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Ranking the 49ers offseason storylines over the 10 years, Part 1

10 years of drama, what comes in at number 1?

Offseasons are exhausting for any football fan but for fans of the San Francisco 49ers, there seems to be an extra bit of stress involved to get through those slow months. When it comes to an offseason, this team is no stranger to drama or headlines, even if it’s obvious they are not in contention for a championship. Each year there’s some new dominating argument and each year everyone jumps in with their own opinion.

But which one was the best? Over the last 10 years what has been the king of offseason drama? That’s what I’m here for. I’m going to rank the last 10 offseasons, including our current offseason to see which one comes out.

Keep in mind: this is strictly offseason, when preseason rolls around, I consider that, well, preseason. So for those of you expecting a Colin Kaepernick thread for all time’s sake, well, you’re going to be disappointed. Kaepernick’s kneeling happened in a preseason game, not the offseason. Maybe a storyline concluded in the preseason, but if something just gets started in a preseason game, it doesn’t really fit. Keep that in mind. We’ll do this with the least interesting storyline first.

And yes, if I forget something, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, but I know you’ll let me hear about it in the comments below.

We’re going to run 10 through 6 today and then get back to you tomorrow with 5-1. And our first pick may surprise you (ugh, I never thought I’d be saying that).

10. 2016

Known For: Hiring of Chip Kelly

2016 is probably the most tame offseason the 49ers had in the new millenium. Fresh off of giving Jim Tomsula the boot after just one season, the 49ers passed on the likes of Hue Jackson and instead went with Chip Kelly. At the very last minute. The choice boiled down to Mike Shanahan (current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s father) or Kelly.

The hiring of Kelly was somewhat divided with half knowing in another year the 49ers were going to be in this exact same position again and the other half so happy Tomsula was gone, Kelly was an upgrade. Both could be true. Kelly turned in a 2-14 record and was subsequently fired when 49ers CEO Jed York pushed the nuclear button and firing Baalke as well.

The hiring was also a big hope for Colin Kaepernick as many saw Kelly’s no huddle, college-style offense the perfect fit for Kaepernick’s skillset. While Kaepernick had a better year, the defense supporting him was one of historic worsts. And we’re not talking team history, league history. This would also mark Kaepernick’s last full offseason with the team.

This also was the year Eddie DeBartolo was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So there’s one huge positive.

9: 2020

Known For: DeForest Buckner trade, COVID

The Super Bowl fallout led to somewhat of a tame offseason. For most teams, having to deal with Covid protocols and delays on testing positive, this could have been the biggest thing over the last 10 years. Not the 49ers. No, all the regulations and issues was something better than they were used to dealing with.

COVID aside, the other thing notable is the departure of DeForest Buckner. After he and the 49ers couldn’t come close to an extension, the 49ers decided to get cute with the salary cap and shipped him off for a first round pick later to be known as Javon Kinlaw. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best of moves.

The better move was the drafting of one Brandon Aiyuk. Aiyuk would offer a more traditional wide receiver role while Deebo Samuel’s wrecking ball ways would take center stage.

Another move? Getting tight end George Kittle inked to a contract extension. This removed any sort of worry they may try to get cute with the salary cap a second time.

8. 2018

Known For: Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract extension, the signing of Richard Sherman, Reuben Foster legal issues

One would think signing a hated division rival like Richard Sherman would make this jump a bit in the rankings, but for the 49ers, it’s third to last. Sherman was released by the Seahawks and after a dinner with Kyle Shanahan, was brought to the 49ers in both a player and mentor role. Both paid huge dividends as it added some accountability to the secondary.

Then there’s the Reuben Foster drama. To sum it up, the 49ers made a trade back into the 1st round of the 2017 NFL draft for Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. This proved to be a mistake as Foster was in and out of the lineup due to injury. It didn’t further help matters that Foster started 2018 with a January arrest for marijuana possession. There was already speculation on what would happen with that issue as far as league repercussions, but then he got arrested again in February. This time for alleged domestic violence and possession of an assault weapon. Two arrests within as many months is bad on its own, when one of the arrests concerns domestic violence, the question now shifts to if he’ll play a game ever again. The accuser recanted her testimony and offered up physical evidence to show she received her injuries prior to her incident with Foster. The domestic violence charges were dropped and the gun charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Foster would again be arrested during the season for alleged domestic violence with the victim being the same as the person who accused him in February. The 49ers waived him roughly 12 hours later.

Meanwhile, after taking the 49ers on a fun winning streak to close 2017, Jimmy Garoppolo was up for a contract extension. This was notable for several reasons, the biggest being it derailed Kyle Shanahan’s plans to lure Kirk Cousins over to the 49ers. This was the closest Cousins ever came to be a 49er and even then it was a longshot after the season Garoppolo had. Garoppolo ended up making history being the highest paid quarterback ever for a hot month before other extensions to NFL signal callers came out.

Garoppolo dodged the disappointing acquisition tag so many flavors of the week get and played quite well.

That is, when he played, of course.

Unfortunately, his durability came into question almost every year which led to the 49ers looking elsewhere for a replacement.

Worth noting is the 49ers pursuit of then-Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Khalil Mack. Mack would end up going to the Chicago Bears despite the 49ers trying to snag him. The 49ers offered picks in order to get him on the line, but there’s speculation the Raiders turned it down assuming the 49ers picks were going to be later and hence less valuable in the following draft.

The 49ers wound up picking second. Good call, Raiders.

7: 2017

Known For: The Great Roster Purge, hiring of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, departure of Colin Kaepernick

2017 was a year where a lot of hope came into the building. Gone were general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly and in was Kyle Shanahan and a yet unnamed general manager. It was clear Shanahan would pick the GM when it was all said and done, but candidates either dropped out or seemed underwhelmed.

This was back when Niners Nation (via Jennifer Lee Chan) revealed there was an unnamed general manager candidate, dubbed Mystery Candidate. Mystery Candidate turned out to be former NFL player and then-broadcaster John Lynch.

And that is just the coaching search. Things got swinging after the introductory press conference. Cue what I call The Great Roster Purge. Shanahan and Lynch released/traded a majority of players that simply weren’t working out despite being on the roster, removing the stench left by the previous regime in the process. While players such as Jimmie Ward and Joe Staley would stay, others such as Quinton Patton and Torrey Smith were sent packing.

So many departures but none as large as Colin Kaepernick, who opted out in the offseason. Not like he really had a choice. The 49ers were clear they wanted to run a system similar to what Kyle Shanahan was running in Atlanta and lacked confidence in Kaepernick running it. It was either quit or be fired, basically. Curious to wonder if Kaepernick could run the Trey Lance offense Shanahan has tried to implement.

While a lot happened in this offseason, far too deep to list here, the true shock and awe of it failed in comparison to some of the things later. This was quantity, not exactly quality.

6: 2022

Known for: “Where will Jimmy G be traded?”, Trey Lance’s starting role, Deebo Samuel vs 49ers Front office

This almost got put at number 7, but there was so much we were arguing about that I pushed up a spot. For starters, Jimmy Garoppolo said, “see ya” to conclude 2021’s season. That led to trade rumors of where he may go and fans speculating what the 49ers might actually get for him. Rumors came, but the moment he had surgery on his shoulder, that ended any chance of a decent return. We all felt there was absolutely no chance that Garoppolo would be on the 49ers, not even when he was rehabbing on the practice field nearby, still rostered. Garoppolo would end up staying on the 49ers as a backup and then take the starting role after Trey Lance suffered a Week 2 ankle injury.

To sum how this all ended: if you thought Jimmy Garoppolo would be back on the 49ers, let alone starting for them in 2022, you are a liar.

Then there’s Deebo Samuel. An extension with more news and drama than ever was necessary. It never approached Antonio Brown levels of ridiculousness (oh, we’ll get to that), but we had social media analysis of him removing the 49ers from Instagram, tweet rundowns, you name it. Then comes videos of him simply in a club—but that dance IN the club had to mean he was going somewhere else, right? Luckily things got worked out.

Amidst all of this was Trey Lance and the 49ers plans to start him. It was Trey Lance’s team, per Kyle Shanahan. With everyone pretty much guaranteeing Garoppolo was gone, the speculation turned to just what Trey Lance learned his first season as Jimmy G’s backup. Was he ready? Could he improve accuracy? Would he live up to the No.3 Pick (Spoiler: None of that got answered).

Before Jimmy Garoppolo was brought back into this circus, the 49ers quarterback room started with Lance, Nate Sudfeld, and this rookie who was the last pick in the 2022 draft; some kid named Brock Purdy. It seemed like with those three in the quarterback room, things would calm down from the “Start Trey over Jimmy” crowd in 2021’s season. When it comes to the 49ers, fate isn’t without a sense of humor.

We’ll be back tomorrow to get you 5-1. What will be Number 1?