ATLANTA – The last time the 49ers played a road game against the Falcons was January 2013 in the NFC Championship game.
When the 49ers take the field on Sunday, there will be just two starters in uniform from that game: quarterback Colin Kaepernick and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks. (Left tackle Joe Staley will not play Sunday at the Georgia Dome due to a hamstring injury.)
Moreover, only three of the 49ers’ backups from the Super Bowl season are still around: tight end Garrett Celek, cornerback Tramaine Brock and linebacker Michael Wilhoite.
The 49ers enter Sunday’s game on a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak. Plenty more changes are expected to come shortly.
Here are some questions for a 49ers Mailbag that come via Facebook:
What's your best guess in what's gonna happen after the season? (Eddie Gonzalez)
The past two years there were immediate announcements made after the final game that head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula were not returning. So I think CEO Jed York knows what he believes must be done.
Nobody has told me that general manager Trent Baallke is definitely out, but I have not spoken to anyone who believes he will be retained, either. Last week, I spoke to several people with inside information who believe Baalke will end up working under John Elway with the Denver Broncos.
If, as expected, the change is made, then York could promote assistant general manager Tom Gamble or go outside and possibly hire an up-and-comer such as Seattle’s Trent Kirchner, Kansas City’s Chris Ballard or Green Bay’s Eliot Wolf.
Once the decision at GM is made, then the focus shifts to coach Chip Kelly.
The 49ers certainly do not want to fire Kelly after one season and have a fourth head coach in four seasons. If Gamble gets the job, it's all but a certainly Kelly will be retained.
But, regardless, Kelly will have to make some changes, too. He must have a plan at quarterback – and it’s not likely to include Colin Kaepernick. He must to have a plan for his offense to take pressure off the defense. And he must to have a plan for the defense, and whether that includes coordinator Jim O’Neil.
What direction do you see the 49ers going with their first pick this upcoming draft? QB, DL or LB? (Giancarlo Poessy)
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The new league year is set to open on March 9. That’s when free agents can sign. That’s also when trades can be made.
The draft begins nearly two months later, April 27. So it’s possible that some of the positions that appear to be needs now will not be needs once the draft begins.
But, as always, the best draft philosophy is to use early picks on the best players at impact positions.
Is there any possibility of 49ers calling New England to inquire about Garoppolo for trade? (Montana Laolagi Tamaalemaol)
Yes, there’s a possibility. It’s more than a possibility, actually. If the 49ers’ decision-makers like Jimmy Garoppolo, they must find out what it would take to make that deal. The 49ers have to investigate every avenue to find a veteran quarterback.
Garoppolo is wrapping up his third year of a four-year contract. After one more season, the Patriots would only get a third-round compensatory pick for him if he leaves as a free agent. So would they accept two second-round picks? It seems like a reasonable conversation to initiate with the folks in New England.
What appears obvious at this point is it is best for Kaepernick and the 49ers to end their union. Kaepernick needs a fresh start. The 49ers need to go in a different direction.
Depending on which quarterback the 49ers acquire during free agency or via a trade, it will determine the organization’s level of need at that position in the draft.