49ers Take The Bite Out Of GatorBoy
San Francisco 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs, known on Twitter as @gatorboy45, has been unhappy about his playing time since returning from a preseason injury which cost him the first 4 weeks of the season. Jacobs hasn’t been shy about voicing his displeasure via social media, and so on Monday, after getting their first look at 2nd round pick LaMichael James, the 49ers severed ties with Jacobs.
Except that they didn’t officially sever ties with him. In a move that will reportedly have Jacobs to filing a grievance with the NFLPA, the 49ers decided to suspend Jacobs without pay for the last 3 games of the regular season. The decision by the 49ers to suspend Jacobs rather than release him is a strategic one. As Matt Barrows points out there are several teams that the 49ers could potentially face in the playoffs that are in need of some depth at RB due to injury, most notably Jacobs’ old team the New York Giants. Suspending Jacobs allows the 49ers to keep him away from the Giants and other teams while saving $167,000 on a player they no longer want to have on the team, though if Jacobs files and wins a grievance he will most likely receive his salary.
Jacobs has always been a vocal player and was often at odds with his coaches in New York over his playing time so there’s some merit to the idea that the 49ers should have known Jacobs might be trouble if he was used solely as an insurance policy. I’m not entirely sure the role the 49ers envisioned for Jacobs when they signed him was to serve strictly as a 3rd or 4th RB who rarely dressed on game days. Jacobs signed the 49ers prior to the 2012 NFL Draft where LaMichael James was drafted in the 2nd round and Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke, probably assumed the backfield would be a three headed monster of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and Jacobs. Another RB on the roster at the time, Anthony Dixon, was facing an uphill battle for his roster spot after special teams ace Rock Cartwright was also added to the roster as a free agent. Once James was taken in the draft with a 2nd round pick his roster spot was assured along with Gore and Hunter, resulting in Jacobs, Cartwright, and Dixon fighting for 1, maybe 2 roster spots. With Dixon having been part of a stellar special teams unit in 2011 and Cartwright being signed largely for his special teams prowess, Jacobs, who does not contribute on special teams, and Dixon appeared to be in danger of not making the final 53 man roster.
A big RB who too often danced at the line and was not the short yardage threat he had once been, Jacobs was in great shape and was running with power and conviction during the preseason. Unfortunately he injured his knee in the 2nd preseason game against the Houston Texans. That injury both cost him the first 4 games of the regular season and opened the door for Dixon, who had spent the offseason dedicating himself to improving his conditioning and decided to learn the fullback position during training camp in an effort to give himself a better chance to stay with the 49ers. With Jacobs out of the picture for the last 2+ preseason games Dixon was able to showcase his abilities and stick with the team, beating out Cartwright for the last spot in the backfield.
Despite the fact that between the two runners Jacobs is the better and more experienced ballcarrier, Dixon was the one that continued to find himself dressing on game days primarily because he contributes on special teams while Jacobs does not. A veteran team can deal with an attitude like the one Jacobs has displayed in recent weeks when the team is winning and the player is valuable, but with the emergence of James behind Frank Gore Jacobs is at best the 3rd option at RB and not really a candidate for increased playing time based on the fact that Dixon provides more versatility.
It’s important to note that Jacobs’ suspension is only through the end of the regular season. It’s unlikely the 49ers would want Jacobs back, however it’s possible he could be activated during the playoffs. Such a scenario would probably depend on two variables: an injury to Frank Gore, and the health and condition of undrafted free agent Jewel Hampton. Hampton missed all of training camp with an injury and was only activated recently. Having missed that much time it’s unclear what type of shape he’s in and having never played even a preseason game at the NFL level it’s unclear whether he is a viable option or not. However the fact that the 49ers opted to give him a roster spot after he completed recovery seems to indicate the team likes him.
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