Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
There's a stench in Santa Clara, and it's got players leaving in droves.
It would be unfair to pin this trend of rapidly-retiring players on Jim Tomsula, who's got to be just as dismayed as any of the 49ers suddenly-tortured fans by this exodus of talent. It would also be an oversimplification to say that if Jim Harbaugh had been retained after last season that none of this would have happened.
The fact of the matter is that players are thinking more and more about their own well-being and how that's compromised by playing the collision-intensive sport of football. Early retirements will likely be more prevalent in the league as the data pours in regarding the damage done to players and how they suffer later in life. Players young and old know now the risk they take every time the buckle their chinstraps and take the field, so commitment to the game is more necessary than ever to play at an elite level.
That being said, the sudden retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, and now Anthony Davis speak to the level of apathy in Santa Clara and that's a derivative of how team management has handled team affairs for the last 18 months or so.
Management sent a clear message by undermining their coach after 3 seasons of consistent success, essentially putting out an ultimatum of "win the Super Bowl or we're firing you" to Harbaugh in year number 4. That message was that winning wasn't the primary objective, at least not the sole primary objective. You can win, but you better damn well tow the company line too, or you're out.
We've been living in this nightmare for quite some time, but other fans around the country still can't figure out how the 49ers bungled the Harbaugh situation and now appear to be in some kind of free-fall without him. Of course we know the story is more nuanced than that, but in some ways it's not.
If the players that have decided to retire thought this was a team on the brink of greatness and their contributions were crucial to that effort, then it seems unlikely that all these dominoes would have fallen as they did. The 49ers probably aren't as bad off as everybody is making them out to be, but for any player to face the thought of starting over with a new head coach and all the work ahead of them just to get back to where they were less than 2 seasons ago, they have to decide if it's worth it to them when the likelihood of getting the ultimate payoff in a championship seems pretty remote.
So, we have guys choosing to walk away rather than suit it up one more time for this team. It's a product of the modern game, the challenge of changing coaches, and the 49ers poor handling of all their recent success.
Jed York asked to be held accountable, do you think we'll get any explanations of what's going on with his team? Fat chance. The 49ers will just carry on like nothing's wrong and everything is going according to plan. Just ignore the smell.
Date: June 10, 2015 at 12:18 PM
Comment: I don't think you can pin all the player early retirements on the termination of Jim Harbaugh. No player is going to part with millions in salaries unless it has to do with their health or well being. That said, management needs to be monitoring their player's concerns working with them, supporting them and establishing personnel strategies based on players who might be leaving..
Date: June 9, 2015 at 2:22 PM
Comment: Forget the last comment, sometimes reading comprehension fails me.
Date: June 9, 2015 at 2:21 PM
Comment: You started your response by telling me I'm wrong and spent the rest of the response basically agreeing with me. I'm quickly losing faith in your failed logic.
Date: June 9, 2015 at 1:13 PM
Comment: This article, along with the majority of the opinion pieces seem a little preemptive at this point. Don't you think we should give them 5-6 games to start making such harsh judgements? For all we know at this point, Harbaugh leaving could be for the best. Don't get me wrong, I loved having him coach the 49ers just as much as everyone else but, he is still the only coach in 49ers history to ever lose a Superbowl.
Date: June 8, 2015 at 5:22 PM
Comment: He has lost the passion for the game . Don't blame it on management. People forget that coming out of college he's coach even said he wasn't going to last in nfl . He wasn't wrong ! Go niners!!!!!!!!
Date: June 8, 2015 at 3:23 PM
Comment: Do you really want players that have lost their passion for the game? I wish they all stayed, but it is time to move forward. The show must go on.
By: paul jones
Date: June 8, 2015 at 11:31 AM
Comment: what else are they supposed to do? you can't just throw up your hands and cry about it, you have to move on and try to win with the guys who want to be on the field. to say that davis or any of the other departed players wouldn't have left if they thought the niners had a better shot at a super bowl is Ludacris. none of those players have indicated in any way that their decisions were based on the team's prospect for success this year
Date: June 8, 2015 at 9:08 AM
Comment: I would like to see an opinion piece written about Boone.
Boone before Harbaugh was fired.... "Thats my coach, anyone talking about my coach better get ready for me, cause I am coming for you."
Boone after Harbaugh fired.... "you know, now that you mention it, he was a total pain in the ass".
HAHAHAHAHAH! Seriously, talking about the nutcases we have on the team still is a lot more fun than talking about the ones we don't have.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: June 8, 2015 at 7:14 AM
Comment: Great article. If these morons could read they would understand that you didn't say that management was totally responsible, but that there were several factors that have contributed to where the Niners are now. You can be as emotional as you want and criticize fans for being negative all you want, but the facts are these. 1. Balkke is an average GM at best. 2. Niners management has made some very poor decisions and 3. Given the experience and track record of the coaching staff the probability of success for this team is very low.
By: Big Al Soprano
Date: June 8, 2015 at 5:17 AM
Comment: Where do they get these braindead college rejects to write these dumb articles? The only smell on this page is the putrid writer. What a joke. Harbaugh was a QB guru? Ha. His offense declined each season until last year's fiasco in which he praised Roman's game planning and play calling. Good riddance to the dunderhead.
By: Frank M
Date: June 7, 2015 at 9:59 PM
Comment: Blaming the FO for everything that's happened this off-season is the easy way out...the research I'm referring to is looking at the 2014 season. Harbaugh and his high-priced coaching staff failed miserably. So, changes were bound to happen...when your head coach and FO are on opposite ends of the spectrum, that's not a good scenario. Harbaugh was simply too stubborn...his offense was absolutely putrid, yet he stuck by Roman's predictable play-calling. Harbaugh cost the Niners a SB because of his stubbornness. He played his OL & DL vets an absurd amount of snaps, and we're seeing the impact of that this off-season. Same goes w/Willis. If it weren't for Baalke's stockpiling of talent the past few off-seasons, this team would truly be in shambles. But, they're not. Yet all you can do is blame the FO...pitiful.
By: Frank M
Date: June 7, 2015 at 11:44 AM
Comment: Wow...some of you should go to work for the Enquirer, Star or one of the other garbage rags. What proof do you have WRT your allegations? I'd bet none...just an opinion and you know what they're just like. The smell you're referring to is coming from your keyboard...not the Niner FO. You should be embarrassed to put out garbage like this...you really should. That fact you obviously aren't is the most embarrassing of all. If you stopped to actually check some facts, you'd see how wrong you are. Davis and his OL mates played a ton of snaps together...and some are paying the physical toll of that. Look at Iupati the last couple of seasons...Kilgore was hurt in his 1st year of starting. It happens. I think AD is smart for getting himself totally healthy. He's a real person, not some puppet out there on the field. You'd do well to do some research before you put out 3rd rate hack material like you did. Again...you should be ashamed.
Date: June 7, 2015 at 10:09 AM
Comment: You spelled your last name wrong.
Date: June 7, 2015 at 8:37 AM
Comment: Haha! Flores I know you feel the same way.
Date: June 7, 2015 at 8:24 AM
Comment: I See you Jacka.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 9:11 PM
Comment: Good god this might be the worst article I've seen on this site. You want to criticize the team for not resigning Gore, Culliver, Iupati etc or drafting Armstead...fine. I don't agree with you but not a big deal. However, anyone who thinks that any of the retirements are due to management/ownership are complete morons. The author of this article is King of them all. No player is going to forgoe their career because they are unhappy with or don't believe in ownership or the GM. To try and surmise that they would have "fought through" their injuries or been more committed to beat up their bodies if ownership or management was different is beyond delusional. This Jesse guy is an idiot and gives every Niner fan a bad name.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 7:04 PM
Comment: Not sure why so many people are so down on this article. Its clearly an opinion piece and I think the main point is completely valid.
"for any player to face the thought of starting over with a new head coach and all the work ahead of them just to get back to where they were less than 2 seasons ago they have to decide if it's worth it to them when the likelihood of getting the ultimate payoff in a championship seems pretty remote."
I am not sure this applies to Borland, but for Anthony Davis and maybe Patrick Willis this had to go through their mind. Not only battling deabilitating injuries but then having to work through a new system, new coaching staff, etc... and work for several years to try and get back to where they were 12 months ago... that can be a tough sell for a player realizing the toll on his body from the game is starting to limit his off field life.
I don't think anyone can deny that had to go through these guys heads while making this decision.
By: Ray Fuentes
Date: June 6, 2015 at 5:37 PM
Comment: You probably think there is a loch ness monster to don't ya?
Sometimes when you try to make a name for yourself you do so at the risk of having made a baffoon of yourself. Stir the pot somewhere else.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 4:16 PM
Comment: I've noticed a pattern with all the articles you have written, you keep dwelling on the past and use "click bait" titles to get your views.
I for one have decided to focus on the positive side of this off-season, and focus on what is actually happening rather than what could have been. I suggest you do the same.
Also, coming from someone who is in the journalism business, I suggest you stop arguing with posters on your articles, extremely unprofessional.
By: Grammar cop
Date: June 6, 2015 at 3:13 PM
Comment: "Toe the line."
Date: June 6, 2015 at 2:40 PM
Comment: To those defending baalke and saying there was questions about a. Davis commitment in draft I remind baalke drafted him. His 1st rd picks to date
Iupati left in fa. In that draft was bulaga, d. Thomas, dez bryant, All taken after iupati
2011 got along smith. Not a bad pick (when he can behave and play) not that i dislike the pick but its worth mentioning 4 picks later the texans got some guy named jj watt. Maybe you've heard of him
2012 aj Jenkins. Not need to comment
2013 Eric ried. I'll give him that one Reid was great grab
2014 jimmy ward. It's early to say but so far doesn't look to be worth a 1st rd pick. That could change
And this year armstead. Though I hope he turns out great he is still a project. And a team that missed playoffs and is losing players doesn't really go for projects in first rd. I'm not saying all his picks are bad he does good in later rds. Not to mention (though I like borland) if there was reports about him being one and done why draft him. No gm hits all the time but he isn't even batting .500 in first rd
Date: June 6, 2015 at 2:24 PM
Comment: Actually the "sudden retirement of Patrick Willis" could be seen if a person understood the type of injury he had in his foot (feet?). It was the same injury that eventually did Deion Sanders in. The retirement of Cowboy clearly wasn't a surprise. Definitely the retirement of Chris Borland did catch many by surprise but every sword has a beginning point and the C.B. is likely the tip of the sword when it comes to young players contemplating their overall health compared to immediate health. Furthermore the loss of Gore, Lupati and Crabtree were also easy to read if people understand nuance. Lupati never was going to stay because he would simply cost too much. Period. It was time to move on from Gore. Period. Crabtree is self-explanatory (or should be!). ______________Lastly, get over Harbaugh being gone. Some folks can burn their welcome out and Harbaugh IS that guy. Period. He won't be at Michigan for more than 4 years then he'll be back in the pros. That IS his M.O.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 12:55 PM
Comment: Seriously? Retirements by players who have had significant injuries is also managements fault? You're reaching here just to jump on management. Ridiculous argument.
It's very clear guys are beginning to pay attention to the physical and mental toll this game exacts from them. That's a good trend but hardly one that is any team's management fault.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 12:39 PM
Comment: Anyone who can't even admit that the recent events have any factor at all are just pulling wool over there eyes. And to go a step further than that and say harbaugh "worked them too hard" is really just so embarrassing it's funny. Worked too hard? Really? Making it in professional sports requires you to push yourself to the brink everyday every year your entire life now all of the sudden big scary harbaugh pushed them too hard?
Date: June 6, 2015 at 11:04 AM
Comment: Baloney!Niners had one of the worse offensive lines in football.And as far as the Head coach is concerned what was the Niners record last year?It was time to thin out the herd make changes before you get too old.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 7:27 AM
Comment: Unfortunately everything you write in this article is true. I don't see any other team with so many premature retirements. 1 or 2 retirements you can write off as injury. But so many?
Date: June 6, 2015 at 7:05 AM
Comment: This is a bunch of crap. Has nothing to do with management or coaching. It's cause there is more awareness about health. Period. That's a good thing cause now it will force the NFL to find ways to make the brain safer. This article is just complete hate drivel written to please the mindless masses. If you actually believe this than I feel for you. You must be trying to hone your troll skills or are the progeny of kawakami bayless and cohn. Complete crap article. Never reading you again.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 7:04 AM
Comment: You know what I find comical is that am reading "fans" defend players saying "oh Jimmy worked them to hard and oh we went full bore for 3 years" give me a brake! Do you hear any of this out of NE? If you think Billy B., is not kicking ass and taking names your cray! The hard times we are going through right now is a sign of the direction of the organization and it shows that the players do not believe in the direction that the leadership is taking the organization as a whole. How many players do you see jumping ship on teams that are close to a title. . . It's not hard to see, we had a team and came real close to winning a 6th title (3 yards). We are now rebuilding and players don't want to be part of a circus.Remember when Mike S., was the HC and all the comments that came out offer a few players left?! Jim T., is in a AWFUL position. He is following a man that took us to 3 NFC Championships, 1 Super Bowl and 8-8 with an entire front office against him!! That is the standard now and he has to meet it! We are in the hole until Trent B., is ran out of town or channels his internal Carmen Policy and learns his role which is to be a Professional, not a dictator!
Date: June 6, 2015 at 5:18 AM
Comment: ALSO... i take it as a good sign that these guys are quitting. i dont want any players on this team that are going to go in there with doubt. i dont want anybody on this team that are going to go in and half ass it. we're not the raiders,or the browns,or the buccaneers.....WE'RE THE F'N 49ERS!!! the best team in the NFL! and this year we rise once again,we continue to fight as hard as we can,and we get back to the super bowl and prove everyone wrong! NUMBER SIX HERE WE COME!!!
Date: June 6, 2015 at 5:12 AM
Comment: thats all a bunch of shit. willis,borland,justin,and now davis retiring has nothing to do with tomsula,or york,or even harbaugh leaving. these guys have been busting their asses for the past 3 years. harder than they ever did in their lives. to the point that their bodies broke down. our smashmouth style of play isnt easy. and its not quite meant for the longrun. it takes a ton of hard work and dedication to fight to the top. thats why teams that were in the playoffs 4 years ago werent in there last year. unless of course if you have a top notch quarterback with a top notch offense (patriots,broncos,packers ect) but you know how we play.... west coast offense is not easy to maintain. it takes so much hard work,and these players use and abuse their bodies. its a young mans game. which is what the seahawks had on their side,youth. they somehow managed to play the same way we do but with younger players. but baalke does a great job drafting o-line and d-line. he knows what to look for. anthony davis,and all of the others retired simply because they know what theyre in for. they know they have to get in there and fight again. they know whats going to be expected of them.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 5:06 AM
Comment: The problem with your article is that the players who retired make sense. Willis did not play the majority of last season due to his toe injury. So if the toe wasn't a big deal then why didn't he play through it last season for his coach?
Justin Smith has been talking about retirement and barely practiced last year due to wear and tear on his body.
Anthony Davis had a horrible concussion and spent several weeks out due to it. Also, he was one of the vocal players happy to see Roman go.
Borland was the only weird one to me dibce he did not appear injured last year. Except by all accounts he told people before he was drafted he only thought he would play a year. Also, he had injury concerns regarding his shoulder.
The biggest thing to me is I don't think any of these guys were staying regardless, they all have extremely valid reasons for walking away. Just because guys like Welker can't let go doesn't mean others can't. When a halthy player leaves then I may take what you say into consideration.
By: JD Castle
Date: June 6, 2015 at 3:43 AM
Comment: I agree with everything you just wrote.
Niner fan since 1982.
Date: June 6, 2015 at 12:39 AM
Comment: Opinions are like assholes... This should all be settled by early October.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 11:07 PM
Comment: How you are allowed to post is beyond ridiculous. I want a refund of my time.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 11:02 PM
Comment: I sincerely don't understand the difference between this "article" and a post. Seriously. This isn't even an opinion piece based in fact. We might as well start posting Raider Fan articles as "news."
Date: June 5, 2015 at 9:57 PM
Comment: LOL Your entitled to your POV, but dang man, really?
Never mind that Cowboy, A. Davis, Borland, Willis, etc. all had injuries that made them decide to retire. In addition, Gore, Crabs, Iupati, Cox, Cully, etc. were going to ask more than we could afford in FA and so it happened. WE lost them. What did the FO do to prepare for this? Draft and bring in FAs to succeed them. Oh and each year, we've achieved better performance at those position such as Reid over Goldson, McD over Ice way back when, Bethea over Whitner, Cully n Cox over Rogers and Brown, etc, etc, etc. Now, it's T. Smith over Crabs, Hyde over Gore, Thomas over Iupati, etc. There is a plan and Baalke is sticking to it.
I understand the need and want to blame and be angry for after all, we had three great years with Harbaugh. We even went to the SB, but lost and that ultimately falls on the HC no matter what POV you use as the buck stops there. IMO, Harbs wore out the players by not subbing. Three years of that will have impact n we just witnessed it.
It boggles the mind how quickly we forget the sandwiches eaten bringing in Harbs in 2011. York n Baalke made it happen. NVM it doe. They suck. lol
By: Gold in The Fold
Date: June 5, 2015 at 9:23 PM
Comment: Things are becoming clearer now. Harbaugh mentally and physically taxed these players past their breaking point, maybe without them even realizing it. Combine that with the physical drain of 3 straight deep postseason runs and some of them simply couldn't answer the bell this year. Baalke saw what was going on and ran Harbaugh off. It wasn't that Harbaugh couldn't win - it was that he was exhausting everyone. The exodus of players, still in their prime, indicates this. After all, who would pass up the money these guys make unless they just can't stand the game anymore? This problem is unique to the Niners and the 4 years under Harbaugh.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 9:19 PM
Comment: This has to be some of the dumbest sh! I have read on the zone. To blame the the owner gm or coach on these retirements is idiotic. And you get paid to write this crap which makes it even worse.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 9:07 PM
Comment: Stopped reading at Jesse Dumas.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:42 PM
Comment: AD was concussed and down during a game and he recalled, in a daze, thatvHarbaugh telling the staff and the OLine to get him up so they don't blow a timeout for injury. He also stated he was in a haze for weeks after. Thats brain damage to some extent and recovery is slow to never--Im sure he was told that. This isn't a management issue, it's solely a personal health issue left for only the person making the decision.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:41 PM
Comment: The best way to leave the NFL when on a team with questionable ability to win the SB is to QUIT??!!! Justin Smith - the complete opposite of QUIT had to sit out much of the weeks leading up to gameday. Dude is a man, not a machine. P Willy - has been injured for an extended period of time since Bowmann was drafted and the same injury caused Neon Deon to retire as well. Chris Borland - was a head scratcher, but to think he knows enough about our management being just a green pea to QUIT is a stupid, reaching for controversy comment. A Davis - You don't see many OL quit unless some type of injury they just don't come back from. That being said, his drive and passion were always questioned.... there was word that some players were pissed that he didn't attend games when he was out with a concussion, not to play, but to be with his team.. "Bye Felicia"..... Jason Worilds -27 retired as a coveted free agent. Jake Locker - 26 retired. Although it sucks to watch young talent to leave, all at the same time... reasons above are more indicative than your reasoning. Every team is heavily invested in winning, and peoples jobs are on the line every day making sure everyone is competing.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:23 PM
Comment: Have to admit I stopped reading this article after your assertion that the management had undermined "their coach after three seasons of success". This is such a tired refrain. Kudos to Harbaugh for turning the 49er's ship around. But facts are facts. Aside from his first year when the team got farther than anyone could have imagined pretty much every year after that was a disappointment. He proved he couldn't beat Seattle with his handpicked QB, not only in the championship game but in the regular season as well. If you can't beat Seattle right now you can't win the division which makes it's harder to compete for the title. The math was pretty simple.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:04 PM
Comment: seriously??? I typically don't respond to these articles on the "Zone", and it's not my personal policy to bash someone I don't know, c'mon! Davis has had questions concerning his drive and commitment ever since he came out of college. If anything his actions tell me that he's a quitter. Got paid and is getting out because he doesn't have the desire anymore (probably confidence in his own abilities too) and figures the Niners best days are behind them. I say, there's the door son - have at it...we'll re-tool and move right along without him. Plenty of skilled big bodies to make up for his loss.
By: Texas Niner
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:02 PM
Comment: To blame the front office for "retirements" is stupid at worst, and lazy journalism at best. I ask one simple question. If this was about the direction of the team, or about players not wanting to start over with the new staff, why wouldn't those player just ask to be traded? Baalke LOVES extra draft capital and I'm sure he could've gotten a few nice offers for those guys. These players have been playing this game their entire lives and only someone who hasn't EVER PLAYED ORGANIZED SPORTS would say something so dumb...like young, talented players deciding to retire due coaching changes. PlayerALWAYS say that they understand that this is a business and that players/coaches come and ALL OF THE TIME...smh
By: Smart Guy
Date: June 5, 2015 at 8:00 PM
Comment: Pretty fitting your last name is Dumbass, lol.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 7:57 PM
Comment: How are these things the fault of Ownership, GM or Coaching staff?
1. Willis had a toe injury that wouldn't heal - please tell me how anyone could predict this?
2. Borland was small and slow and could only keep up if he played like a wild man and threw his head into every tackle. He was never drafted as a started.
3. Davis had several injuries and some head trauma - lot of guys are going to start retiring early because of this.
Jed and Trent are KILLING IT! guts to get rid of Harbaugh, depth all over the field, cap under control....i'm sick of the BS bitching
Date: June 5, 2015 at 7:48 PM
Comment: not to be a prick to this article's writer but how can Management be to blame for this? Cowboy's retirement was expected & Willis, though only 30, was injury riddled last year..Borland & Anthony David are VERY surprising but it's got to be "Next Man Up"! In regards to the FA guys, there have been players that have left for other teams every offseason since the 49ers have been contenders...everyone seems to disregard all the guys San Fran has picked up, not to mention, developing through 2nd Year Redshirts & quality Draft picks from the 2015 draft...all in all, it's fine because they'll be under the radar with all these front-runner fans that exist, today.
Date: June 5, 2015 at 7:44 PM
Comment: The moves that the 9ers front office have made r great moves .offensively we're better and on D we lost but also got younger . Trent and Jed both know what there doing .Harbs might have came in and added a lil surprise 2 the offense but the defense has been there way b4 he came .Also if u look at the roster we have a roster that could rival with the best in the league and that's after losing at least 4 all pro players and a total of 9 starters . Harbs didn't draft anyone
Date: June 5, 2015 at 7:42 PM
Comment: As long as Dork owns the team expect mediocrity
Date: June 5, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Comment: 1 thing always leads to another in romper room .This "writing" is factless, baseless, useless and hopeless. Of course we ignore all the people here and people like reggie and torey who came here right? justin and willis retired for honorable reasons. davis and borland just quit. The other people who left were not worth the money to retain them,, and why am i even bothering here?