A lively post-bye practice for the Niners came to a crushing halt as players and coaches looked on, fearing that Verrett, who had gone down without any contact to his leg, had again suffered another devastating long-term injury.
“There hasn’t been a quietness over a football field I’ve been around like that in a long time,” tight end George Kittle said. “It just kind of sucks your soul out a little bit.”
The immediate fear became reality Thursday when the Niners confirmed that Verrett had torn his left Achilles tendon and would be out for the rest of the season. The injury occurred just days before Verrett was likely to have a full-circle moment, returning from the torn right ACL he suffered on Sept. 12, 2021, against the Los Angeles Chargers, the team that used a first-round pick on him in 2014.
Instead, Verrett’s injury left Niners coach Kyle Shanahan choked up and asking his team whether it even wanted to continue Wednesday’s practice, according to receiver Deebo Samuel.
“It took the life out of everybody at practice,” Samuel said. “Kyle tried to bring it up but he couldn’t really talk and so he was just like ‘What you guys want to do?’ And at the end of the day, it’s a part of this job and that would be the last guy I want to see on this team like go down knowing all the things that he’s been through. So, we huddled up as a team and everybody prayed for him and we tried our best to finish practice.”
While injuries are common in the NFL and the Niners have had their share, the fact that it was Verrett hit a little bit harder. Kittle and other teammates described the scene at Wednesday’s practice as “brutal, devastating and heartbreaking.”
For Verrett, it means another long, tedious rehab that brings plenty of uncertainty about his future.
That list includes a torn labrum in his left shoulder in 2014, a torn left ACL in 2016, persistent knee issues in 2017 and a torn right Achilles in 2018 that lingered along with an ankle issue in 2019. In the stretch from 2016 to 2019, Verrett played in just six games.
Verrett was mostly healthy in 2020, his second season with the Niners, and appeared to return close to his 2015 Pro Bowl form with 60 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups in 13 games. He tore his right ACL in the 2021 season opener against the Detroit Lions, missing the rest of that season.
But Verrett was close to returning from that injury as soon as this week against the Chargers. The Niners activated him from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Oct. 26 with an eye toward getting him back following last week’s bye.
Now, that won’t happen.
“It was emotional,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “You see it all the time but in our locker room, a guy that you’ve been a brother with as long as Jason, you’ve seen him go through the process of injury after injury and just grinding to come back from it, it’s just tough when you see a guy go down like that… The time that you put into this game is unforgiving and when you see something happen like that, it breaks your heart.”
While Verrett had not played this year, the Niners hoped he could move into a platoon role with fellow cornerback Deommodore Lenoir opposite Charvarius Ward and, potentially, reclaim a starting role so Lenoir could return to the nickel back job.
Instead, Verrett will join fellow cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (torn left ACL) on injured reserve.
“It’s just an unfortunate, devastating injury for him and for us,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “We all feel for JV. We know the work that he’s put in to come back and we’re all saddened by what happened to him. JV is an unbelievable person, unbelievable leader. He’s been tremendous leading these young guys and giving us everything he’s had. It’s an unfortunate thing but we’re praying for JV that he’s able to bounce back and recover.”