Glen Coffee's retirement announcement comes as a shock, but it won't affect the San Francisco 49ers much this season as long as Frank Gore continues to produce. Even if Gore is lost to injury, it's unclear to what degree the performance would drop from Coffee to 2010 sixth-round choice Anthony Dixon or, at least in the short term, veteran Michael Robinson.
How Dixon performs in the exhibition opener Saturday at Indianapolis becomes a more interesting storyline with Coffee out of the picture. It's also fair to wonder whether the 49ers might attempt to acquire a veteran running back from another team (Marshawn Lynch?) or possibly through free agency (Brian Westbrook?).
Coach Mike Singletary said he never saw Coffee's retirement coming. The 49ers might need some time to figure out exactly how they want to proceed. Scout Nolan Nawrocki's Pro Football Weekly guide to the 2009 draft described Coffee as a hard runner with "solid character" and a strong work ethic. There was no reason to expect his retirement at age 23.
In the short term, the 49ers lose little without Coffee. He averaged 2.7 yards per attempt last season, mostly while running behind a struggling offensive line. The shock comes from losing a 2009 third-round draft choice after only one season. Coffee was expected to develop into a potential successor to Gore, and even if he does try to come back, it could be tough for him to regain the trust of teammates, I would think.
That's another thing to keep in mind: The 49ers will continue to own rights to Coffee. He cannot simply retire and then come back with another team -- unless the 49ers were to grant him his release. The Indianapolis Colts recently released 2007 third-round choice Quinn Pitcock, who had left the team. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks.