The San Francisco 49ers are at a crossroads of sorts in 2016. After three years of significant success under Jim Harbaugh, the team has struggled the last two years, and is on their third head coach in three seasons. Jim Tomsula was a disaster, and the team has brought in a coach that is qualified to be a head coach. It doesn’t mean this will all work out, but Chip Kelly puts the team in a better position to succeed than Jim Tomsula.
The franchise is at a crossroads, and there are plenty of players within the organization that have something to prove. Former NFL agent Joel Corry put together a list of one player on each team that is at a crossroads in 2016. It is not at all surprising that Colin Kaepernick is the player he lists for the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick is the ultimate dead horse around here, so I don’t think I need to explain why I agree with Corry on this one. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to come up with a list of other players that might be at a crossroads in their career. Everybody on this roster has something to prove in 2016, but there are several that are at a big point in their careers. Here are a few that jump out at me right now.
Ian Williams: Can he stay healthy? He finally started all 16 games last season, but then needed multiple ankle surgeries in the offseason and is a question mark for Week 1. He had a five-year deal negotiated, but had to sign a one-year deal because of the injuries. He’s in quite the prove it year.
Blaine Gabbert: He’s in the final year of a contract extension signed with the 49ers. He is likely leading the QB competition for the time being. If he loses the job to Colin Kaepernick, he likely spends the rest of his career as a journeyman starter/backup. If he wins the job, he has a chance to really re-boot his career after awful years in Jacksonville.
Vance McDonald/Quinton Patton: They both showed improvement last year, but have plenty of work to do to earn contract extensions after this season. The 49ers have other talent at both tight end and wide receiver that could supplant them on the depth chart at some point. It’s a huge year for them.
NaVorro Bowman: This is a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. He’s got a full year of play under his belt after missing a season with torn ligaments in his knee. He led the NFL in tackles last season, and quickly got rid of a lot of the rust. His biggest negative was in coverage. Bowman is still in the prime of his career, but this year we’ll want to see a step forward in coverage. Does he return entirely to the Bowman of old, or is he a Bowman that is a step slower than in the past? The latter is still better than most inside/middle linebackers in the NFL, but given his history, it is still something to consider.