“Give us your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Somewhere in their new stadium, the 49ers should post the “New Colossus” sonnet found at the foot of the Statue of Liberty and add their own ending: “... and we will fit them under our salary cap.”
That’s because no NFL team collects injured guys, troubled guys and otherwise discarded guys like the 49ers.
Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey tore his biceps tendon? No problem – the 49ers just signed him to a two-year contract extension.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is a season removed from a torn Achilles’ tendon? Not an issue. In fact, the team reportedly has made progress in recent weeks on a possible contract extension for Crabtree, who is in the final year of his original deal.
Talent is expensive. Damaged talent is less so. It’s like shopping for clothes at a fancy department store but sticking to the rack with the defective tags. You can walk away with some designer apparel for the price you would pay at Dress Barn.
The 49ers have taken bargain hunting to the draft as well.
Since Trent Baalke was named general manager in 2011, the team has selected nine players with serious medical concerns – from ACL tears to a severe case of turf toe – that caused them to tumble down draft boards.
Other teams can’t afford to do that because they are counting on their top rookies to at least compete for spots right away. With one of the deepest rosters in the league, the 49ers have the luxury of waiting a year on injured, but otherwise talented, players to recuperate.
That happened last year with defensive linemen Tank Carradine, a second-round pick who suffered an ACL tear in college, and Quinton Dial, a fifth-rounder who entered the draft with a torn toe ligament. Both fell a round lower than they would have had they not been injured. Both are healthy this year, and they look like the future along the defensive line.
Of course, there are disadvantages.
Some players require more than a year to recover. Running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a grisly knee injury as a college player in 2012, remains on the team’s non-football injury list.
While a player on an injury list doesn’t count against the 53-man roster during the regular season, he does count against the 90-man offseason roster. Other teams go through the spring and summer with a full roster. The 49ers’ long list of injured players, however, has meant that, at times this preseason, they had only about 70 players, including kickers and punters.
That’s a small number when practicing in pads every day and playing exhibition games each week. The resulting fatigue factor starts to explain why the 49ers have fallen by a combined score of 57-3 in the first two exhibition games.
Another drawback: Leveraged players might feel taken advantage of.
The 49ers’ shrewd timing when it comes to contract extensions also has them negotiating deals before players become starters. That’s what they did with guard Alex Boone, nose tackle Ian Williams, cornerback Tramaine Brock and center Daniel Kilgore in recent years. Each was signed to team-friendly deals before earning starting jobs.
Boone was two years removed from falling out of the draft because of concerns about an alcohol-related arrest when he signed his current deal, which has two years remaining. A year later, he became a starter at right guard and has played in all 38 games the last two seasons.
Boone is currently the 43rd-highest-paid guard. He has been a no-show this offseason as he seeks a better contract, and his summer holdout is 30 days and growing.
The 49ers haven’t budged.
Their philosophy is to accumulate talent through calculating, crafty, team-friendly deals and not to alter them once the ink is dry.
After all, they’re trying to build a New NFL Colossus.