On Sunday, the biggest gamble of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan's regime went bust after Foster was arrested on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence on Saturday night at the team hotel.
The Niners announced Foster’s forthcoming release in a one-sentence statement at 8:50 a.m. ET Sunday, a clear sign that their patience with Foster had expired and it was time to move on. It was the kind of news that rendered Sunday's 27-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers an afterthought.
This time, Lynch, Shanahan and the organization had no appetite to let the legal process play out while saving Foster’s roster spot for an eventual return.
Whether Foster is guilty of his latest alleged crime isn’t really the issue, though Shanahan has repeatedly said that any player who puts his hands on a woman or significant other will not have a place on the team. Ultimately, this time it didn’t matter because the 49ers can no longer trust Foster to make good decisions.
Shanahan said after Sunday’s game that the issue of trust mattered “a lot” when it came to Foster.
“I care about Reuben,” Shanahan said. “... I believed him a lot on last time, and that’s why I said to you guys what was said that if that was true, then it would be easy, and he wouldn’t be on our team. I think the courts took care of that, but there’s also a lot of other things that he made bad mistakes on, bad decisions and things that we needed him to follow by, and he struggled at that.
“We’ve helped him a lot with that, and he’s gotten better in that way, but it’s been too much. I care about Reuben, but no one is more important than this team. Our number one rule is you have got to protect the team, and he’s put us in a bad light too much. Hopefully this will fix him, and he can still be successful somewhere else.”
Foster’s arrest Saturday night on a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence against the woman who previously accused him of felony domestic violence ended Foster's short but tumultuous tenure with the 49ers.
Before Foster was a Niner, he had his share of off-field troubles. He had a diluted urine sample that triggered a failed drug test at the 2017 NFL combine and landed him in the league’s substance abuse program before his career even began. He also was sent home early from that combine after an argument with a hospital worker.
Those incidents (along with a shoulder injury) contributed to Foster's slipping in the NFL draft, despite being widely regarded as one of the best prospects. The Niners did exhaustive research, meeting with Foster at the combine and making him the first pre-draft visitor that March. Shanahan and Lynch spoke with him on the phone and via FaceTime, and the team sent vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and team chaplain Earl Smith to Tuscaloosa to meet with him for two days.
Satisfied that Foster could handle being a professional, the 49ers stopped Foster’s slide, trading up to take him at No. 31 overall.
“We were exhaustive in getting to know the kid,” Lynch said at the time. “It felt genuine. ..."
Since drafting Foster, the off-field troubles haven't stopped. In January, he was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in Alabama. In February, he was arrested on two charges of felony domestic violence and one count of felony possession of an illegal weapon.
At the time, the Niners stood by Foster, emphasizing that they wanted the legal process to take place before taking action other than to keep Foster away from the team facilities while awaiting his time in court.
Still, it was well-known that their patience with Foster was growing thin, and Shanahan made it clear that if Foster was proven guilty of those domestic violence charges, he would be gone.
After the domestic violence charges against Foster were dropped when his accuser recanted her testimony and said she lied repeatedly in a scheme to get money from Foster, the 49ers put in place a series of guidelines for Foster to follow in order to remain with the team.
“I mentioned the progress he’s been making in a lot of areas of his life, and unfortunately yesterday showed extremely poor judgment, and for that we made this decision,” Lynch said.
From the beginning, the Niners wanted to believe that Foster could grow enough to become the player they once viewed as one of the three best in the 2017 NFL draft.
They stood by Foster for as long as they could before he left them with no other choice but to say goodbye.