I've been a devoted, plugged-in NFL follower (and writer) for decades. Like to think I know a fair amount about the league. I can't remember any team having a worst offseason than the 49ers just had. What can we expect this season? NFL odds from Bovada.
Niners Used To Be Envied
This was arguably the NFL's model franchise as recently as the 2012 season (OK, New England Patriots fans, don't go crazy, maybe model NFC franchise). In 2011, the Niners were 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game under a first-year coach named Jim Harbaugh. They probably should have won that game against the visiting Giants if not for two crushing fumbles by Kyle Williams. New York won 20-17 in overtime. The next season, the Niners won 11 regular-season games, made the Super Bowl and almost staged a big rally to beat Baltimore and its head coach, Jim's brother John. But the Ravens won 34-31 in New Orleans. San Francisco won 12 more regular-season games in 2013 and gave Seattle all it could handle in its stadium in the NFC title game. The Niners led that by 10 in the fourth quarter, but Colin Kaepernick kept turning the ball over in that quarter and the Seahawks won 23-17.
There was still a ton of young talent on this team, especially on defense, heading into 2014. But you heard rumors that there was major discord between Harbaugh and the front office. San Francisco still was generally behind only Seattle and Denver this time last year to win the Super Bowl. However, injuries and whatever else torpedoed the season. A four-game losing streak starting in Week 13 ended any chance at the playoffs and the Niners finished a disappointing 8-8.
Recapping The Offseason Carnage
San Francisco management wasted no time in cutting ties with Harbaugh, announcing the team had mutually agreed to part ways with the coach almost immediately after a season-closing 20-17 win over Arizona. The Niners went 44-19-1 in their four years under Harbaugh, 49-22-1 including the playoffs. Many thought he would stay in the NFL because he so badly wanted a Super Bowl, but he left for Michigan. The team promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to replace him, somewhat surprisingly bypassing their two highly respected coordinators: OC Greg Roman (now in Buffalo) and DC Vic Fangio (now in Chicago; he was generally considered the runner-up for the head coaching job).
The 49ers interviewed Fangio, now-Bills coach Rex Ryan, Mike Shanahan, now-Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, now-Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and now-Jets coach Todd Bowles. I think it's safe to say Tomsula is a downgrade from Harbaugh. Tomsula's only other head-coaching experience came with NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in 2006.
But coaches change all the time. What the Niners have lost on the field is mindboggling. Linebacker Patrick Willis, one of the best in the NFL: retired. Linebacker Chris Borland, a tackling machine last season as a rookie and a future star: retired. Defensive end Justin Smith, also one of the best in the NFL: retired. Starting right tackle Anthony Davis: announced last week he was taking a one-year sabbatical to heal his mind and body. Borland and Davis were young and Willis only 30. Guard Mike Iupati, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree and linebacker Dan Skuta all left in free agency. All-Pro punter Andy Lee was traded to Cleveland. Offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and receiver Stevie Johnson were released.
None of the wide receivers from the Super Bowl loss remain, while just one defensive back, Tramaine Brock, is still there. Only two starters from that team's offensive line, Joe Staley and Alex Boone, are back. The Niners did add a few free agents of note: tackle Darnell Docket, running back Reggie Bush and receiver Torrey Smith.
ESPN has compiled every team's offseason turnover to this point by total offensive and defensive snaps played in 2014. The Niners have added players totaling 3,031 snaps played last season but lost 8,728. That's an NFL high 5,697 net snaps lost. The Philadelphia Eagles, under mad genius Chip Kelly and all his offseason deals, are next (4,853), followed by the Saints (4,271). No other team is above 3,600. The Jets added the most snaps by far.
The San Francisco 49ers are given a wins total of 7.5 this season, with the under a -150 favorite on the NFL odds. They have the third-hardest schedule in the league as their opponents combined to have a winning percentage of .561 last year. San Francisco is the +900 long shot to win the NFC West.
NFL Free Picks: I absolutely believe this is a rebuilding season and am not sold on Kaepernick as a franchise quarterback, either. Go 'under' the wins with your NFL picks at WagerWeb and the Niners are going to finish last in the division. Maybe a Top-5 pick in next year's draft wouldn't be such a bad thing.