The fall from the 49ers’ Super Bowl season of 2012 was, at first, a slow descent followed by the dramatic tumbles of the past two seasons.
There may be a lot of reasons for the 49ers’ decline from a Super Bowl contender in three consecutive seasons to a .500 team in 2014 to one of the worst teams in the league in 2015.
But one unavoidable fact is that the vast majority of the team’s Super Bowl starters were either peaking in their careers at the same time or still playing at a high level before injuries, age or motivation soon would be responsible for steep declines.
There were few up-and-coming players on those teams. About the only player who had not reached his peak of production was Delanie Walker, who started Super Bowl XLVII along with Vernon Davis in the 49ers’ two tight-end offense.
The 49ers had a veteran roster with few young players developing for ultimate starting positions. Cornerback Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox were exceptions, but they both signed elsewhere as free agents after the 2014 season.
Here’s a look at the units (with current age in parenthesis) that started against the Baltimore Ravens that day in February 2013 in New Orleans and what became of them:
WR Michael Crabtree (28): Sustained torn Achilles in offseason workout in 2013, and had a difficult time bouncing back. Signed with Raiders as a free agent last year and played well, earning a contract extension.
LT Joe Staley (31): He turns 32 in August and opens this season with a streak of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections.
LG Mike Iupati (28): He has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, and the 49ers declined to pay him the five-year, $40 million deal he got from Arizona as a free agent last year.
C Jonathan Goodwin (37): Returned to 49ers for 12th NFL season in 2013 and played final NFL season with Saints in 2014.
RG Alex Boone (29): Proved to be a solid performer for three more seasons, but the 49ers soured on him as a result of his offseason contract pushes the past two years. He signed with Minnesota this offseason.
RT Anthony Davis (26): Had a solid 2013 season, but battled injuries in 2014 and retired. He has talked about attempting a comeback, but has yet to file for reinstatement.
TE Vernon Davis (32): Production dropped off dramatically after 2013 season and was traded in November.
WR Randy Moss (39): His final NFL game was the Super Bowl, as he did not get signed for the 2013 season.
TE Delanie Walker (31): Signed with the Titans in 2013, and has played the best football of his career the past three seasons.
RB Frank Gore (32): After two more 1,000-yard seasons, he signed with Indianapolis, where he rushed for 967 yards and was held under 4.0 yards for the first time in his career last year.
QB Colin Kaepernick (28): His statistics dropped incrementally each season. After his agents could not facilitate an offseason trade to Denver, he returns to compete with Blaine Gabbert for the 49ers' starting job.
LDT Ray McDonald (31): He was investigated in a series of disturbing off-field incidents and the 49ers finally released him in December 2014.
NT Isaac Sopoaga (34): Signed with Eagles as free agent in 2013, also played that season with Patriots to end his career.
RDT Justin Smith (36): Battled injuries and rarely practiced in his final seasons before retiring a year ago.
OLB Ahmad Brooks (32): He was second-team All-Pro in 2012 and ’13. Now 32, his production has fallen off the past two seasons.
ILB NaVorro Bowman (27): Had strong 2013 season but sustained devastating knee injury in playoff game in January 2014. Played last season, and hopes to get back closer to pre-injury form this season.
ILB Patrick Willis (31): The perennial Pro Bowl performer battled foot ailments in recent seasons and retired a year ago.
OLB Aldon Smith (26): He was voted winner of the Bill Walsh Award for team MVP in 2012. Since then, his off-field issues have mostly derailed his career. The 49ers cut him in August after his fifth run-in with the law since the end of his rookie season. He's serving a one-year suspension while under contract to the Raiders.
LCB Carlos Rogers (34): Played one more season with 49ers; has been out of the league since playing seven games for Raiders in 2014.
RCB Tarell Brown (31): Played one more season with 49ers before signing with Raiders in 2014. He saw action in three games with New England last year.
FS Dashon Goldson (31): Signed lucrative contract with Tampa Bay in 2013. He was cut after two years in Tampa Bay, and cut after one season in Washington.
SS Donte Whitner (30): Played one more season with 49ers before signing contract with Cleveland, where he spent two years before getting cut this offseason.