Four years ago, the 49ers were coming out of a disappointing 2010 season that saw the firing of Head Coach Mike Singletary and a regression on the defensive side that had fans wondering if they were sliding back into disarray.
In the first week of January 2011, San Francisco installed Trent Baalke as their GM (on a permanent basis as he had been the interim GM) and hired Jim Harbaugh to be their new head coach. Three plus months later, the Niners' draft haul brought in pass rush beast Aldon Smith and a QB prospect in relatively unheralded Nevada project Colin Kaepernick.
Now? It's all coming apart.
Standout guard Mike Iupati is expected to head into free agency.
WR Michael Crabtree is reportedly doing the same.
Long time RB Frank Gore is reportedly headed to Philadelphia.
And today came the bombshell announcement that both LB Patrick Willis and DT Justin Smith are both retiring.
Throw in the Colin Kaepernick trade rumors, and this is a roster in absolute turmoil.
Does it mean the Niners can't come back and have a successful 2015? No. But it certainly does mean they won't be able to rely on the leadership of Gore and Willis to see them through the rocky waters of an NFL season. And with new head coach Jim Tomsula trying to right the ship, suffice to say all this news throws the heading off course.
It also throws a wrench into the division, and conference as a whole, power rankings. Since things came together for the Niners in 2011, they helped resurrect an NFC West that had become the punchline of the NFL. Along with Seattle, they turned it into a powerhouse conference led by perennial Super Bowl contenders to say nothing of the strength of depth offered by Arizona and St. Louis. With their disappointing 2014, San Fran slipped behind a Bruce Arians-fueled renaissance in Arizona.
Now, they're looking at a minor rebuilding job on the fly. Things could be worse, but I doubt Rams fans would have asked for more six months ago.