Positional Analysis Runningback- 01/05/2001
logo.jpg (11350 bytes)

One of the most controversial positions this off-season will be running back. Last season, the 49ers scavenged the free agent market when they learned that Garrison Hearst would be unable to return to the field that year. The 49ers ended up signing Charlie Garner and Lawrence Phillips. While Phillips turned out to be a bust, Garner came in and immediately showed he could be an effective every down back. In less than a full season Garner racked up over 1000 yards. This past season, the 49ers figured they would be set at running back with Garner, and they figured Hearst would be able to finally take to the field. Hearst never made it, but Garner did run for over 1000 yards and into the pro bowl.

The 49ers finished the season with Garner's average rush yards dropping substantially, and Hearst just beginning to practice. Meanwhile back up Paul Smith looks to be a solid back, but could probably use another year before really becoming an every down man. With Garner a free agent, and Hearst undergoing yet another surgery, the running back picture is very clouded.

Charlie Garner maintains that the decline in his performance was because the 49ers were not using him in the same manner, and due to offensive line injuries. Bill Walsh believes that the undersized Garner was simply wearing down. Garner will be commanding top dollar this off-season, and the 49ers likely wont be able to give him such a contract, unless they can work miracles with the salary cap.

Garrison Hearst would have to come to an injury settlement with the 49ers for them to let him go. The 49ers would love to see Hearst return to old form but that seems unlikely at best. Hearst set the all-time team record for rushing with the 49ers, and was running strong until he snapped his ankle in the playoffs against Atlanta.

Paul Smith is the only running back guaranteed back with the team as he is still under contract. Smith runs much like Hearst, able to go inside and out, but is still young, and needs development. The 49ers don't want to go into next season without a big name at running back, and thus Paul Smith will have to wait his turn.

The 49ers need to resign Charlie Garner, but the two sides are going to have to establish a contract they can both live with. The 49ers can't afford to mortgage their future on a running back that has yet to prove he will be running strong come playoff time. Meanwhile Garner, with his Pro Bowl nomination will be looking for a large contract. Somehow, a consensus needs to be made.

In all likelihood, the team wont keep both Garner and Hearst. The two together would be far to expensive, and since both have been with the team for quite some time, and both have given the team good performances, this will be one of the toughest decisions the team will have to make in the off-season. If the team fails to retain Garner, and Hearst's recovery remains slow, the team may regrettably reach to the draft for a running back to compliment Paul Smith.

Talk about it in the 49ers Forum

fball.jpg (6395 bytes)fball.jpg (6395 bytes)