Joshua Garnett’s battle to impress his coaches and the front office over the remainder of the season has hit a road block.
The 49ers guard, a 2016 first-round draft pick who has played just 24 offensive snaps combined over the last two seasons, had surgery to repair a broken thumb the day after the Nov. 12 loss to the New York Giants.
Garnett suffered the injury during the week of practice, according to a report from the San Jose Mercury News, but general manager John Lynch is optimistic Garnett will be available to play during the rest of the season.
“It sounds brutal having surgery seven days ago and being ready to play. But Josh should be ready,” Lynch said Tuesday on 95.7 The Game. “It was the type of surgery where he can put some protection on there and go ahead and play.”
Garnett played five special teams snaps during the Giants loss even with the injury. He hasn’t started a game since his rookie season due to a series of ailments.
Most notably, Garnett sat out all of last season after having preseason knee surgery. And knee issues popped up again during the recent training camp leading to veteran free agent addition Mike Person earning the job at right guard, where he’s started all 10 games.
“Mike Person just stepped in and has really done a nice job,” Lynch said. “Our offensive line has been one of our strong points this year and in recent weeks has played really well. We’ve been running the football well all year. The last two weeks, haven’t given up a sack and so it’s hard to make a change there.”
The 49ers (2-8) enter Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack averaging 134 yards per game. That’s with Garnett in a backup role after he came out of Stanford regarded as one of the best run-blocking guards in his draft class.
Garnett’s future beyond 2018 with San Francisco was in doubt even before the injury. Next season is the last of his four-year rookie contract, and 49ers would not likely pick up his fifth-year option for 2020, which would guarantee him the average third-through 25th-highest salaries at his position. The deadline to pick up the option, along with fellow first-round pick DeForest Buckner’s, is in May.
Garnett is slated to make $968,769 next season and could cost up to $2.96 million against the salary cap if the bonuses built into his contract are fully realized.
There could be an opportunity for Garnett, 24, down the road. Person, 30, is scheduled for free agency next spring after signing a one-year deal with San Francisco in May. It could create a void in the starting lineup and Garnett received first-team reps during the offseason program before his knee injury led to Person winning the starting job. But Person is a logical candidate for a contract extension after playing well during his second stint with San Francisco.
The 49ers drafted him in the seventh round in 2011 before time with the Settle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts. He’s currently Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked guard in the NFL, according to its grading system. Garnett had an opportunity to re-take the starting job in the season opener against the Vikings when Person had to leave with a leg injury.
But Garnett suffered a dislocated toe in the second half and was inactive the following six games. Still, Lynch remains optimistic about what he’s seen from Garnett despite scant playing time.
“Joshua has done a really nice job. We’re really pleased with his development,” Lynch said. “So much of his deal is just staying healthy. He struggled with some knee issues his first couple of years. Now he starts to get going, got in at the end of a couple games and then he had this thumb issue. But the good news is he’ll be able available to us. We’ll see if he gets those opportunities.“