After three straight NFC Conference Championship appearances, the wheels fell off on the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 as the team finished 8-8. To make matters worse, there was much drama during the season, specifically involving Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and whether or not he would remain with the team.
Harbaugh was eventually fired and went back to college, filling the head coach vacancy in Michigan. Replacing him in San Francisco is defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula would go to make a horrendous first impression as he mumbled his way through his introductory press conference.
Things only got worse for the 49ers as the offseason progressed. Chris Borland led the way as one of three surprising retirements the 49ers endured this offseason. Soon, Patrick Willis and Anthony Davis followed. Justin Smith hung up his cleats as well.
A handful of starters also left the team in free agency including Frank Gore (Colts), Michael Crabtree (Raiders), Mike Iupati (Cardinals) and Perrish Cox (Titans). The 49ers also traded longtime punter Andy Lee to Cleveland for a seventh round draft pick.
The team did not make a huge impact in free agency. Crabtree’s replacement was found in Torrey Smith and should be able to do so. Reggie Bush was signed to take over at running back, but he will likely play a secondary role behind Carlos Hyde. Phillip Wheeler will be a stop-gap solution at linebacker.
Through the draft, the team was able to find their replacement for Smith in Arik Armstead, a 6-foot-7 defensive lineman from Oregon who could make an impact on the defensive line. Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, however, may be the best value pick they made after acquiring him in the middle of the third round.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick also regressed last season, tossing 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions while also seeing his yards per completion drop to 7.05.
Kaepernick relied on his legs much more in 2014 than in previous years, rushing for a career-high 639 yards on 104 attempts, but he only found the end zone once, a career-low.
With a large loss of talent and a significant change in leadership, the 49ers are easily a team on the decline. This year will be significant for Kaepernick. Harbaugh has a reputation of developing quarterbacks but with Tomsula at the helm, Kaepernick could regress further. The 49ers would actually save $9.4 million by releasing him in the offseason, but it is more likely that they will attempt to trade him instead.