49ers look to rebuild from historically bad season
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The wish list for the San Francisco 49ers will be long this offseason, even after they find a fourth head coach in four years and a new general manager.
What just a few years ago was one of the NFL's most talented roster when San Francisco went to three straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl from 2011-13 was exposed as one of the league's weakest in 2016.
The offense got inconsistent quarterback play from Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, who showed signs of regaining his dynamic form of 2012-13, but struggled to sustain it for an entire game. The quarterbacks got little help on offense from a receiving group that lacked a big-play target.
The defense might have been the worst in franchise history, setting marks for most points, yards and yards rushing allowed in a single season.
It all added up to the Niners (2-14) matching the worst record in franchise history and firing coach Chip Kelly after just one season, along with longtime general manager Trent Baalke.
''We were 2-14,'' CEO Jed York said after announcing the firings. ''I think that speaks for itself. We didn't do a lot of things right this year, but if we're going to reset and re-establish, that's where it starts is with the head coach and the general manager.''
Some things the team will deal with in the offseason:
GET ALONG: York used the word culture 16 times at his 26-minute news conference as he made clear that finding a coach and general manager who can work well together will be paramount. Tensions between Baalke and Jim Harbaugh led to the departure of the team's only successful coach in the past 15 years following the 2014 season. York hinted there were major issues between Kelly and Baalke as well.
''It can't be, you know, `I have the 53-man roster and you need to go back to your office.' We can't have that,'' York said. ''It's got to be these two guys on the same page, and when we disagree on a player we need to know what to do when we disagree on a player, and know how to move forward and move beyond it. That's very important to me. So, whether the head coach is in control or the general manager is in control, they need to be accountable to each other.''
KAP'S FUTURE: One of the first big roster decisions will be at quarterback, where Kaepernick has the option to opt out of his restructured contract and become a free agent. Kaepernick did not rule out a return to San Francisco, but it will likely depend on whether his running style fits what the new coach wants to do. Kaepernick showed improvement from his struggles the past two seasons, but still was often inaccurate and quick to run instead of going through his progressions.
BOWMAN'S HEALTH: The defense took a major hit when inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in Week 4. His absence allowed opposing teams to almost run at will against the Niners. While it's unlikely Bowman will ever regain the form that made him one of the league's top defenders before two major injuries, his leadership will be key for the defense.
''It's been tough for me to watch,'' he said. ''Part of that is I put that on me, because guys look at me as a person to handle certain things and get us on the right pace out there. Hopefully we're going to get out of this slump and get back to 49ers football.''
PLAYMAKERS: The quarterbacks had little help from the wideouts as Baalke's unwillingness to use high draft picks on skill position players hurt the team. Jeremy Kerley was the leading receiver but is more of a possession guy than a big-play threat. Torrey Smith was expected to fill that role; he hasn't lived up to that and could be cut this offseason. Signing or drafting a No. 1 receiver will be key to building the offense.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Niners have found a few good young pieces to build around on defense, led by last year's top pick DeForest Buckner, who had six sacks. Rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson, defensive lineman Arik Armstead and defensive back Jimmie Ward also showed promise.
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