SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers have found their home for the holidays.
Days after they were blindsided by the announcement from Santa Clara County that contact sports are banned for the next three weeks, the 49ers have officially decided to move their entire football operation to Arizona for at least the duration of those restrictions.
On Wednesday, the 49ers will fly to Phoenix at 2:30 p.m. PT. Once there, the team will set up shop at the Renaissance hotel close to the Cardinals practice fields and State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. That will be the 49ers’ home through at least Dec. 21 at 5 a.m. PT, which is when the current Santa Clara County restrictions are set to expire, though the Niners are also prepared for a scenario in which that will be extended and they have to stay in the desert for the rest of the regular season.
San Francisco will begin practice on Thursday with sessions set for Friday and Saturday also leading into Monday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
On Tuesday, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan discussed the Niners’ forthcoming move for the first time, acknowledging the logistical challenges of the relocation and all that it entails while also tipping his cap to the Cardinals for their help in getting the Niners squared away in the Phoenix area.
“The best scenario for us and the most convenient for us right now with the situation presented is just getting out to Arizona, there’s a good setup there,” Shanahan said. “The Cardinals have been awesome with us, everyone out there has been awesome with us. I do believe we have a really good setup there to make the best of it, and that’s where we’ll play our games, too.”
Before settling on Arizona, which was a contingency that the 49ers and the NFL had discussed well before the season began, the Niners did what they could to find a more local option. Their initial preference was to find a Bay Area county nearby where they could practice and then fly to their “home” games in Arizona and return.
But that effort proved unmanageable because anything outside of the county that could accommodate them would require at least a couple hours drive each way and then they’d likely have to stay in a hotel anyway because once they traveled for games, they’d have to stay outside of Santa Clara County to avoid the 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling 150-plus miles outside of county lines and returning.
Shanahan did say the Niners will continue to explore options that could get them back to the Bay Area sooner.
“I know our guys aren’t going to stop working at it,” Shanahan said. “We’re not trying to stay away from everybody for three weeks. If we could come up with something different and something works out, I know we would love to adjust that and come back and do that.”
In the meantime, Shanahan said the Niners will treat their hotel like Levi’s Stadium, as it will be both where they live and their place of business. Players and coaches will have the option of finding temporary housing for their families and being able to stay with them in the Glendale area but Shanahan emphasized that the rules will remain the same in terms of not venturing out and risking COVID-19 complications.
Shanahan also made sure the players knew that there wouldn’t be a chance to bond outside of practice and at the hotel. He said the Niners’ recent mini-outbreak which landed nine players on the reserve/COVID-19 list was the result of a 30-minute dinner for some players after the team’s loss to New Orleans.
“You don’t want to hang out and stuff,” Shanahan said. “That’s how people get in trouble. That’s how it spreads. That’s what happened to us during our bye week at a hotel. We won’t sit there and hang out at all. So, we’ll work there and guys will go up to their hotel room.”
While Shanahan said he and the Niners are prepared for bumps along the way in their move, he is remaining hopeful they will be able to spend Christmas with their families, either in Arizona or back in the Bay Area. Coincidentally, the 49ers are scheduled to play the Cardinals on Dec. 26, which means the Niners could return home for the week leading up to the game and then fly back to Arizona if the restrictions are lifted or find a way to get their families to Arizona that week.
“I just try to tell our guys, I don’t care what happens, we’re not going to spend Christmas without our families,” Shanahan said. “We’ll figure it out. That’s really what I tried to give to everyone just so they could say that to their families, because I think that is their concern.”
While Shanahan was unsure of the size of the 49ers’ traveling party, he did say all players will be going, including those who are working their way back from injury and those coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
According to Shanahan, the four players still on that list — receiver Brandon Aiyuk, defensive tackle D.J. Jones, defensive end Jordan Willis and tight end Daniel Helm — will come off of it Tuesday afternoon, which allows them to travel with the team.
Likewise, Shanahan indicated that defensive end Dee Ford (back), center Weston Richburg (shoulder) and defensive lineman Ronald Blair III (knee) are unlikely to return this season. Ford has been on injured reserve since Week 2 and Blair and Richburg have missed the season while on the physically unable to perform list.