Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

State of the 49ers: Player Retirement Edition

Stewart M. Cockrell
Jun 8, 2015 at 2:29 PM

It certainly has been an eventful off season for our beloved 49ers hasn't it? New coach, newish staff, unimpressive draft, payers retiring in exodus and the media experts singing from any available website or microphone about the massive change that is happening in Santa Clara. The real question that has been bugging me is…Are we really any different than the rest of the NFL?

Most fans and experts point the blame straight as the 49ers' front office, and clearly there is some blame there on the mishandling of the Jim Harbaugh situation, but can you really lay the blame on Jed York and Trent Baalke for players retiring over health? As fellow 49erswebzone writer David Bonilla points out in his recent article we have lost cornerstone players largely due to age and health issues. All teams deal with this every season, just not usually all at once.

While it is convenient to place blame on the front office for free agent departures, the truth is most of the players leaving really had no chance of being resigned in the first place. As much of a fan I was of the free agents that left (Crabtree, Gore, Iupati, Culliver, and Cox) were we really interested resigning a injury prone wide out, an aging (albeit great) running back, a sub-standard pass blocking left guard, and two mid-level defensive backs, when there is proof that Baalke never has invested heavily (in cap space) in those positions anyway? Baalke pays for pass rushers and offensive tackles, not interior lineman and defensive backs because that is how he builds teams.

ESPN recently compared lost snaps vs. added snaps for all 32 teams in the NFL. The 49ers look pretty bad from a numbers standpoint having lost 8,728 snaps and only gaining 3,031 from free agent additions or a difference of 65.27%. Looking at an average of the whole league of 31.63%, it would appear that the 49ers are well above the average. However, eight teams in the league are within 10% of the 49ers with division rivals St. Louis actually coming in higher at 67.57% and Arizona having a mark of 47.29%

On the higher end of the spectrum you find the Packers (100%) and Steelers (93.81%), which at first glance seems horrible. However, these are two teams that are historically pretty good at drafting and are never big players in free agency. On the flip side, you see the Jets (-97.43%), Bears (-13.69%), and Raiders (-13.02%). These teams actually gained on the snap count numbers meaning they either acquired via trade or free agency veteran players. This could mean that these teams haven't hit on as many draft picks in recent years as the rest of the league. While Chicago might be a bit of anomaly since I feel they have drafted fairly well over the past three seasons, I think we can all agree that the Jets haven't had the greatest drafts and the Raiders are coming out of a three year salary purge.

It could possibly be argued that non-playoff teams would likely have more roster turnover in the offseason than their playoff counterpart's right? There is some data to support that as well, as these teams only saw 39.70% turnover on average. The world champion Patriots were the best amongst these teams with 11.08% snap turnover and the above mentioned Packers were the worse at (100%). Taking the Packers and Steelers out, the second worst team were the Ravens (64.35%). Defending NFC champion, Seattle came in below the average at 29.89%, which is evident of the strong nucleus of players from the past two seasons.

While it is easy to sit here and say the numbers don't lie, I don't think that is appropriate since you have to look at the quality of the players lost and gained. Clearly I can't go through the entire league for that data, but it is clear that the quality of players the 49ers lost versus some of the gains is going to hurt a bit more than some other teams.

It seems rhetorical to say that the Patriots are going to miss Revis more than the Rams are going to miss Bradford. The Bills are going to be better with McCoy then with Alonso. The Eagles might have negated losing McCoy by signing Murray, but will miss Maclin in the passing game so there seems to be a negative there. The Saints and Seahawks trading Graham for Unger might be a wash in the snap count, but we can see who got the better end of that deal. However I feel that the addition of Torrey Smith is much better than Crabtree and I think the 49ers will find the same if not better production from Hyde over Gore. Adding Bowman back will negate losing Willis and Wilhoite played well starting for Bowman/Willis last season.

The 49ers losing Willis, Smith, Gore, and Davis hurts more because of the stature and importance to the team from a leadership and elite ability standpoint. Borland just hurts because of the high draft pick that was spent on him. However, I think most of can agree that if these players are missing time due to lingering injuries or not playing at the level they are used to, do we really want them eating up cap space or preventing the development of another player? I honestly think that Baalke sees it as huge sigh of relief with Willis and Davis retiring from a cap stand point because it frees up space in coming seasons so the 49ers can live with the Kaepernick deal and also offer a lucrative extension to Aldon Smith should he keep his act together. The moving of Andy Lee to Cleveland over the weekend was purely a cap move, not due to Lee's diminished abilities.

Either way, I tend to lean more towards the Darnell Dockett line of thinking that the 49ers can still win with this team they have put together. I do think there will be a clear step back on the defensive side of the ball if they cannot put a pass rush together, however I think offensively the team has made a lot of improvements and should be exciting to watch.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Dallas Niner Fan
    mbniner, You are vastly under rating Fangio. What he did last year with all the injuries and distractions was nothing short of incredible. The Niners made a very bad decision to let him go, which was purely for political reasons. Mangini, is OK, but I really don't see a great track record just an average one. I think comparing these two coaches is a bit of a stretch, though I admire your optimism.
    Jun 10, 2015 at 7:01 AM
  • mbniner
    Dallas Niner, I agree coaching is very important. But I don't see us falling off the cliff in going from Fangio to Mangini. They are a little different in approach but both use similar defensive schemes. Fangio was less aggressive than Mangini but had the talent to play 4 man rush most of the snaps. Mangini is more into disguises and will blitz more. Both are very good coaches with great reputations. Our defense will be fine.
    Jun 9, 2015 at 2:35 PM
  • Luca
    I'm fine with this team. I'm faithful. I trust Tomsula and the renewal. May be we won't be superstellar, but I think we're going to enjoy the game, especially the offensive one. We're planting the new seed. Let it grow. Italian fan since 1981.
    Jun 9, 2015 at 1:01 PM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    mbniner, Its easy, its called coaching.
    Jun 9, 2015 at 12:40 PM
  • mbniner
    I agree. But I don't know why people think that the departures will cause our defense to tank (no pun intended). Willis hardly played and his toe prevented him from playing the way he used to. Justin had suffered injuries for 3 years and his play fell off. Culliver and Cox did well but were not elite by any measure. Borland was great against the run but struggled in coverage. Ian Williams and Dorsey missed a lot of games. Aldon missed 9 games and Bowman the whole season.. In spite of all that, the D was top 5. How can the D NOT be better than last year? Go Niners!
    Jun 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM
  • Phil C.
    People want to be quick to write off the Niners, but all reports from OTAs about how Tomsula is handling things sound really positive. Matt Barrows, probably the 49ers beat writer I respect more than anyone other, says that while Harbaugh tended to just grind, grind, grind, Tomsula so far has the Niners moving at a quicker tempo, especially on offense, and things seem looser at practice. I've said in the past that while Harbaugh's style works better for younger teams, especially talented ones, that lacked discipline and needed to learn how to win, now that the team has more experience, he needed to let his foot off the gas more the past season, but he never really did because he's just not wired that way. Tomsula's loose approach might be just what the doctor ordered. I'm not guaranteeing a Super Bowl, but I'm at least intrigued to see how things go.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 9:59 PM
  • GM
    Very thoughtful and comprehensive article. Thank you for a reasoned and researched approach.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 9:27 PM
  • Albert
    Thanks for the info. In the view of your column I understand this could be a blessing but it will be hard for the Niners to win more games to try make the playoff our defense is the big major problem if we don't stop the other team
    Jun 8, 2015 at 9:08 PM
  • Big Al Soprano
    Eugene Brown - Get therapy soon.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 4:19 PM
    I think you are on point, Daniners. Could be the best thing that ever happened to this team. Clearly there was some discontent with Harbaugh's militaristic style. Clearly the offense was stalled and looking for a new direction. Clearly there were some vets that were soon to look (or already looking) on a decline in production. It could definitely be argued that we have to deal with a lot this season, but it's nothing we wouldn't have had to deal with sooner than later. I'm optimistic. Forever Faithful.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 4:19 PM
  • Mr. P
    If the Niners can score 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season, they will be 100% more exciting to watch. Jokes aside, this will be a very interesting season in seeing who elevates, both in the players and coaches. Playing in a games will tell us how good we are.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 4:04 PM
  • Daniners
    If and when Davis comes back into the league, the Niners will own his rights for remainder of current contract (which I believe is another 2 years). Basically, his contract is frozen until he returns. Next, the 49ers play and live in an area of the country that is more progressive and in tune with health related issues than other parts of the country. The situation in SF will spread. Other teams will be affected going forward. I lived in Bay Area for most of my life, now TX. Logic and reasoning, they're a little less important here. What I am saying, players aren't leaving because of management. They are leaving because they are a) concerned about their health or b) perceive the Niners to be rebuilding. Which is also totally fine. Not correct, but fine. Every player except Borland and Davis have shown clear signs of diminished skills. Willis is a shadow of his previous self, Smith was very average, Gore's production's been down since 2012, and Crabtree just...plain...stinks. We won 8 games with an injury-riddled defense and an anemic offense run by an overrated OC. The Niners are going to be fine and believers rewarded. The band wagoners? They'll disappear. That's good.
    Jun 8, 2015 at 3:56 PM
  • Billy
    Lmao Eugene Brown and how old do you think they will be 3-5 he years from now??? Come on man!!!! If they wanted out all they gotta do is ask to be traded like everyone else who is unhappy. Retirement was cause of injuires. If they decided they wanted to come back Niners still have their rights!
    Jun 8, 2015 at 3:14 PM
  • Eugene brown
    As a die hard niner fan...never have I witnessed so many players leaving in such a flux!! To try and say that there isn't nothing going on in the front office is outlandish....players are retiring to get out there contract with the 49ers....I wouldn't be surprised to see those players try to reenter the league in another 3 to 5 years...the front office needs to come forward and address this situation and not the media or they will have a lot of empty seats
    Jun 8, 2015 at 2:55 PM

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