The San Francisco 49ers continue to see dramatic changes in a franchise only a year removed from three straight NFC title game appearances.
From coach Jim Harbaugh leaving (mutually or otherwise) to running back Frank Gore signing with the Eagles on Tuesday to the unexpected departure of receiver Michael Crabtree to the possible loss of guard Mike Iupati, the exodus of talented players continue.
The next two dominoes to fall will be linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Justin Smith.
Willis is the surprise that was referred to earlier today, and it’s a major one. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports Willis is strongly considering retirement. As PFT hears it, it’s a done deal, with the formal announcement coming Tuesday.
Per multiple league sources, Smith also is done — although that’s not a surprise. The 14-year veteran joined the 49ers as a free agent in 2008, and he had been in many respects the cornerstone of the defense.
Willis, a first-round pick in 2007 who turned 30 in January, is under contract through 2016. Smith is under contract through 2015. Their retirements could result in the partial repayment of bonus money they both previously received; whether that issue will be pursued will be up the to 49ers.