and declare the truth or the moment or something that doesn't even necessarily have to be said. Some of the groups that I played with it was just a look like, 'Hey, yeah, now.' Where I get concerned is that the locker rooms of the previous Super Bowl teams were best in the league kind of locker rooms."

"There's nothing wrong individually," Young said. "Great talent, great people, all that stuff, but as a group, as a collective, they're missing that thing that pulls everyone. There's a sense of ominousness about that gut feeling of the team. Who is going to make the difference? Who is going to create to make it one plus one equals three, that brings out the most of everybody? ... When you get concerned with a team is when they have the moment and they don't respond. Here we are with the last stand because if we lose this week, we are 3-6 and it becomes very difficult to get righted. But how do get it righted with the individuality of the team, rather than the collective?

"When they went to the Super Bowl, Tom, it was because of the locker room. You can say, 'Oh it's because of the great play calling, it was because of this great pass rush.' Yes and yes, but mostly about the people."

Young believes some of the 49ers problems, on the field, are due to a lack of strong leadership in the locker room. Since week one, he has had concerns about the 49ers locker room. His concern began when the team almost allowed the lowly Detroit Lions to come back and take the lead. He said that whenever he was on a team and that happened, it was a sign of immaturity within the locker room.

But he also seems to be questioning if some of the locker room dynamics have been negatively impacted by how the quarterback situation has been handled, starting in March, when the 49ers made the trade for the number three overall pick, to select Trey Lance.

Said Young, "The problem is, when you make a once-in-a-generation, or two generations, bid for somebody, and really what that says about that person you make the bid for, and the person you're leaving behind, and then you leave them both there in the locker room, who really, I think, love Jimmy, the dynamics are -- it's already hard. Football's hard. The NFL is hard.

"... I think in many ways, what's happened since March, is that the dynamics in the locker room are harder. I've always thought creative tension and toxic tension -- creative tension is a good thing. That's how great stuff happens. And I said it earlier in the year, Trey and Jimmy are good guys, and it felt like they could create some creative tension, and it could be a positive. It could build off of it. But if it doesn't go well, then all of a sudden, the toxic tension comes because it's not going well. When things don't go well in the NFL, it's hard to hold it together. It's intense. The pressure mounts. Like us, talking about it on the radio. It just gets harder and harder.

"... And so somehow, it needs to get more creative again, and winning is the only way to create creative tension. The tension's there. The tension that we put three first-round draft choices for Trey Lance, a young player to come in, and left Jimmy, who took us to the Super Bowl, is still there, that is tension by definition. There's no way around it. But can it be creative? And I'm a believer that that's possible, and at the beginning of the season, I said that. But it's feeling more and more toxic...and that's a problem that you can't stop. No speech, nothing's going to change that."

The 49ers are, without a doubt, playing like a team that is under intense pressure. The coaching staff and front office have mismanaged the quarterback situation, and have added unnecessary tension and pressure to the players.

"And people still want to stay together. No one wants to be in the corner whispering about what they should be doing or shouldn't be doing. That's not what people want to do. They want to come out unified as a group of, we keep saying dogs. And every time they take the field, you're like, 'Aw crap, here come the 49ers.' And that's why this tension can go two way, and that's why it was...such a difficult process to try to figure out.

"I said to myself, that would be a tough one to manage, but winning manages everything. You can create a lot of cool stuff. But if you don't, I don't know where you go. I'll tell you what, if it doesn't go well Monday night...then it's going to be, 'When does Trey [start].' You can see it only gets more difficult, right?"

You can listen to the full interview below.

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