The 49ers are proud of many things. Among them: their history, their stadium, their stadium’s wi-fi, and their frugality. They would probably disagree with that last point of pride, preferring to call it “cost efficiency,” “asset management” or some other corporate buzz phrase.
One thing they probably don’t realize is a problem, but has marked this team’s mostly dismal time throughout the 21st century, is how they’ve managed quarterbacks. Their history, of which they are very proud and perhaps prouder than they deserve to be, shows that the 49ers have had an array of very good to transcendent quarterbacks. They didn’t always handle them perfectly, as Joe Montana’s fans might tell you, but generally they realized, as an organization, that without a top quarterback who’s relatively secure with his coach, teammates and compensation, success will either be fleeting or not come at all.
The Yorks, or at least the people they’ve hired (which is 100% up to them, so the Yorks are to blame), have treated the position more like a necessary evil than a way out of the cellar and into the playoffs.
The incumbent when the Yorks took over was Jeff Garcia. After three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons (2000-02), Garcia and the team had a down year in Dennis Erickson’s first season as head coach. Shocker.
Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler, was unable to agree on a restructured contract with the 49ers, who wanted to reduce his salary from the $9.9 million he was scheduled to earn in 2004.
Instead, San Francisco will save $1.7 million against the salary cap by dropping Garcia, a local product who holds the franchise’s single-season record for passing yardage. He has been the 49ers’ starter since 1999, but Tim Rattay is expected to take over next season as San Francisco clears room under the salary cap.
So his salary would’ve been $7.2 million more than his cap savings. Great accounting, everyone!
The 49ers didn’t just release Garcia. They also traded Terrell Owens. Just to remind everyone that Trent Baalke isn’t the worst GM the 49ers ever hired, let’s take a look at this trade, an opportunity that fell into Terry Donahue’s lap because Owens’ agent was a dummy and forgot to file his client’s free agency paperwork on time.
Owens wanted to go to the Eagles, but the 49ers didn’t like Andy Reid’s offer (James Thrash and a fifth-rounder), so they dealt him to the Ravens for a second round pick. Owens refused to go to the Ravens, creating a clusterf&*% that eventually resulted in Baltimore’s second-rounder getting returned to the Ravens and Owens heading to Philly for … defensive end Brandon Whiting. Whiting played in five games for the 49ers in 2004, making eight tackles. That was his last year in football.
Anyway, back to Garcia.
“We made this decision based primarily on cap ramifications,” Donahue said. “The reality of it is we’re going along with a plan we’ve established. In our view of things, we took the long-term view. This isn’t anyone’s fault, there are just things we’ve got to do.”
Garcia was about to enter the fourth season of a six-year contract. Instead, he becomes one of the most attractive free agents on the market.
Rattay, Garcia’s longtime backup, probably will lead a rebuilt San Francisco squad that will bear little resemblance to the team that won the NFC West and reached the conference semifinals in 2002.
“As we see it, the future looks really bright,” Donahue said. “This team now belongs to (Rattay), the job is his to keep.”
Rattay’s top receivers were Brandon Lloyd, Cedrick Wilson and Curtis Conway. Rattay’s backups were noodle-armed Ken Dorsey and big galoot Cody Pickett.
The 49ers’ (planned?) dismantling got them the No. 1 pick in 2005. They chose Alex Smith and let him play in nine games, starting seven of them. He was sacked 29 times, thanks to a terrible set of tackles. (Kwame Harris started all 16 games at right tackle, and left tackle was manned by Jonas Jennings, Anthony Clement and rookie Adam Snyder.)
We know how the 49ers mistreated Smith, placing him in positions where he would almost certainly get maimed while waiting for subpar receivers to get open. He dealt with offensive coordinators rotating yearly and two head coaches who undermined him at nearly every turn. And the fans were used to amazing quarterback play, so they faulted Smith instead of ownership. Fans are more sophisticated now — they now realize the Yorks have been the problem all along.
Years later, Smith’s head finally reached the surface and he was able to pull in a few welcome breaths of oxygen. That’s when the 49ers made the switch to Colin Kaepernick.
I agreed with the move at the time. We saw Smith’s limitations against good defenses like what the Giants used to have in 2011-12, and Kaepernick was a completely different person and player. Smith is tough, but he’s also cautious to a fault. Kaepernick is raw and fearless.
Here’s the problem: the 49ers wanted Smith to be like Peyton Manning, able to slide right in and take the franchise to new heights. Then, once Smith’s time as a Niner was through, they wanted his replacement to be more like Smith!
For a synopsis of how the 49ers ruined Kaepernick, I wrote this last October. Here’s a synopsis.
— The 49ers undermined the coaching staff, who responded by trying to change Kaepernick (turning him into an air-it-out pocket passer with three- and four-receiver sets).
— Kaepernick responded to Harbaugh’s firing by working on his mechanics with Kurt Warner’s people. If there’s a different set of quarterbacks than Warner and Kaepernick, I can’t think of them. Maybe Doug Flutie and Brock Osweiler?
— Offensive coordinator: Geep Chryst
— Fans were left to clamor for Blaine Gabbert, partially because Kaepernick was flailing in a bad system surrounded with poor skill position guys and also because the team’s spokesmen (i.e. the announcers) did things like blame Kaepernick for not living up to his salary and say that some in the organization considered Gabbert to be “Alex Smith 2.0.” Seriously.
— Here’s a snippet from the story:
Kaepernick’s confidence is gone. Fans are looking for the 49ers to replace him with Blaine Gabbert.
Hmmm … this sounds familiar.
Candlestick faithful once chanted David Carr’s name when Alex Smith struggled, while a totally-over-his-head coach with frighteningly little experience named Mike Singletary stalked the sideline. Smith never played with anything approaching confidence until the 49ers put together one of the best offensive lines in the league and brought in Jim Harbaugh, who accentuated Smith’s strengths — intelligence, mobility and caution.
And I didn’t even mention the strange, pay-as-you-go contract Kaepernick signed with the belief that he was providing the 49ers with the flexibility required to re-sign their own free agents. Which obviously didn’t happen, as the 49ers were in the early stages of a similar tear-down process to the one they started in 2003.
Which brings us to Ian Rapoport’s report today:
When Kaepernick signed a revised contract that wiped away the final four years of his extension and limited his guaranteed money, it gave him the chance to opt-out after the season.
Kaepernick will, in fact, void his contract before the league year and become a free agent, sources said. This creates a scenario where Kaepernick can test the market, sign a contract that gives him much greater peace of mind, and still end up back with the Niners.
Here’s a little hint: KAP AIN’T COMIN’ BACK, Y’ALL.
Let’s see … he’s going to test the free agency waters. There are fewer half-decent quarterbacks than there are NFL teams, let alone “elite” quarterbacks. Kaepernick, as he should, is going to look for the best situation with the most money possible. He is most certainly not going to give the 49ers a financial break, or some sort of “hometown discount” after what has transpired, and there’s no way in hell that he’ll return if Trent Baalke is still calling the shots.
So in order to save themselves some money, the 49ers screwed up this situation. Royally.
- They could’ve traded him before the season, but they didn’t want to throw in some money to make the deal work with Denver.
- They could’ve kept him under control after this season, but in their minds they couldn’t let him start without voiding the injury guarantee for next season.
- Now, after infuriating Kaepernick with a series of personnel moves (including his own benching), they’re allowing him to audition for other teams and will receive nothing in return when he walks.
Rapoport is good at his job, and we know that Kaepernick’s new representatives wouldn’t be dumb enough to slam the door on the 49ers now (which would weaken his future leverage with other teams, as well as serve as a one-way ticket to getting benched in favor of Christian Ponder for the rest of the season). But the 49ers would rather admit their mistake and build a sun shade for the fans on the east side of Levi’s Stadium than pay whatever the market bears for Kaepernick.
And if Kaepernick’s price is artificially lowered due to his stance on racial equality, he’d surely rather take a below-market deal with another team than come to the 49ers for less money than what he made this year.
(If you think Kaepernick believes that he can only succeed in the NFL with Chip Kelly and this set of receivers, you’re kidding yourself. Kaepernick’s ego is still strong, and the 49ers’ receiving corps is not.)
Whether Kaepernick wins today and maybe another time or two is yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising for one of two scenarios to unfold.
- The 49ers win a couple times and screw up their draft position (the team is still playing hard and they have a few winnable games left against the Bears, Jets and Rams).
- They “earn” a top-three pick and draft a quarterback like DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, force him into a starting role too early, and repeat the same process we saw with Smith.
And the beat goes on.