49ers were prepared for roster turnover

Gail Burton/Associated Press

If you’re not paying attention, you might think the San Francisco 49ers are a sinking ship, quickly descending to the bottom of the ocean.

After all, they’ve lost a number of starters on both sides of the ball, and the mass exodus could have some thinking doom and gloom in 2015.

If you have been paying attention though, you’d realize that the front office knew most of this was coming, and were prepared to deal with it.

Think I’m crazy?

Think I’m writing this with red and gold glasses on?

Think again.

Let’s start on the offensive side of the football, where three starters from last season are no longer with the team.

In losing Frank Gore, Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree, the team lost three brand names in their lineup. However, once you get over the sticker shock, try and see what really happened here.

The soon-to-be 32-years-old version of Frank Gore was allowed to move because the Indianapolis Colts gave him a three-year deal with over $7 million guaranteed. The 49ers were said to have offered  one year at $4 million, which is generous for a back Gore’s age.

The 49ers knew Gore’s days with the team were winding down and selected Carlos Hyde in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Hyde showed enough last season to give San Francisco confidence that he can handle the majority of the work, and they have ample depth and ability for a change of pace with Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush being mixed in.

Iupati was given $22.5 million in guaranteed money from the Arizona Cardinals, which is an insane amount for a guard coming off his worst season. General manager Trent Baalke knew Iupati’s value on the open market would greatly exceed what was reasonable to pay for him, and has stock piled replacements on the roster in the form of Brandon Thomas, Joe Looney and Marcus Martin.

As far as Crabtree, he’s been an overall disappointment during his time in San Francisco, and the 49ers were better suited getting a receiver who’d be a downfield threat. They did just that, and upgraded the position by signing Torrey Smith and his 16.9 career yards per catch average away from the Baltimore Ravens. 

On the defensive side, the writing was on the wall that Ray McDonald and Justin Smith only had limited time left due to age and/or contract status. McDonald sped things up a bit by letting off-the-field issues lead to his release, but again, the team was prepared.

They invested draft picks in defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial in 2013, with the hopes the two would start to round into form in 2-3 years. They also extended Glenn Dorsey, and brought in veteran Darnell Dockett who can provide leadership to the young group.

Whether Smith returns or not, there is promise in this unit that also include Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie.

Eyes were raised when both starting corners from last year, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, were allowed to leave in free agency without much of a fight from the 49ers. But if Baalke has proven one thing, it’s that he can find corners to fit the scheme.

Cox had early success last season but faded down the stretch. His three-year, $15 million dollar offer from the Tennessee Titans was a hefty sum to pay a career backup before 2014. Culliver is a good corner and played well, but there’s no way the 49ers were in position to pay him anywhere near the four-year, $32 million contract he got in Washington.

The organization saw this coming too though, and invested picks in defensive backs Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, and Kenneth Acker in 2014. Those four, along with a healthy Tramaine Brock offer considerable upside at the position, while veterans Chris Cook and Shareece Wight provide depth.

The one situation the team didn’t see coming, however, was the loss of both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland due to their stunning retirements. Still, how many teams can say they still have NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite in their starting lineups to help sustain such a blow?

The bottom line here is, again, once the sticker shock wears off we start to see that the 49ers had a pretty good plan in place from years back to offset many inevitable losses.

Having said that, while a plan can look great on paper, the players still need to perform on the field. How these replacements pan out will go a long way in deciding whether or not the 49ers remain a playoff-caliber team, and quite possibly whether or not Baalke still has a job in San Francisco.

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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