Last week at this time, the 5-9 49ers remained very much alive for the NFC West crown. Indeed, if they’d merely beaten the Rams, San Fran would be playing for a playoff spot on Sunday against the lowly Cardinals.
Now, at 5-10, the Niners are playing for pride. But real pride in the future would be more easily attained if the Niners score a higher draft pick.
And as Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News points out, the Niners could land anywhere from No. 2 to No. 13 in the 2011 draft order. But with a strong incentive to not win this week, the Niners don’t plan to try to lose.
“Whenever we step out on that field, it’s our job to give 100 percent at whatever we do,” offensive coordinator Mike Johnson told Brown.
The easiest way to justify such an approach would be to explain that the 49ers want to evaluate their young players.
“No, absolutely not,” interim head coach Jim Tomsula said. “It’s crystal clear where our approach is here. . . . The evaluation process is ongoing always. Yeah, I understand all that and where we are with our record. But what we’re preparing for is to go in and compete to win.”
It’s easy for guys like Johnson and Tomsula to focus only on the next game because it very likely will be their last game with the 49ers. Why should they care about San Fran’s draft position in 2011 if they’ll be washed out of town with the rest of the coaching staff? It’s in their own best interests to go out with a bang, and so they’ll try.
Whether owner Jed York or G.M.-in-waiting Trent Baalke are actually rooting for them to succeed is another story.