49ers agreed to soft bubble before abrupt news of shutdown

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The San Francisco 49ers have had a difficult relationship with the city of Santa Clara. The team had no issues with Santa Clara County, until recently.

Hard feelings remain regarding the manner in which the county handled the decision to issue an order that forced the 49ers to play its home games elsewhere.

The team and Santa Clara County previously had great communication. Per multiple sources, at one point before the order was issued, the county asked the 49ers to consider creating a soft bubble, one that entailed players and coaches coming to work and going home, with no shopping, dining out, etc. The team agreed and briefed the players.

The 49ers heard nothing further regarding its agreement to the county’s request. Then, the county decided to shut it all down, without giving the team advance notice of the decision before it was announced or otherwise explaining why the soft bubble approach wouldn’t work.

That contributed to the back and forth that has emerged this week between the team and the county, with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan kicking things off by expressing disappointment regarding the failure in communication.

Dr. Jeff Smith, the Santa Clara County executive, openly questioned the team’s values and suggested that, if they cared about player safety, they wouldn’t play at all during the pandemic.

“Historically, sportsmanship has been about building a team and protecting that team,” Smith said. “Coaches, managers and owners used to want to protect their players from harm. Those values seem to have been placed on hold during the COVID pandemic. . . . If leaders want to protect their teams and communities, they should not play anywhere until it is safe.”

Shanahan recently was asked for his reaction to Smith’s comments.

“I have no reaction to that, someone who questions our values that doesn’t know us,” Shanahan told reporters. “Shows what we’re dealing with. So that doesn’t matter. . . . [T]he situation we’re in is very safe. City’s a little different just compared to where we were at, but we’re going to try as hard as we can not to be a part of the city.”

The 49ers will play their next two home games in Arizona, since the order extends through December 21. If extended, the 49ers will finish their season with a “home” game in Arizona against the Seahawks.

If the order is lifted as of December 21, the 49ers will be able to return from Arizona — before turning around and returning there for a Week 16 road game against the Cardinals.

Eventually, the 49ers will play in Santa Clara under the remainder of a four-decade lease. Given the relationship between the team and the city/county, the 49ers already may be counting the days until the 40-year term expires.