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Ranking the 49ers offseason storylines over the last 10 years, Part 2

We tried to get this organized, but at this point it’s subjective

Given all the drama of the 2023 offseason, I felt it might be good to rank the storylines over the last 10 years. The first 5 were easy, but the second five, which you’ll see below were a brain buster to rank.

As I said Saturday, the San Francisco 49ers are no strangers 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.

5: 2019

Known for: Antonio Brown/Odell Beckham Jr. Watch, who will the 49ers pick at No. 2? The 49ers front office friction

Now the fun gets going. 2019 was a gold mine as far as 49ers content creators were concerned.

The most fun was when not just Antonio Brown, but Odell Beckham Jr. were connected to the 49ers as a rumored trade. The 49ers held the No. 2 pick in the draft, a pick that potentially could have gotten them Nick Bosa. This offered all sorts of possibilities.

First was Antonio Brown. It was pretty clear he wanted traded from the Pittsburgh Steelers and did everything he could to lobby for something to happen. The problem was he had a very sizable contract that affected his trade value. That didn’t stop him from holding AMAs and also demanding we call him Mr. Big Chest. With the 49ers’ issues at wide receiver, it seemed like a no brainer they’d go after him, but it was all speculation. There never was any hard news they were going to trade for Brown. In the end, the Steelers won the Antonio Brown trade, because they were able to get rid of Antonio Brown and send him to the then-Oakland Raiders.

So then there’s OBJ. This had a bit more substance to it. The New York Giants wanted the 49ers No. 2 pick straight up, something the 49ers wisely held onto. It would have made more sense for a pick swap in the 1st round and then the 49ers give up a second and maybe a third. Beckham was good, but with the contract he had, a rookie draft pick like Nick Bosa for OBJ was a bit uneven.

Which brings us to that coveted No. 2 pick. At the start of draft season, it was a good bet the Arizona Cardinals, who held the first selection, would most likely select Bosa. As time went on, it became more and more obvious the 49ers would have a shot at Bosa. This wound up happening as the Cardinals would select Kyler Murray. The fact Bosa was in a draft and everyone was arguing over who the 49ers should select, him, Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen or Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams made for an argument matched only by what quarterback the 49ers should take a few years later.

While pitchforks were brandished for that argument, a fun little report came out that there was friction between 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. Normally, this would have been laughed off, but given all the leaks fans had been subjected to the numerous years prior, it seemed like yet another trip down memory lane.

Four years later, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are still in press conferences and I assume speaking to each other

4: 2014

Known For: Jim Harbaugh trade rumors to the Cleveland Browns, Aldon Smith legal issues

2014 began normal. Quiet even. The 49ers had lost the NFC Championship to the Seattle Seahawks and were gearing up for the next season. Then a report hit from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that Jim Harbaugh was going to be traded to the Cleveland Browns. Whether this happened or not, it kicked off an offseason where something was clearly, clearly off.

Now, offseason rumors like this can happen a lot. Rarely do we see it with a coach that just got done losing the NFC Championship. His third trip in as many years ( one of which was a win and a Super Bowl appearance). So the whole thing was bizarre to consider knowing what Jim Harbaugh had accomplished

While everyone, including 49ers CEO Jed York wanted to deny the Cleveland report, it was clear something was up. Despite everyone holding interviews, including Jim Harbaugh who rarely granted anything, to tell everyone things were fine, it was obvious a [site decorum] storm was en route. Nothing could have been more obvious than at the start of preseason when the 49ers had a ribbon cutting for Levi’s Stadium, a ribbon cutting Harbaugh joined for a brief moment in his traditional black sweatshirt and khakis (while everyone had on the suits). The team displayed in preseason only indicated chaos and disarray may be on the way from the San Francisco 49ers, but no one could predict just how dysfunctional the team would get one year later.

While this was filling news sources, Aldon Smith found himself arrested again. This time, for a bomb threat in a California airport. Considering he was awaiting sentencing for separate arrests in 2012 and 2013, this wasn’t going to help his cause. The league would end up suspending Smith for 9 games in the 2014 season.

To round things out in the obnoxiously bizarre, Colin Kaepernick also found himself being investigated by authorities on a “suspicious incident” which was incorrectly reported by TMZ as “Sexual Assault.”

If you think all these legal distractions and leaks on the head coach were bad, you clearly aren't ready for what happened a year later.

3: 2023

Known For: The Great QB Controversy Part II

This is going to get a lot of flack. Outside of this being the second most important quarterback battle in 49ers history (the first one involving two who would enter the hall of fame), the sheer amount of discussion has made it one of the most exhausting offseasons.

I’m not going to sit here and talk your ears off on this Brock Purdy v Trey Lance v Sam Darnold debate, because I’m sure I’ll have a post arguing this very fact in a few hours or days. What I will argue is just how exhausting the entire ordeal has been. The 49ers quarterback position has generated questions from everyone, to the point where George Kittle wants the media to ask about someone—or something—else.

Every week at OTAs, interviews, etc. there’s overanalyzing and deep dives into how many snaps one got vs another's wind up, what one is saying on Instagram and if the other can get through injuries to be ready by training camp, or what tick tock videos provide us with the best analysis. Exhausting doesn’t begin to describe this offseason, especially when everyone has had a take.

And that’s not even the whole storyline. There’s one Nick Bosa who is eligible for an extension and 49ers fans everywhere worried the 49ers can’t get the job done on extending him for a multi-year deal. DeForest Buckner getting traded has scarred fans for life.

Then there’s just the expectations. The 49ers again have some high expectations and questions of if they are “elite” and if they can get it done with Brock Purdy or Trey Lance on the roster.

This most likely would have been put further back, but the fact that the quarterback battle involves a No. 3 pick in one draft, the last pick in another, and a team’s disappointing pick in another draft, just has all the predictions running wild.

Oh yeah, George Kittle won the Beer Olympics in 2023. That also pushes this up.

2: 2021

Known for: The Trade

Remember how exhausting the 2023 offseason has been? I can argue 2021 was exponentially worse.

It all started like a normal offseason until the words “Filed to ESPN” hit many fans’ Twitter pages. The 49ers had traded into the No. 3 pick and it was obvious they were looking for a quarterback. Or if you wanted to think it, Kyle Pitts.

And from there, things went bananas. The 49ers had the pick of the litter after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Anyone thinking they’d have a shot at BYU’s Zach Wilson had to also know that was nonsense given the New York Jets were in front of them.

So it came down to three quarterbacks: Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. And the consensus seemed to favor Jones through the draft. From there the debates began and reports that were made the 49ers intended on taking Mac Jones rage to this day, long after 2021.

Leading up to the draft, some speculation from a Kyle Shanahan press conference continued to fuel the Jones rumors, but the real winner was what he said about what would happen after Sunday. In a question about Jimmy Garoppolo’s status on the roster, Shanahan answered with “I can’t guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday, so I can’t guarantee who will be on our roster on Sunday. So, that goes for all of us.”

Don’t worry, the 49ers let him know they were still alive.

Even with these three, there were still some reports the 49ers would just say “to hell with it” and trade what they had to go get quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay would have none of it and the 49ers wound up drafting Trey Lance.

And then the reports kept coming that they wanted Mac Jones. Even after the draft ended the whole thing seemed to revolve around someone wanting Mac Jones and then someone else talking them out of it or overruling them. Once Trey Lance took the field, the debates on how close Mac Jones was to being a 49er took over.

Of course, once Lance was solidified as the pick, the other question was if he’d be the starter in Week 1. The original intention was to have Lance sit and learn, but when film emerged of him doing some pretty insane throws, it now seemed like a possibility he could take the starting job. That of course, never happened and Jimmy Garoppolo played “most” of the season.

One trade, three quarterbacks, and an exhausting debate that has not yet concluded to this day. 2021 was one of the best and worst things to happen to 49ers fans.

But as far as an offseason storyline, there is just one more ahead of it.

1: 2015

Known For: The Offseason From Hell

There was far less debate in 2015—everyone knew the 49ers were in trouble the moment Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers “mutually parted ways”. No one could have predicted just how far the 49ers would fall as the 2015 offseason wore on.

First was the aforementioned departure of Harbaugh. The 49ers said this wasn’t a “rebuild but a reload”. While there was success under Harbaugh, the cracks under his offense, namely the playcalling, were beginning to reveal itself. Get a new coach and things would be great right? Well they had interviews with just about everyone. Vic Fangio, the current defensive coordinator had talks and Mike Shanahan was consulted, but the 49ers started zeroing in on Adam Gase, then offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. At the absolute last minute, the Gase hire never happend and the 49ers went with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. A coach who had no coordinator or head coach experience in the NFL proper (unless you count his stints in NFL Europe).

The selection itself had everyone scratching their heads, but the press conference was something to indicate things were going to be getting very, very bad very, very quick. After his introductory press conference, a period of what many may call the worst two months for 49ers fans, and the most bizarre two months of any offseason, began.

First, middle linebacker Patrick Willis, a seven-time Pro Bowler and first round pick, retired in March. Terrible news, but the 49ers had Chris Borland coming off an impressive rookie campaign and NaVorro Bowman returning from injury. No one knew how Borland would hold up to an NFL season, but optimism wasn’t misplaced. The news hurt, but things weren’t catastrophic

Then Borland retired. Now the 49ers had a problem. That left a huge gap at middle linebacker. Concerned over head trauma, Borland gave a surprising retirement and the 49ers were left scrambling.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Offensive lineman Anthony Davis retired as well leaving an opening on the offensive line. Justin Smith, a wrecking ball on the defensive line also called it a career.

Free agency is where the stake finally got driven. Frank Gore, the heart and soul of the 49ers for years, departed for the Indianapolis Colts after the 49ers indicated he would take the backseat to Carlos Hyde. Guard Mike Iupati left for the Arizona Cardinals and wide receiver Michael Crabtree went to the Oakland Raiders

And to add the cherry on top, Aldon Smith got himself arrested for his third DUI in August. The 49ers about had enough of his antics and released him the same day. Smith would go to the Raiders just over a month later.

But have no fear, the 49ers had free agent acquisitions of their own! Like...running back Reggie Bush (who left Week 1 with an injury) and offensive tackle Eric Pears. The big wide receiver acquisition was Torrey Smith and that didn’t exactly work out the way anyone wanted to.

With all the retirements, loss of coaches, and the patchwork coaching staff assembled, it was no wonder the 49ers turned in a 5-11 record and Tomsula was fired at the conclusion of the season. A bad season and a one and done coach are not unheard of in the NFL, but if anyone was set up to fail, it was Tomsula. The 49ers had one of the, if not the best roster in the NFL just one year ago and the team was gutted and picked apart—almost unnecessarily— at the conclusion of that season. Every week it was a new talking point on why someone retired or if Chris Borland had a point with the CTE evidence on the NFL.

Regardless, there’s no denying it. 2015 was a nightmare, but it also takes the No. 1 spot in rankings for offseasons over the last 10 years. There was nothing like that offseason both for the NFL and 49ers fans.

Don’t agree? Think I left something out (I probably did), let me know below.