SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – When Frank Gore arrived the 49ers were coming off a 2-14 season and there was no real reason for hope among the 49er faithful. Gore’s consistent performances provided that that hope on offense.
A few years later, the addition of Patrick Willis gave the defense a stout, punishing identity. The duo helped tick the win-loss record higher until Jim Harbaugh arrived to put all the pieces together. It’s clear now that any future success for the franchise will come without any of them.
In just over 24 hours the 49ers have lost the centerpiece of their defense and the back that led their run-heavy NFC Championship offense. No matter how you try and spin it, it’s the end of an era.
49ERS IN TURMOIL:
• 49ers Fullback Bruce Miller Arrested On Suspicion Of Spousal Battery
• 6 Offseason Moments Where You Were Forced To Admit The 49ers Are Rebuilding
• 49ers Expected To Lose Defensive Stars Patrick Willis, Justin Smith To Retirement
• 49ers Front Office Tries To Cool Rumors Of Kaepernick Trade Talks
• Report: 49ers Star Running Back Frank Gore Heading To Eagles
But, these bombshells are hardly the first big shakeups this offseason. Here’s a look at the changes that will drastically reshape a team that had been to three conference title games in the last four years:
March 9th – News leaks that perennial Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis and Justin Smith plan retirement announcements this week. Willis, 30, was once talked about as the best linebacker in a generation. He made the Pro Bowl in his first seven NFL seasons, as well as five All-Pro teams. But he has recently been hampered by a chronic toe injury which caused him to miss all but six games in 2014 after he had season-ending surgery in November. Smith, a fearsome pass rusher, has had a successful 14-year career in the league and made five Pro Bowl rosters alongside Willis. The two were considered centerpieces of the defenses had the 49ers in Super Bowl contention for three straight years. All this came as rumors surfaced that the team was even considering dealing starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If Kaepernick does stay, he’ll reportedly have a new outside weapon in free agent wide receiver Torrey Smith.
March 8th – Before the free agency signing period even opened, news broke that the Philadelphia Eagles had a deal in place for dependable 10-year running back Frank Gore. Gore made five Pro Bowls of his own in San Francisco, and he was the most consistent contributor to the offense for a decade. Following his rookie year, he failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing only once during his time in San Francisco. 2nd year back Carlos Hyde now becomes the heir apparent to get the ball.
March 5th – The 49ers look in the division for help rebuilding their line, adding 10-year Arizona Cardinal Darnell Dockett on a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. Dockett, 33, missed the 2014 season while recover from a torn ACL. At the same time, the team added WR Jerome Simpson on a two-year deal. The signing of Simpson, who has had a history of drug-related offenses, was a move CEO Jed ‘Winning With Class’ York said he can’t fully explain.
March 3rd – 49ers make a splashy signing of a superstar. Unfortunately, Jarryd Hayne just doesn’t happen to be famous for football. The two-time Australian National Rugby League player of the year has always wanted to play in the NFL, and the 49ers have agreed to give the 27-year-old a shot. He’s expected to compete as a running back or potential kick returner.
January 14th – The 49ers talked to Mike Shanahan and other veteran coaches, but when it came time to settle on a coach they picked the last man to coach a game before the Harbaugh era: Jim Tomsula. Tomsula was interim coach for a game back in 2010, but has since been guiding Justin Smith and the other 49ers defensive lineman.
December 28th – With a year left on his $25 million deal, Jim Harbaugh walks away from the 49ers to take a job at his alma mater: the University of Michigan. The former NFL QB led the team to within yards of the franchises sixth Lombardi Trophy, but rumors of discord with the front office and members of his own team festered and he wasted no time after the season’s end jumping ship for Ann Arbor, kicking off the busiest offseason in recent 49ers history.
And the changes likely aren’t done yet. Most of the team’s top free agents are still looking for new deals.
“They’re losing way too much,” John Madden told the KCBS morning crew Monday. “It’s just too much to lose, and then you throw Jim Harbaugh on top of that…that’s just a major redo.”