14 Aug One Year Chip
The One Year Chip
Following a fairly disastrous experiment with Jim Tomsula replacing Jim Harbaugh as head coach, a season which resulted in a 5-11 record and a large proportion of fans feeling disheartened, Jed York’s attempted to return to a winning formula; a successful college coach with a unique offensive scheme paired with Trent Baalke at GM.
And so began the era of Chip Kelly, fresh off being fired after a 6-9 year with the Eagles. An era which would last just one year, and be the final season Chip Kelly coached in the NFL.
It is important that we look at the talent on this 2016 team to get an understanding of how the season progressed and, indeed, regressed.
Let’s start with the free agency signings: WRs Eric Rogers and Ryan Whalen, QB Thad Lewis and G Zane Beadles. Re-signed were: TE Garrett Celek, K Phil Dawson, DT Ian Williams, OLB Ray-Ray Armstrong and RB Shaun Draughn. WR Anquan Boldin, G Alex Boone and RB Reggie Bush all departed the 49ers.
Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne, who had had a promising rookie season, retired, citing the complexity of the playbook and a wish to prepare for the Olympics in Brazil.
Ok, so much for a sparkling off season. Let’s look now at the draft. Our first first round pick landed us one of the most consistent top performers for the next 4 years, DeForest Buckner. A great start, no? There followed a lot of swing and miss picks, and that year we had 11 draft picks! Ronald Blair in the 5th round was by far the best value pick made after DeFo, although Rashard Robinson had huge potential.
And so to the final roster. QB Colin Kaepernick would be spotted for a time by Blaine Gabbert, with Christian Ponder also on the QB room. The RBs featured current star Raheem Mostert along with Draughn, Carlos Hyde, Mike Davis and DuJuan Harris. With the departure of star Anquan Boldin, the WR group remained distinctively indistinct, featuring Aaron Burbridge, Chris Harper, DeAndre Smelter, Rod Streater and Jeremy Kerley. The TE group was headed by Vance McDonald and Celek. The stars of the defence were Buckner, Armstead, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch, Antoine Bethea and Jaquiski Tartt. NaVorro Bowman only played in 4 games that year, and Eric Reid would finish a productive season in week 11 with a torn bicep. Torrey Smith made it through December, before a concussion ended his year.
Read the roster again.
Nevertheless, the season kicked off by exceeding all expectations in a blowout victory against the St Louis Rams. This was followed by a 13 game losing streak and a final record of 2-14. The other win, incidentally, a 1 point 4th quarter win over the Rams.
So even with the questionable coaching style of Chip Kelly, even with the lacklustre approach to free agency and the questionable draft picks, this was a team set up to be mediocre at absolute best.
The Chip Kelly experiment had been an unmitigated disaster. Offensive, defensive and Special Teams co-ordinators haven’t held that position since, and only a handful of those players are still playing. Only Arik Armstead, Raheem Mostert and Vance McDonald are starters. Jimmie Ward is also starter at FS, but in 2016 he was playing CB and putting up great numbers doing so!
This all helps underline what Shanahan and Lynch inherited, and why it was understood that they’d need some time to craft a Super Bowl contending team. Nobody expected that to happen in 3 years, but we can all agree that with each of those years, the drafting has improved, the free agency decisions have been more savvy, and there are more and more reasons to be proud 49ers fans again.