On February 3rd, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. The next day, I compared Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers to Vince Lombardi’s Packers, who also lost their first appearance in the NFL title game. San Francisco, which made it to the NFC Championship Game the year prior and would again the following season, seemed set up to emerge as one of the dominant teams of the ’10s.
But the amount of roster turnover experienced by the 49ers since February 3rd, 2013, is incredible. Just 2.5 years later, only seven of the 22 starters from that day are still on the San Francisco roster. And even that probably overstates things, as Colin Kaepernick’s career has taken a downward spiral, Vernon Davis may be on his last legs, NaVorro Bowman is a question mark after a brutal knee injury, and Aldon Smith makes more headlines these days off the football field than on it. Oh, and Ahmad Brooks may lose his starting job to Aaron Lynch.
|Super Bowl XLXVII||Projected 2015|
|Colin Kaepernick||Future questionable after two straight declining seasons|
|Frank Gore||Now in Indianapolis; replaced by Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush|
|Michael Crabtree||Now in Oakland; replaced by Anquan Boldin|
|Randy Moss||Retired; replaced by Torrey Smith|
|Vernon Davis||Still around, but end may be near after career-worst 2014|
|Delanie Walker||Now in Tennessee; replaced by Vance McDonald|
|Joe Staley||Still around!|
|Mike Iupati||Now in Arizona; replaced by Brandon Thomas|
|Jonathan Goodwin||Not currently on a roster; replaced by Marcus Martin|
|Alex Boone||Still around!|
|Anthony Davis||Retired; replaced by Erik Pears|
|Ray McDonald||Released; replaced by Arik Armstead|
|Isaac Sopoaga||Not currently on a roster; replaced by Glenn Dorsey|
|Justin Smith||Retired; replaced by Darnell Dockett|
|Ahmad Brooks||Still around!|
|NaVorro Bowman||Missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL/MCL|
|Patrick Willis||Retired; replaced by Chris Borland (retired); replaced by Michael Wilhoite|
|Aldon Smith||Still around; but missed 9 games due to league suspension in 2014|
|Carlos Rogers||Not currently on a roster; replaced by Chris Cook|
|Tarell Brown||Not currently on a roster; replaced by Tramaine Brock|
|Donte Whitner||In Cleveland; replaced by Antoine Bethea|
|Dashon Goldson||In Washington; replaced by Eric Reid|
Incredibly, the 49ers have lost Anthony Davis, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, and Justin Smith to retirement in the last few months. The defense has been essentially turned over completely: only Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Brooks remain, and it’s not clear that any of those three will be long-term starters for the team. The offense is basically Kaepernick and a pair of offensive linemen. It’s a truly remarkable amount of turnover.
But it’s not an unprecedented amount of turnover. Consider:
- The 2011 Giants won the Super Bowl. Yet only three of the starters in Super Bowl XLVI started at least 8 games for the 2014 Giants: Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Antrel Rolle. And only two other players — Victor Cruz and Henry Hynoski — were still on the roster.
- The 2002 Raiders made it to the Super Bowl. Only Jerry Porter, center Adam Treu, and left tackle Barry Sims were starters on the ’05 Raiders, and only Charles Woodson (limited to just six starts in ’05) and DeLawrence Grant were also still on the team among starters in Super Bowl XXXVII.
- The 2009 Colts made it to the Super Bowl. Among players who started in that game, only Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Wayne, and Antonio Johnson were still on Indianapolis’ roster in 2012 (all five were starters).
The 49ers are unique, though, because this was a young roster that was expected to stay together for a long time, as opposed to the three teams above. As a point of reference, the table below lists all teams to make the Super Bowl prior to 2012, and how many players who started in that Super Bowl were still on the roster and were starters three years later:
On average, about half of the starters are still around three years later for Super Bowl champions. San Francisco arguably isn’t that far off of that number, but given how promising the team’s outlook was 2.5 years ago, it’s incredible how quickly things have changed.
Oh, and if you sort the table above, you’ll see that the ’71 Dolphins still had an incredible 20 players still on the team in ’74, with 18 of them as starters. Only center Bob DeMarco and left defensive end Jim Riley were not on the team three years after Super Bowl VI, and they were replaced by Jim Langer (a HOFer) and Vern Den Herder (a 10-year starter), respectively. Tight end Marv Fleming and left tackle Doug Crusan were no longer starters but remained in the lineup. Given that backdrop, it’s no surprise that the Dolphins were by far the best team in the NFL from 1971 to 1975.