In what is shaping up to be a puzzling off-season for the San Francisco 49ers, the hits just keep on coming. Per Yahoo Sports, two Pro Bowlers, defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis will retire.
Willis, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, is still in the prime of his career. At age 30, he would still be considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL so his sudden decision to retire is a surprise. In his eight seasons in the league, he posted 20.5 sacks and a top candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
On the other hand, Smith has played 14 NFL seasons, seven of those with the 49ers. During his time with San Francisco, Smith tallied 43.5 sacks and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2011.
The loss to the 49ers defense will be hard to recover from. Both Willis and Smith were not only the two best defensive players on the team, they are two of the best defensive players of their era. The news of their retirement is the latest in what appears to be an exodus of several key members of staff and players.
The day after the conclusion of the regular season, head coach Jim Harbaugh, who led the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance in his tenure in San Francisco, was shown the door in what the front office called a “mutual parting.” It is widely believed that Harbaugh wasn’t given much of a choice in staying in San Francisco due to conflict with 49ers GM Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York. It appears now, that several players are unhappy with personnel moves and deciding to play elsewhere.
Frank Gore, San Francisco’s workhorse running back who was the centerpiece of the 49ers offense has decided to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Crabtree, the team’s best wide receiver, has declared that he is not interested in signing a new deal when his rookie contract expires tomorrow. Fueling more rumors of dysfunction in the front office, two of the best players on defense have decided to call it career.
The next move to watch for with the 49ers? Rumor’s have surfaced that starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on the trade block and San Francisco is listening to offers. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has denied those rumors per a source within the 49ers organization.