For the 49er faithful, their beloved team’s prospects have been tarnished quickly. Since their Super Bowl XLVII loss in 2013 to the Baltimore Ravens, the Niners have seemed to be in a state of freefall. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and 49ers ownership locked horns in 2013, which led to Harbaugh and the 49ers parting ways in 2014 after a disappointing 8-8 season. Harbaugh was replaced by defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. He was viewed at best as a below-average coach, and at worst as a puppet of embattled owner Jed York. The question is: what happened to the 49ers, and is there any hope for their immediate future?
While the short answer to that question is a resounding “no,” the road to this predicament is much longer and more complicated. In the 2015 offseason, the 49ers took major hits in free agency. Talented, but underachieving, wide receiver Michael Crabtree hopped the Bay Bridge to play for the Raiders. Stalwart running back Frank Gore, who was fresh off of amassing 1,000 yards for his career during 2014, left for the Indianapolis Colts. Defensive talents Dan Skuta, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox left the 49ers for Jacksonville, Washington and Tennessee, respectively. The 49ers were left with the task of filling these holes, a job that could easily be done with smart drafting and signing.
That did not happen. Reggie Bush was signed to replace Gore — he suffered a leg injury in Week 1 and then slipped on concrete in Week 8, tearing his ACL. Colin Kaepernick lost the luster that drove him to the top of the depth chart, being replaced by Blaine Gabbert. Tight end Vernon Davis was traded to the Denver Broncos that same week for a sixth-round pick — Davis went on to help the Broncos to a Super Bowl win that season. The 49ers finished the season at 5-11, the second-worst record in the NFL that year — just one win better than the Dallas Cowboys at 4-12.
In 2016, the 49ers continued to hemorrhage talent when more of their core left the team. They failed to address the gaping hole at quarterback — Gabbert was okay, but the 49ers had a high pick in the draft. While quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went one-two as expected, they passed on even attempting to draft a quarterback, instead taking a defensive end and a guard in the first two rounds. The 49ers fired Tomsula and hired Chip Kelly after he was fired from Philadelphia. Gabbert lost his starting quarterback job to Kaepernick after the team went 1-5 to start the year. The situation became even more dire, however, as the 49ers won only two games — both against the Los Angeles Rams to finish 2-14, the worst record in football.
Surely, at this point, the 49ers would get smart. They seemed to be trending in the right direction with the hiring of Kyle Shanahan as head coach and former star safety John Lynch as General Manager. They signed quarterback Brian Hoyer to a very overvalued yet understandable — due to a thin free agent class — two-year contract. While the 49ers were never expected to contend for a Lombardi Trophy this year, they at least had some reasons to look forward to the season. Again, that didn’t happen, and the 49ers are 0-3. The one reassuring game so far this season was a two-point squeaker loss to the Rams on Sept. 21, where the only reasons why they lost were a monster outing from running back Todd Gurley and an uncharacteristically good performance by QB Jared Goff.
The 49ers are stuck with an unimpressive team, which seems to have settled into the realm of mediocrity. Like their baseball counterparts the Giants, they are in a stretch of disappointment which seems to have no end. However, they will almost certainly have a high draft pick next year in a class that may include game-changing quarterback talents, including University of Southern California’s Sam Darnold and UCLA phenom Josh Rosen. Good luck, Niner fans. You’re going to need it.
Featured Photo: Todd Gurley (30) runs over Armstrong (54) to score one of this two TDs in Thursday’s game against the 49ers (espn.com) (BW)