Yeah, it’s probably not the headline many expected this morning. I know I’ve turned off a few fans — and probably some members of the organization — with my criticism of the San Francisco 49ers over the past several months.
I’m still not sold on the on-field product. The coaching change was handled clumsily, to put it mildly. They’ve lost nearly everyone who used to represent the team’s relative dominance, either via free agency or retirement. And Jed York continues to utter the phrase “win with class,” which does nothing other than serve as a punchline in response to 50% of all tweets and Facebook comments posted about the 49ers, York or Levi’s Stadium.
However, I’m starting to come around on the character portion of the equation. It’s been a slow process, but after seeing this …
— Damian Trujillo (@newsdamian) May 25, 2015
… it’s pretty easy to point to ONE positive thing the 49ers have done since the 2014 season began.
Did it take them a little too long to cut Ray McDonald? Probably, since the 49ers’ decision to go the “due process” route kind of blew up in their faces. But it was one of many personnel decisions that indicate an organizational shift.
I’m referring mostly to recent draft picks. A shift from “get the best and meanest athletes, period” to “let’s get some good football players who won’t show up on the police blotter” has been subtle, but it definitely exists.
The 2012 draft class was historically bad from a football perspective, but I can’t look at that list and single out a bad person. Then in 2013 the 49ers traded up and drafted Eric Reid, a good safety who became the team’s player rep at a very young age. Nothing even close to a character concern exists with Reid, and the rest of that class — while unproven — has done nothing to embarrass the team away from the field.
The only question mark from the 2014 draft came with the selection of Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. But the red flags over his transfer from Notre Dame to South Florida, fluctuations in weight and his prescribed use of Adderall weren’t serious, and Lynch has panned out quite nicely.
The most recent draft told us a few things. The 49ers knew full well that they would need to replace Justin Smith ASAP, so they drafted Arik Armstead. Trent Baalke still loves ACL guys (DeAndre Smelter, in this case). And every player sounded like first class (sorry to use that word again) person in his post-draft conference call. No Dorial Green-Beckham, no Marcus Peters, no Frank Clark (who seems like the worst of the bunch — good luck, Seahawks).
In free agency, the Jerome Simpson signing raised eyebrows, but his scrapes with the law all stemmed from non-violent offenses. Then the 49ers signed Torrey Smith, who has a personality that sounds almost too good to be true.
There are still plenty of questions. The Bruce Miller case has yet to be sorted out. Aldon Smith wouldn’t still be on the roster if he was a normal player, but he’s getting one last shot because he’s a high draft pick with the ability to be a dominant pass rusher. Ahmad Brooks was recently accused of sexual assault, although there’s a decent chance he won’t be on the team after June 1. Reggie Bush’s name came up in the Darren Sharper case before the 49ers signed him, but those accusations didn’t lead to anything.
A lot of 49ers fans told me they should sign Greg Hardy and draft DGB, which illustrates something we see across all professional sports: a large section of fans care only about results, and couldn’t care less about character. But it seems as if the 49ers are starting to care a lot more about what kind of people they’re adding to the roster than they did before, and for that I think they deserve some credit.