On the field, Borland is the 49ers’ biggest loss
The response to the surprise retirement of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland at the age of 23 has focused mostly on what it means to the NFL off the field. To the 49ers on the field, it’s a huge loss.
The 49ers have lost some of their best players this offseason: Frank Gore and Patrick Willis are two of the all-time great players in franchise history, and Gore left in free agency while Willis retired. Also departing are guard Mike Iupati, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox and linebacker Dan Skuta.
But none of those losses will hurt like Borland. Willis is 30 years old and had an $8 million cap hit this year. Gore is 31 years old and the 49ers would have had to pay him more than $4.5 million to out-bid the Colts for his services. Iupati, Culliver, Cox and Skuta all left for contracts that the 49ers decided they didn’t want to beat.
Borland is a young player with a very inexpensive contract: The 49ers could have kept him on his rookie deal for the next three years and paid him just $800,000 a year. Borland’s retirement will free up only $700,000 of cap space for the 49ers this season. Willis’s retirement will free up $8 million of cap space. It will be a lot easier for the 49ers to find someone who can contribute like Willis for $8 million than it will be to find someone who can contribute like Borland for $700,000.
The 49ers will be a very different team this year than they were last year, from the departure of Jim Harbaugh and most of his coaching staff to the departures of longtime team leaders like Gore and Willis. But as the 49ers try to shake off the rough year they’ve been through and build themselves back into contenders, no loss will hurt more than the loss of Borland.