With a suddenness that would have seemed impossible a year ago, the 49ers appear to be coming apart.
A team that went to three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl from 2011-2013 first lost its head coach, Jim Harbaugh, and successful coordinators after an 8-8 season and now seems to be in a downward spiral of epic proportions.
Running back Frank Gore, the team’s all-time leading rusher, reportedly will soon sign a free-agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
Left guard Mike Iupati, one of the NFL’s best run-blocking offensive linemen, is expected to sign a free-agent deal with Arizona.
Perennial All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis is expected to officially announce his retirement Tuesday at the age of 30.
Super sub linebacker and special teams standout Dan Skuta reportedly will sign with Jacksonville.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox also appear headed out the door as free agents. Wide receiver Stevie will be cut. Defensive end Justin Smith may also soon announce his retirement. He says he’ll make his decision known next week.
And, Monday night, it was reported that fullback Bruce Miller – a rugged blocker and key piece of one of the NFL’s best running attacks – was arrested on charges of domestic spousal abuse last week.
In addition, longtime Bay Area columnist Mark Purdy of the Bay Area News Group cited the rumors that have been floating through the league that NaVorro Bowman, the Pro Bowl inside linebacker who missed all of last season, may soon be released because his knee still isn’t strong enough to pass the physical exams that would clear his comeback in 2015.
Plus, there’s this: The 49ers were forced to respond Monday to a story by a reporter in Houston that the team was trying to trade quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
To 49ers fans Monday, it must have seemed as if the sky were falling. The 49ers had turned into the Jacksonville Jaguars in the blink of an eye.
Purdy wrote that the news coming out of the 49ers’ offices Monday “was a stunning harmonic convergence of roster meltdown and free-agent horror.” San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion called it “Black Monday” for the 49ers. And a headline over a story by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com put it this way: “49ers in danger of falling into NFC West basement.”
“Harbaugh represents the canary in the coal mine, signaling an immediate evacuation in advance of a collapsing NFC superpower,” wrote Wesseling.
Chris Chase of USA Today, in writing about all the departing 49ers, noted that with Harbaugh, the 49ers had a positive force who had transformed the franchise. In his absence, the franchise appears to be disintegrating rapidly.
“Harbaugh commanded respect, both due to his winning ways and on-field presence,” wrote Chase. “Now, without him, players are fleeing California like The Big One was coming.”
Of course, all is not lost – yet. The 49ers could make some smart pickups in free agency. Perhaps Smith will stay and Bowman will be fine. Maybe the draft will produce some amazing young playmakers. And it’s possible that Kaepernick regains his career momentum after a down year and becomes again the dynamic player he appeared to be when he won the job from Alex Smith. And who knows, maybe Jim Tomsula will be a terrific head coach.
But for now, at least, “Black Monday” is casting a very large cloud over the immediate future of the franchise.