If San Francisco 49ers thought last season was a difficult one to go through, they might be in for an even more depressing ride in 2016. Despite their endless amount of cap space, it seems that it’s going to be only about the draft when it comes to making this team competitive again.
The 49ers are coming off two consecutive years of missing the playoffs. They went 8-8 in 2014 as the Jim Harbaugh good times came to an end with pretty much open hate between him and the front office, resulting in him leaving the NFL altogether and signing with his alma mater, Michigan. It’s worked out quite well for him one year removed from all of that.
Not so much for the 49ers, who hired Jim Tomsula, someone who has never ever been a coordinator, and had enough of him after one 5-11 season. Players bolted on the 49ers left and right before the 2015 season even began. Colin Kaepernick turned from the face and promise of the franchise into someone that’s one good offer away from being traded, and the possibility of cutting him is still up in the air.
Meanwhile, the 49ers hired Chip Kelly, who has a lot to prove after how things ended for him in Philadelphia. Kelly and the Eagles got a little bit worse in each of the three seasons he was there for, and now isn’t only trying to show he has what it takes to succeed again at the NFL level, but also try to erase some of the perceptions about his personality and relationships with players.
There are a number of options when trying to understand why the 49ers, a team with almost $60 million in cap space (most in the NFL at this point by far after the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and others threw money at free agents earlier this month), aren’t signing anyone. None of those options should be too appealing to 49ers.
Maybe they’re taking the Philadelphia 76ers route, which is what the Oakland Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars did until last season, when it seems they’ve finally reached the point of being competitive. Tanking, and betting on the draft to make this team good again, and only then start looking for answers in free agency. This might not be such a bad option. Start building this team to make it fit Kelly’s vision and philosophy. But it probably means at least on awful year of football if not more. The 49ers have never been a team inlove with signing free agents (at least not under the current regime), but building solely through the draft when there’s zero foundation means a long process unless you get very lucky, and the coaching staff is excellent.
And there’s the more worrying thought for the 49ers. That they did want some players but no one is even willing to look at them seriously right now. While it might be true regarding a small group of the more elite players who happen to become free agents, it’s difficult to believe that in a league with so many players fighting for limited space, there’s a team so many decent and useful players are refusing to play for.
Whatever the reasons may be for the 49ers to completely “forget” about free agency spending, it’s going to be a difficult time for a team that made three consecutive NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in the 2011-2013 period before walking off a cliff, determined to come back to the top the hard and long way.