Six NFL teams kicked off mandatory minicamp this week, with 25 more set to follow suit next week. (The St. Louis Rams are the only squad that doesn't hold mandatory minicamp.) As players and coaches report for duty across the league, and we get a glance at what teams will look like this fall, one question comes to mind: Which franchise underwent the most extreme makeover this offseason?
Still, I have to think Kelly knows what he's doing. It takes guts to trade a starting quarterback, but Kelly did come away with the better player in
Sam Bradford -- and the position should be upgraded, provided Bradford stays healthy. Adding
DeMarco Murray made up for losing McCoy.
Kiko Alonso -- acquired from the
Bills in the McCoy swap -- seems to be getting overlooked, but he's a strong defender who will contribute in a big way. At the end of the day, I have a lot of faith in Kelly.
The San Francisco 49ers have lost their star coach, their Pro Bowl feature back, half their offensive line and roughly 27 players on defense. This was a reverse makeover, ripping off the fashionable clothing and rouge to reveal a weaker team, one that will vie for the basement of the NFC West.
The mass exodus of talent -- via retirements and free agency -- is unprecedented. Jim Harbaugh struggled last season, but you can't mask the loss of a supremely creative coach who propelled this team to three straight NFC title games. I'm not ready to ask Jim Tomsula to walk the plank, but the drop-off is tangible from a coaching perspective.
While the rest of the division has grown stronger, the
49ers have seen their rugged, beat-you-up mentality washed down the river. I need to see them play before writing them off, but the pressure is already ratcheted way up in San Francisco. This could get ugly.
The Bears also will likely employ a different brand of offense this year, as the drafting of yet another running back ( Jeremy Langford) -- one year after taking Ka'Deem Carey -- points to a re-emphasis on the run game. Matt Forte will still get his 20 touches, but Chicago will be able to spell him and still take pressure off Jay Cutler. On that front, no Brandon Marshall means Alshon Jeffery will be the man, with newcomers Kevin White and Eddie Royal feeling out their roles. There has even been talk of moving Kyle Long to tackle.
And if all that isn't enough, how about the culture change under John Fox? This is a different team indeed.
Still, my choice is the
San Francisco 49ers. First and foremost, they parted ways with Jim Harbaugh. No matter what your feelings are about the head coach, he turned the franchise around, posting a 44-19-1 record over four years and making three straight NFC title games. And that's just the beginning of the Niners' crushing attrition. They've been hit with a number of key personnel losses, with the retirements of Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Anthony Davis and Chris Borland, as well as the free agency defections of
Chris Culliver and
Michael Crabtree. That'd be a tough talent drain to overcome even if the
didn't have a brand new coaching staff. The positive is that general manager Trent Baalke has done a good job of drafting, but it might take some time for the new starters to mesh with the new systems.
Throw in Rex Ryan's swagger, and the
Bills are suddenly one of the most compelling stories heading into the regular season -- and, quite possibly, a playoff team.
Kelly is taking a handful of gambles offensively (most notably, at wide receiver and with QB
Sam Bradford), and if they all pay off, Philly will win the NFC East. If they don't, the
Eagles will struggle to be a .500 team.
How the 49ers will replace the talent while installing new systems is one of the big mysteries shrouding this offseason.