The San Francisco 49ers grabbed headlines Monday night when they shipped two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2017 sixth-round draft pick. The teams also swapped "late-round picks" in the 2016 draft, per NFL.com.
What serves as a low-risk, high-reward move for the Broncos may signal an impending rebuild for the 49ers. The deal, and lackluster return package, show San Francisco's willingness to trade anyone who isn't young and bolted to the floor.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, though. Signs of an impending rebuild cropped up when the team decided to promote Jim Tomsula to head coach in the offseason.
If the 49ers were serious about contending now, or anytime in the near future, then replacing Jim Harbaugh with Tomsula never would have been on their radar.
Aside from his one-game stint as San Francisco's head coach in 2010, Tomsula had never held a position higher than defensive line coach in the NFL. Because of this, he has always had the feel of a stopgap who would fill the role until the team found a new direction—and a new head coach to fit the front office's vision for the future.
Hiring Tomsula is likely where the rebuilding process began for the 49ers, and trading one of their leading pass-catchers continues that transition.
Davis was the longest-tenured member of the team's receiving corps. On top of that, the 31-year-old was also the most decorated tight end in team history, having totaled 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns on 441 career receptions.
Davis was also a top target of quarterback Colin Kaepernick dating back to 2013, but the University of Maryland product seems to have fallen out of favor with the fifth-year signal-caller. In fact, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Davis has been the most vocal player to voice his displeasure with Kaepernick's play.
Maybe it's his opposition to Kaepernick continuing as the team's starting quarterback, maybe it's Davis' age or maybe it's the fact he is to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season that prompted San Fran to trade him. But no matter what, the deal is not an indictment on his ability.
Sure, Davis has just 18 receptions for 194 yards this year—mind you, those marks rank second and third, respectively, on the 49ers—but according to Chris Wesseling of Around the NFL, the 10th-year tight end's outstanding athleticism is still well intact.
So if San Francisco isn't trading off dead weight, then what exactly is it doing? Well, it would appear that it's working toward a full rebuild.
It's no secret Kaepernick is struggling, as the University of Nevada product has managed just 1,615 yards on 59.3 percent passing with six touchdowns and five interceptions. In addition, the team has struggled to a 2-6 record with losses in six of its last seven games.
So, with Kaepernick and the offense struggling so mightily, why trade Davis?
For a team that currently ranks last in the NFL in yards per game, the only realistic answer is that the 49ers are headed for a full-blown rebuild.