DETROIT — The San Francisco 49ers have been no stranger to disappointing injuries in recent years, but the one that took place late Sunday might be the most devastating yet.
With 7:54 left in a 41-33 win against the Detroit Lions, cornerback Jason Verrett suffered a right knee injury that both he and the team fear is a torn ACL. Verrett is slated to have further testing done on the knee when the team arrives at the Greenbrier in West Virginia later Sunday for a week of practices before next weekend’s game in Philadelphia.
“It’s crushing,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We’re hoping for the best, but it’s crushing. The bad luck he’s had and putting together these last two years staying healthy and how good of a camp he had… I have got a lot of love for JV and respect him as much as anyone I’ve ever been around. So, I’m really hurting for him.”
Verrett’s injury comes with serious ramifications for a team that was already thin at cornerback, but it hits harder because of the human side of it. During a four-season span (2016-18 with the Chargers, and 2019 with the Niners), he played just six games due to a torn left ACL in 2016, persistent knee issues the following season and a torn right Achilles in 2018.
Despite those setbacks, Verrett has become a favorite of Shanahan and in the Niners locker room for his perseverance. He bounced back last season, playing in 13 games with two interceptions, seven pass breakups and a career-high 60 tackles. It was the first time he’d played in at least 13 games since 2015.
All of that earned Verrett a one-year, $5.5 million deal to re-sign with the team March 15. Verrett followed by clearly establishing himself as the Niners’ top cornerback in training camp.
“It’s awful,” tight end George Kittle said. “It definitely knocks the wind out of your sails. He’s a leader on this team. He’s a guy who is consistent, shows up every day, plays at a high level and makes plays when you need him. He’s reliable. And when that happens, it sucks.”
When Verrett departed, the Niners had a 41-17 lead. After he left, the Lions scored 16 unanswered points and had the ball at San Francisco’s 24 for a potential game-tying drive before it fizzled.
Shanahan said the injury perhaps contributed to him going to his backups a bit too soon.
“I know I became too concerned with protecting our guys as opposed to doing whatever you’ve got to do to win,” Shanahan said. “We got a little caught up in that when we lost JV but we were able to pull it out.”
Now, the 49ers will spend the next few days sorting out a murky cornerback situation. Already without starter Emmanuel Moseley, who did not play Sunday because of a knee injury, the 49ers ended Sunday’s game with rookie Deommodore Lenoir and practice squad callup Dontae Johnson on the outside and veteran K’Waun Williams at nickel back. Rookie Ambry Thomas was also available.
Veteran Josh Norman, who signed earlier in the week, was a pregame inactive, but Shanahan said he could be ready to go next weekend against the Eagles and there’s hope that Moseley will be able to return as well.
One other option? A reunion with veteran cornerback Richard Sherman.
“We have discussed it,” Shanahan said. “I’ve talked to Sherm about it, too. Sherm is always a possibility.”
Verrett wasn’t the only 49ers starter to leave Sunday’s game with an injury and not return. Running back Raheem Mostert departed with a knee issue (it wasn’t immediately clear which one), and linebacker Dre Greenlaw suffered a groin injury on a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Mostert carried twice for 20 yards on San Francisco’s second possession but headed to the sideline soon after a 9-yard gain on the second play of the series. Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell stepped in for Mostert after the injury.
Like Verrett, Mostert was also scheduled to have more imaging done on his knee when the Niners arrive in West Virginia.
“They told me they’re not worried about it being an ACL, so that’s obviously real good news but that’s about all we know,” Shanahan said.
Mostert has struggled with injuries in his career, playing in eight games last year as a knee sprain and a high ankle sprain cost him two and six games, respectively. With Mostert out, Mitchell posted 104 yards on 19 carries with a 38-yard touchdown run. Mitchell’s 104 rushing yards are the most by a 49ers player in his career debut, surpassing Rickey Watters (100 in 1992), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Rookie running back Trey Sermon, whom the 49ers drafted in the third round this year, is also on the roster but was a healthy scratch Sunday.
“We only dressed three backs,” Shanahan said. “But those are the three after going through training camp and stuff that we felt the three we were gonna go with.”