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It has become trendy to blame San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke for each offseason mishap that befalls the team, even things are are seemingly out of their control. There has to be a limit though. At some point, placing complete blame on management becomes a bit ridiculous.
In the 49ers' long and storied history, this offseason has been one of the most bizarre. The front office let go of the head coach that brought respectability back to the franchise. His replacement? The team went with a position coach in Jim Tomsula after they oddly fumbled away their chance to bring in their first choice, former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. They struggled as they attempted to piece together a coaching staff under Tomsula, with first and second choices saying "no thanks" and going elsewhere in almost a laughable fashion.
The team let fan favorite -- yet aging -- running back Frank Gore go to the Indianapolis Colts. Gore would later state that he felt unwanted by the 49ers. The team lost both 2014 starting cornerbacks in free agency, but felt they had youngsters on the team that could step in and take their place. Other key free agents were allowed to leave as well after the team made little or no attempts to retain anyone.
To everyone except the 49ers themselves, it looked like the team was gearing up to rebuild. Although, convinced that this team was still stocked to make a Super Bowl run, Baalke insisted that they were instead reloading. Surely this was just talk to keep the fan panic level down, right?
Then the draft happened. Shockingly, the team indeed drafted as though they were reloading and not rebuilding. Rather than focusing on obvious team needs, it was business as usual as the 49ers repeatedly drafted who they felt were the best players available at each selection, including a "project" defensive lineman in the first round who may not even contribute much during his rookie season. They seemingly ignored glaring team needs through much of the draft. Now that was ballsy.
If you feel the need to do so, there is a lot of blame you can place on the team's management. However, the player retirements absolutely should not be one of those reasons.
This offseason saw the abrupt retirements of four key players. Well, three were abrupt. The other had the writing on the wall for some time.
The unexpected and shocking retirements kicked off in March with the announcement by linebacker Patrick Willis, which was devastating to fans. Willis, a fan favorite and well respected team leader, was the heart of the defense. However, the team had a promising young linebacker in Chris Borland that could take over and he was coming off of a surprisingly spectacular rookie season. Then a week later, he too retired. It read like some sort of cruel April Fools joke, but it was weeks too early for that.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith strung along fans since the end of the 49ers' disappointing 2014 campaign. The team stood by Smith, simply saying that he would decide when he decides and that he has earned the right to take his time. Many felt that he would retire. Some hung onto hope that the Cowboy would ride with the team one last time. Then, months later, All speculation finally ended as Smith officially announced his retirement.
On Friday, offensive tackle Anthony Davis announced that he would be retiring. Actually, he stated that he would be taking a year or so off, saying, "I'm taking this time to allow my Brain and Body time to heal and recoup."
Justin Smith is 35 years old. Patrick Willis is 30. Anthony Davis is 25. Chris Borland is 24. All were key players for the 49ers and each will be tough to replace.
Like I said, if you feel the need to blame team management for some aspects of this odd offseason, go right ahead. However, blaming them for these retirements is narrow minded and just plain wrong. It is highly doubtful that any of these players looked at the current state of the team and thought, "What a mess Jed York and Trent Baalke have gotten us into. I'm going to go ahead and forego a lot of money and just quit rather than play for these guys anymore."
All of these retirements had one thing in common. They occurred due to injuries. More specifically, they occurred due to each player wanting to do what was best for their health.
During his retirement speech, Willis stated his his reasons for leaving the game. His feet just didn't cooperate with him anymore and he felt that he could no longer contribute at the level the team expected, he expected, or the fans deserved. His 2014 season was ended early due to an injury to his left big toe. He had surgery on it after he was placed on injured reserve. However, he simply did not feel that he would be back at 100% and expressed a desire to not end up like so many of the former football players that now had trouble walking or playing with their kids. Willis retired for his health, not because of poor 49ers management.
Borland retired after his rookie year because of concerns over the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma. Borland had suffered two concussions prior to the NFL. One was while playing soccer in the eighth grade and the other was while playing football as a sophomore in high school. He believed that he suffered a possible concussion during 49ers training camp, but he pushed on because he was trying to make the team. His decision was based on a lot of research he did during and following the season. Borland retired for his health, not because of poor 49ers management.
"They all want you to keep playing, and I want to keep playing as well, but when you get on the bald tires, you're on the bald tires ... it was just time for me to move on," said Justin Smith while talking to reporters about his decision to retire. Smith was hampered the past two seasons by an injured left shoulder that he first hurt during the team's 2013 training camp. Since that was the shoulder that absorbed much of the punishment as he took on huge offensive lineman, Smith did not feel as though he could go through yet another season and play at the level that he expected. It was better to retire and heal than risk any long-term problems. Smith retired for his health, not because of poor 49ers management.
Davis, the 49ers' most recent retiree, missed nine games last season due to injuries, including a concussion that he suffered in November during a game against the New York Giants. He was a key part of the team's ability to run the ball. In the seven games that he played, the 49ers offense averaged 173 rushing yards per game. In the nine games that he missed, they averaged just 107 yards per game. Davis stated, "I'm simply doing what's best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life." Davis retired for his health, not because of poor 49ers management.
Nowhere in there did any of these players give the impression that they were unhappy with 49ers management or the direction the team is headed. No one gave the impression that they retired because they miss their former head coach, Jim Harbaugh. They each retired because of their health. To assume anything else is just silly. The 49ers have been victim to a string of very bad timing. The injury plagued 2014 season has simply culminated to where we are now.
And the last time I checked, there weren't any games scheduled in June. Let's wait and see what happens on the field before we decide to storm Jed and Trent's offices.