Less than an hour after being dealt the news that legendary linebacker Patrick Willis intends to retire after having a spiritual awakening, the 49ers will have have to contend with yet another loss. A source has confirmed what has been speculated over since Week 17 and reported this morning by CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco: Justin Smith is retiring as well.
Although much less surprising than Willis’s departure, this news doesn’t hurt any less for the 49ers. Three of former general manager Scot McCloughan’s most prized pick ups are now out the door in a span of 24 hours. Frank Gore, a third round pick in the 2005 draft, is reportedly on his way to Philadelphia. Willis, the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft, is walking away after eight stellar seasons. And now Smith, perhaps McCloughan’s biggest and most successful free agent signing, will be hanging them up as well.
With the losses, the 49ers will have to pick up the pieces and truly rebuild. Although both Gore and Smith were expected, both were stalwarts on a team that rose from mediocrity to Super Bowl contention for back-to-back-to-back seasons under Jim Harbaugh’s watch.
Trent Baalke has drafted, perhaps not with these departures in mind, but at least to be ready for the future. Carlos Hyde is now set to step into Gore’s place. Chris Borland will need to be ready to fill Gore’s shoes. And Tank Carradine, a red shirt pick up for the 49ers in the second round of the 2013 draft, will need to be prepared to take over for the Cowboy.
Uncertain times lie ahead for the 49ers.