Jim Harbaugh

Levi’s Stadium claims another 49ers power player: Paraag Marathe

Levi's Stadium 49ers Eagles 2014

According to Matt Maiocco, former 49ers President Paraag Marathe “will continue to manage the 49ers’ salary cap and remain as the team’s top contract negotiator. He is not expected to retain the title of 49ers president, a source said.”

It’s not all that difficult to understand why the 49ers would remove Marathe from a high-level position while still allowing him to handle two pretty important roles. Marathe’s job has always been to save the organization’s (translation: the Yorks’) money. This move was made to save face. Marathe received too much negative attention in the last two weeks, to the point where he became an easy corporate target.

The 49ers are a corporation. Period. Forget the Eddie DeBartolo camelot fantasy of a team that looks like the idealized version of a football family: passionate, wealthy, successful and caring. Levi’s Stadium looks like a football stadium with an office building perched on the western side, and these 49ers have done business like a cold corporate entity from the moment they stepped inside that sterile place, and not just because Gideon Yu referred to older workers as “legacy employees.”

Harbaugh barely survived a year in Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers disposed of Harbaugh and replaced him with a much cheaper internal candidate in Jim Tomsula, whose staff was far less expensive than Harbaugh’s.

Marathe’s role in the organization was never clear, other than the contacts/cap stuff. Reportedly he’ll still be doing that. But no one in the mainstream media had mentioned his name for YEARS before I wrote this story about Marathe on Nov. 18, which included this terrible pseudo-prediction that I fully believed until Thursday night’s news broke:

— Dr. York didn’t let Marathe pick the coach in ’05, but he thought that “over time” he could gain the experience required to be the team’s general manager.

(Hold up. I just realized something.)

If Baalke gets fired after this season — an unlikely event, but one that’s certainly possible if the team goes further into the tank and the younger players he drafted don’t show much improvement — it isn’t out of the realm that Marathe would replace Baalke and become the 49ers President AND General Manager.

It looks like Baalke won!

Here’s something no one has been able to report without a shred of doubt: Trent Baalke could not get along with Jim Harbaugh, and that’s why Harbaugh was gone. We had/have no idea what part Baalke played in Harbaugh’s ouster. Maybe Baalke and Harbaugh fought about quarterbacks. Maybe Harbaugh wouldn’t play Baalke’s draft picks. Maybe Baalke and Harbaugh got along OK, but Harbaugh and Marathe butted heads on a variety of topics. Or, perhaps it was simply a situation where Jed York couldn’t handle having to deal with Harbaugh. Wait, here’s another idea — Jed is actually powerless, and it was Denise DeBartolo York and/or John York who decided Harbaugh was too classless and/or expensive to keep around.

Tim Kawakami heard from an NFL source that Marathe’s demotion came “in part because he is believed to be the source of many recent leaks to national reporters, most notably the reports discrediting Colin Kaepernick.” That’s plausible, especially since the 49ers probably still hold out some hope that they can trade Kaepernick to another team. However, the leaks about Harbaugh started 22 months ago, so it’d be weird for the Yorks to get all huffy about them after Week 12 of the 2015 season. Then again, Yorks.

Baalke could’ve seen Marathe as a threat.

Who knows. And really, who cares? This is how Jed and his parents have handled this mess for over a decade. This is just a Silicon Valley’d redux of their terrible stewardship of this team, from the early-2000s until they hired Harbaugh. We don’t know who doesn’t get along in Santa Clara these days, or who’s stabbing whom in the back, or why. We just know the entire operation is in shambles, and they keep making changes.

Here’s my theory.

The Yorks are about money. That … is … all. A Super Bowl win in New Orleans would’ve made them a lot of money, but they lost, then they suffered another crushing playoff defeat a year later. So, bye-bye Harbaugh and his expensive staff. Marathe was a prized employee, and if he was in charge of leaking less-than-complimentary tidbits about Harbaugh or Colin Kaepernick, it was only because he had reason to believe the Yorks would appreciate his texts to Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter, Ian Rapoport or whomever.

Once Marathe, who mostly operated in silence, started getting some attention, he was on the clock. When far fewer than 68,000 fans showed up to watch the 49ers lose to the Cardinals (after a plane flew around the stadium with an anti-Jed banner, which probably didn’t help matters for anyone within spitting distance of Jed), stuff got real.

The 49ers go to the “faithful” well constantly, but that moniker was embraced by fans back in the 1970s when they stuck with the team through thick and thin while paying low, low prices for seats at Candlestick Park. The Yorks got a nice Stadium Builder’s Licence windfall, thanks in part to Levi’s not being anything like Candlestick (along with the unstated promise of a Harbaugh-led mini-dynasty, because who’d break up this marriage am-I-rite), but that SBL money won’t last forever. They’re banking on season-ticket holders renewing their tickets and literally buying tons of food and merchandise from the Levi’s Stadium apps their phones. If fans don’t show up, the operation is no longer a success.

And then what? We know this franchise looks for scapegoats whenever the record dips below .500 (which is about to happen for the eighth time in the last 13 seasons), and Harbaugh is gone. So is Kaepernick. Geep Chryst isn’t a big enough target to please fans, not with how bad this situation has become. What was left was the Baalke/Marathe/Tomsula power triangle. Baalke drafted players in 2015 like a general manager whose owner gave him a guarantee that he’d stick around to see each player develop for at least a few years. Tomsula is the anti-Harbaugh, and the Yorks promoted him — and gave him a huge, guaranteed raise, don’t forget — quite recently.

A few fans still think Baalke is a great GM. A few fans think Tomsula could be a great head coach, once he gets his shot after this team gets rebuilt after so many key departures. Not a single fan cared one way or another about Marathe, until he became a target on the dart board when everything went to hell. The Yorks might still want him in the building to save some money on contracts. However, it’s remarkable that after 15 years of rising through the ranks, only a couple weeks after Marathe became a liability in terms of ticket sales and fan morale, the 49ers let the world know that he would no longer be their team president.

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