The 49ers endured one of the most miserable NFL offseasons in recent years: an underwhelming season, sniping between front office and head coach, Jim Harbaugh leaving, an almost unprecedented rash of retirements, and the franchise rushing leader being allowed to leave. Did we mention Jim Harbaugh and his 44-19-1 record were unceremoniously kicked to the curb?!?
What gets lost in the gaudy win-loss record is that Harbaugh was supposed to be an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer, however the 49ers offense consistently struggled (especially in the red zone), Colin Kaepernick has regressed for two years straight, and the defense run by now-departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio carried the team…. so maybe change is good?
Jim Tomsula takes over and the team might respond to a familiar face that doesn’t deploy the grinding, exhausting personal style Harbaugh is famous for. Even better for the Niners: much-despised Greg Roman is gone and QBs coach Geep Chryst replaces him as offensive coordinator. Look for a return to the West Coast style the 49ers invented, with more involvement of running backs in the passing game and a simplified play calling structure.
Familiar name Eric Mangini is the new defensive coordinator. Oversold as “Mangenius” during his New York Jets tenure and unfairly scapegoated for a Browns debacle, Mangini should be able to piece together a defense that will benefit from the returns of Aldon Smith and Navorro Bowman.
New Faces – Free Agency & Trades
The biggest news is the faces that aren’t around anymore, including Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree and Anthony Davis. Suffice to say, they will be missed (except Crabtree).
Wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Reggie Bush are the two big names that are taking their talents to San Francisco. Smith gives the Niners speed and big play ability that Crabtree never developed, while Bush will be more than just a 3rd down back: he will benefit from a new playbook that promises to return screens to a place of prominence in the Niners attack.
Graphic via ninerfans
On the defensive side of the ball, Darnell Dockett comes over from the Cardinals and should have no trouble playing significant time at defensive tackle. He was injured most of last year, but has an energetic motor and veteran presence. Cornerbacks Chris Cook and Shareece Wright add quantity to the secondary, if not a whole lot of quality.
No noteworthy trades to speak of.
New Faces – 2015 Draft
1st round selection defensive end Arik Armstead looks great on paper, but has never seemed able to bring his immense physical talents to the game. The Niners chose safety Jaquiski Tartt in the second round and he might end up being their best player from this draft, however safety is not a position of need on the team.
Pass rushing linebacker Eli Harold is another solid talent who could remain buried on the depth chart in 2015, and wide receiver DeAndre Smelter will most likely be an injury red shirt his rookie year. More intriguing are 4th round picks Blake Bell, a tight end who is drawing initial comparisons to Jimmy Graham, and Mike Davis, a running back who dominated at South Carolina with a downhill style.
Preseason for the 49ers opens in Houston, where we probably won’t learn much – don’t expect Kaepernick to stay in for long. This may be an opportunity for Mike Davis to make a good first impression, as well as an extended audition for the cast of characters competing for offensive line starts.
The second game, in which the Dallas Cowboys come to Levi’s Stadium, should be an interesting test. A victory at Dallas was one of the 49ers highlights for 2014 and the teams match up well. The Cowboys defense will be a good test to see if Kaepernick and the offense have made progress under Tomsula, while Dallas’ questions at running back and maybe no Dez Bryant will provide an opportunity to unleash the new dogs on defense and see if they hunt.
Despite the offseason upheaval, look for the Niners to overachieve and take advantage of an NFC West that only has the Seahawks as real competition. Vegas has a very pessimistic 7 wins as the over/under for the 2015 Niners… that over looks like easy money!
Graphic via 49ers