Sadly, the 49ers have entered the wilderness, and are going to take a few years to rebuild.
The 49ers' offseason after the 2014 season was perhaps the most brutal a team has experienced in recent memory. Let's review some of the lows (painful though it may be):
- Jim Harbaugh left to coach at his alma mater, That Team Up North. But "left" rather understates it: all public indications are that he was pushed out the door. Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke reportedly didn't get along well, and the 8-8 season in 2014 meant that the team's management didn't feel compelled to put up with Harbaugh's style any longer. Team CEO Jed York sided with Baalke in the disputes between the two, and Harbaugh got the boot. Never mind that Harbaugh had led the team to 3 straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl in the middle: the break-even 2014 season wasn't good enough. Or something.
- The team experienced more retirements than a public sector union. These included a key offensive lineman (RT Anthony Davis), a workhorse defensive lineman (DL Justin Smith), and two star linebackers, including one legend at the position (Patrick Willis and Chris Borland).
- Free agency gutted the offense. WR Michael Crabtree went to Oakland, RB Frank Gore went to Indianapolis, and G Mike Iupati went to Arizona. Suddenly, Kap had one less downfield threat, we lost an amazingly talented runner, and one more piece of the offensive line was gone.
But that wasn't all!
- Management elevated a loyalist to Head Coach. Jim Tomsula, a position coach, took over the team. Widely known as a "players' coach," Tomsula is no doubt a big contrast to Harbaugh's style. But he's not exactly experienced in the position, having been a head coach in the NFL Europe league and serving as interim head coach for one game in 2010! I've speculated that he agreed to take the heat for a couple of rebuilding seasons in return for a front office job later, but I hasten to add that I have no inside information there.
- Colin Kaepernick's flaws as a QB became ever more apparent. Let me be clear: I love Kap. I think he's an amazing athlete, and when he's on, he's nigh unstoppable. (Just ask the Packers about their nightmares in the playoffs!) It's just that he hasn't been "on" for some time. The league's defenses have largely adapted to dual-threat QBs, and he hasn't developed enough to adapt in response. Lacking protection and newbie running backs haven't helped, of course - Kap's been getting a lot more pressure this year than in the past - but he'd still be starting if he had developed better eyes on the field.
- The NFC West is a tough division. Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams: those are three competitive teams! And the 49ers play them each twice during the season. That doesn't help matters.
Again, it pains me to say it, but Kap's likely headed for a trade after the regular season, and the team's management is probably going to bet on some decent draft classes for a couple of seasons to rebuild. That's a risky strategy, especially when we're looking for a franchise QB - Blaine Gabbert had one good game, sure, but he's going to start against the Seahawks next weekend, and he'll have to be on it to survive them.
But if Yo Gabba Gabbert beats the Seahawks in their house? I'm buying his jersey.
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