SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After Sunday's frustrating 18-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers are now officially a season and a half into the regime of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
The result in terms of wins and losses -- a 7-17 record through those 24 games -- isn't pretty. Despite those losses piling up, Shanahan has made it clear he's committed to keeping the big picture in mind and not pressing the panic button.
"We’re always looking for things to improve our team," Shanahan said last week. "I think the hardest thing, the thing we want to be the strongest with, everyone would love a quick fix right now. ... But, it’s not just about a quick fix. We’re dedicated to try to win this Sunday. But, we’re also not going to just do something that makes us feel better today that hurts us for the future."
At the time, Shanahan was talking specifically about potential trades in advance of Tuesday's trade deadline. But that philosophy has been a consistent theme of the Shanahan and Lynch regime.
That's to be expected given what Shanahan and Lynch took over when they signed six-year contracts upon arrival in the Bay Area. At the time, the Niners were coming off a stretch in which they'd had three coaches in as many seasons and a barren roster with zero star power. Two offseasons didn't figure to fix that, even after the addition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the hope he provided with a finishing flourish in 2017.
At this point in the rebuild, the primary focus remains the roster. In the time since Shanahan and Lynch arrived, they have turned over the bulk of the personnel. To the naked eye, it's a team that looks better than the ones that directly preceded it. How much better is, however, up for debate.
That roster turnover has seen success with some late-round picks like 2017 fifth-round tight end George Kittle, undrafted free agents such as running back Matt Breida, under-the-radar free-agent pickups like receiver Marquise Goodwin and high-priced free agents such as fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
There have also been what look to be some costly disappointments. Defensive end Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has struggled to find a home on the line and doesn't appear to be an ideal scheme fit. Other misses include former fourth-round running back Joe Williams, who has since been released, and linebacker Malcolm Smith, who has rarely been healthy or produced much when he has, among others.
Beyond those, though, the biggest issue has been a lack of difference-making talents despite high-value picks and plenty of salary-cap space. Garoppolo has looked the part at the game's most important position when healthy but his absence has only raised awareness of how much the team lacks more impact players around him.
Even in the 2018 draft, the Niners took tackle Mike McGlinchey with the No. 9 overall pick. McGlinchey looks to be a solid pick who should be a good starter in the league for a long time. But he also doesn't play a position where he can regularly alter the outcome of games the way a dominant edge rusher or dynamic defensive back could.
On Monday, Shanahan said he can do a better job of putting his players in position to close games but also mentioned the need for more players capable of making a bigger impact.
"You can’t control what’s already happened, but you can control what happens in the future," Shanahan said. "And I got to find a way as a coach to make sure I get our guys more prepared for those -- better at those situations and able to make those plays really when it counts, in the fourth quarter, not the previous three.”
“When it comes down to the end when we need to close people out and we need some closers to do that...that’s stuff that we have to continue to learn from and we have to get better at and we’ve got to find people who can get it done.”
It's also fair to take a closer look at how the Niners have developed players. At various times, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, free safety Adrian Colbert, linebacker Reuben Foster and wideout Trent Taylor have looked like potential long-term contributors, but all have battled injuries and been inconsistent though the jury is still out on how they fit long term.
What's more, holdovers like defensive lineman Arik Armstead, defensive back Jimmie Ward and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt fall in a similar category with injuries and have been mostly disappointing when on the field. In fact, while luck isn't something you can count on from year to year, the Niners have also been lacking in that area, too, especially when it comes to injuries.
Losing Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon altered the outlook of this season within the first three weeks. Those left to pick up the slack have also dealt with consistent injury issues. Worse, those injuries are costing many young Niners valuable reps and preventing Shanahan, Lynch and their staffs from getting a more complete evaluation of what they have in place.
Now, it's up to Shanahan to keep his team motivated over the final eight weeks in what amounts to another lost season. He was able to do it in 2017 before Garoppolo took over but there figures to be no such shot of adrenaline inserted into the lineup this year.
"It's our job," Shanahan said. "This is what we do. This is our livelihood. We're not happy at all with where this season has gone and there's still a half a season to play so we need to step it up and we need to do something about it. The season is not ending. We're not going to sit here and run away... I'm going to continue coaching them, trying to get us better in every aspect."
A season and a half into this rebuild, it'd be silly to render some sort of verdict on where it's headed other than to acknowledge this one undeniable truth: Shanahan, Lynch and these Niners still have a whole lot of work to do.