The San Francisco 49ers are only a couple of seasons removed from having one of the best teams in the league. Jim Harbaugh led them to three consecutive NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance, but the team has fallen hard and fast. In just over a year, the 49ers "mutually parted ways" (fired) with Harbaugh, hired defensive line coach Jim Tomsula over well-respected defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as their new head coach and then fired Tomsula after a 5-11 season.
But the team seemingly took a step in the right direction this offseason in hiring Chip Kelly. Even though Kelly is coming off a disastrous season with the Philadelphia Eagles, he's actually shown he has some coaching chops, unlike Tomsula, who seemed in over his head the moment he accepted the 49ers job.
It's one of the few moves the 49ers got right -- and one of the only moves they've made this offseason. Most notably, Colin Kaepernick still remains with the team, just days before his $11.9 million guaranteed salary kicks in and despite numerous trade rumors surrounding him.
With free agency in the rear-view mirror and the NFL Draft in less than a month, the 49ers have done little to improve or alter the roster in any way. Yet, they have still had a better offseason than the one before it when they saw an exodus of talent after Harbaugh was fired. Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Anthony Davis and Chris Borland all retired. Veterans Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree found new teams in free agency and they were left with a depleted roster that performed as poorly as expected last season.
By avoiding a fiasco like a year ago, and making a potentially smart coaching hire, the 49ers could be on the right path, even if they've had one of the quietest offseasons in the league so far.
With question marks at QB, the 49ers stand pat on offense
Offensively, the 49ers still have some moves to make. Kaepernick could still be traded, even if it's after April 1 when his salary becomes fully guaranteed. But whatever does happen, the fact remains that whoever is on the roster will have to compete with Jacksonville Jaguars outcast Blaine Gabbert for the starting role, and that doesn't inspire any confidence. Gabbert, who took over after Kaepernick was benched, didn't impress in his short time starting last season.
At running back, the 49ers lost Carlos Hyde to injury last season but believe he can return to full health. They've done nothing but re-sign Shaun Draughn, a street free agent last season, and show passing interest in Lance Dunbar, who re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
At wide receiver, they still have not re-signed Anquan Boldin, who is starting to make free agent visits. Torrey Smith is currently the only proven receiver on the roster. At tight end, they extended Garrett Celek who figures to be a middling starter at best. On the offensive line, they lost Alex Boone, one of the top linemen in the league, and only added Zane Beadles. Boone also served as the primary swing tackle and played at a high level in that role, so it's a clear loss.
Altogether, they didn't improve at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end or on the offensive line. If right tackle Anthony Davis does return from retirement as expected, then that will be an upgrade, at least.
Success: Nobody retired on defense!
Fortunately, the 49ers managed to hang on to top free agent Ian Williams, a defensive tackle who should be a big part of the team going forward. Unfortunately, Williams' original five-year deal was voided when he didn't pass his physical and the team instead signed him to a one-year deal. Still, he'll be around.
Other than that, the 49ers have done next to nothing. They extended Quinton Dial, who was not a free agent, and have yet to make a decision on free agent defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie. Despite needing another inside linebacker, edge rusher and cornerback, the team has made no moves on that front.
But their best defensive players, including NaVorro Bowman, Tramaine Brock and Williams, didn't actively leave the team, so the 49ers once again came out on top compared to last year. Kelly hired Jim O'Neil to be his defensive coordinator, and after Eric Mangini was ineffective in that role with Tomsula, it could be the biggest plus for the defense all offseason.
Special teams not an area of concern
One good move was re-signing kicker Phil Dawson, who continues to find success even into his 40s. But the 49ers have been mostly quiet on special teams, other than re-signing Ray-Ray Armstrong, a decent player on the coverage units.
Last offseason, they traded Andy Lee, one of the more effective punters in the NFL, and drafted Bradley Pinion. It was a clear downgrade at the start of the season, but Pinion showed improvement near the end of the year. Special teams has never been a problem area for the 49ers, though, so this one is a push.
It can't get worse than 2015
After gutting the team and foolishly hiring Tomsula (reportedly over top candidate Adam Gase), the team actually took strides to improve the coaching staff this year.
Tomsula was owner Jed York's guy, a yes man who was more than happy to take over a team he was never ready to handle and run it into the ground. But this offseason, despite plenty of rumors that the team would give Tomsula another year, York made the decision to release the coach. Not only that, but he also got rid of Mangini and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, who were questionable hires to begin with.
It didn't take York long to bring in Chip Kelly and allow him to hire his own coordinators. Although the Eagles fired Kelly and didn't let the door hit him on the way out, it was an upgrade for the 49ers.
Tomsula, a quality defensive line coach, was woefully under qualified to be a head coach in the NFL. Kelly is a head football coach with experience and ability beyond teaching a single position. He made his share of mistakes with the Eagles when he was put in charge of personnel, and only time will tell if he learned from them, or if he can turn Kaepernick around, or if he can find success with the 49ers.
But we do know the 49ers needed to shake up their coaching staff and bring in someone who has a high football IQ.
They have done almost nothing else this offseason, and still come out looking much better than they did a year ago.