What a great week for Jed York. The Raiders convinced a huge bank to help finance their stadium project in Las Vegas, and for the first time of years there’s a groundswell of optimism around his 49ers.
Uh oh … I’ve gone soft!
Sorry if this goes against character, but I’m feeling weirdly positive about what the 49ers are doing. Good players actually want to sign.
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) March 8, 2017
Or, perhaps in my undying quest to write and utter hot takes honestly, I’ve been forced to change course. The worst appears to be over.
After the 2014 season, a segment of 49ers fans (i.e. the Super-Faithful) tried to come up with reasons to rationalize the front office’s blatant attempts to not just oust Jim Harbaugh, but frame him as a below-average coach. How else could one perceive their decisions to keep Trent Baalke, who put together a roster that became progressively worse from the moment they lost the Super Bowl, and promote Jim Tomsula, of all coaches who look like they could be your neighborhood butcher?
Baalke can evaluate talent. Some talent, but not all. And his obsessions hurt the team. Those obsessions included:
- Ending up with the most draft picks of any GM, every year
- Drafting injured players and counting on the medical/strength personnel to get them right again
- Arm and hand size
- Showing everyone how smart he was by sitting still during the early stages of free agency
- Pretending his failed signings and draft picks didn’t stink
- Sowing discord among the ranks to assure himself of absolute roster power via leaks and other political maneuvers
Notice that things like “pure pocket passer,” or “highly sought after wide receiver” aren’t on that list. Neither was “putting together a team where the pieces fit” or “remembering that part of his job was to convey why he did things to the viewing public.”
Enough about the past? OK, because Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are busy erasing it.
Torrey Smith (a weird signing at the time it occurred that only looked worse with more time) and Antoine Bethea (good player who was past his prime and made too much) were released yesterday. Today they waived Marcus Martin, who was a fantastic selection if you don’t care for offensive linemen with above-average strength.
It’s nice that the new regime has no interest in protecting Baalke’s reputation. It’s also refreshing to see some aggressiveness in the early part of March. So far they’ve added a defensive tackle (Earl Mitchell), two wide receivers (Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin), a FB who might play a little tight end (Kyle Juszczyk), and a QB (Brian Hoyer). They also threw Baalke a bone when they decided to re-sign Jeremy Kerley.
The money isn’t much of an issue, partly because they started the day with about $100 million in cap space. Thankfully, the deals don’t seem likely to screw up their cap situation well into the future. Garcon — more solid than spectacular, yet durable and clearly trusted by Shanahan — could make as much as $16 million in 2017, but that would seem to indicate that the deal would be front-loaded (the 49ers would be turning a new leaf if that is indeed the case). Hoyer’s deal is for only two years, so they either see him as a “bridge” to someone younger who’ll become better, or as a worthy backup in case they acquire Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo.
At Least They Didn’t Sign Matt Schaub, My Column:
Here’s why my level of Niners optimism (which vanished completely over the last two seasons) hasn’t been this high since the third quarter of the NFC Championship they played in Seattle (sorry):
- They needed to fire Chip Kelly and Baalke, but ousting Baalke was the highest priority.
- They needed to hire Kyle Shanahan as their next head coach.
- They needed to get rid of Baalke’s mistakes.
- They needed to be patient until they can land Shanahan’s absolute, no-doubt top choice as a future franchise quarterback. If Shanahan doesn’t believe Cousins or Garoppolo is that guy, there’s plenty of time and a lot of high draft picks ahead.
- They needed to build a team that’s better than the one we suffered through in 2015-16 (in terms of entertainment value, if nothing else), yet just bad enough to subtly tank their way into a high pick in the 2018 draft, which should be absolutely loaded with quarterbacks.
That seems to be the plan, anyway. Maybe they’ll change things up and send a huge draft haul to Washington for Cousins, or pick DeShaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick.
And even then, I’d still be optimistic.
We knew the road Baalke was taking, we saw the cliff the team bus drove over, and we were waiting a long, long time to see the team finally land. The Yorks waited far too long to end Baalke’s journey to the bottom, but now we get to see a different plan take shape.
It doesn’t mean all of these signings will be memorable contributors to playoff teams, or they’ll hit on every draft pick. Oh, and we’re still left to wait for a truly great passer to wipe away the memories of every quarterback who has flung a pass for this team since Jeff Garcia left San Francisco 13 years ago.
- Tim Rattay
- Ken Dorsey
- Cody Pickett
- Alex Smith
- Trent Dilfer
- Shaun Hill
- Chris Weinke
- J.T. O’Sullivan
- Troy Smith
- David Carr
- Colin Kaepernick
- Colt McCoy
- Blaine Gabbert
However, for the first time in a few years I have confidence that the 49ers will find a quarterback, one who’s better than the unlucky 13 on that list, within two seasons. I have confidence that the team around said quarterback will grow better together while running a modern offense for the first time in over a decade. I even have confidence that the defense will intimidate opposing offenses, for the first time since Vic Fangio was its coordinator, in the next year or three.
I’m nowhere near certain that all of this will occur, but I KNEW Baalke wasn’t the answer from the moment he and York worked together to turn their most gullible fans against Harbaugh (who isn’t a perfect coach — take it from someone who watched the Super Bowl in person — but deserved more credit from the organization for heading such a rapid turnaround than he ever got). The 49ers of 2014 were a broken bunch, fractured by infighting and playoff heartbreak. The 2015 and 2016 49ers featured no All-Pros, no prospects for the future, no fun, and at times it appeared that they had no heart as well. It’s going to take a while to fumigate this locker room and create a playoff core, let alone a championship roster, but watching the process unfold will undoubtedly be more enjoyable than sitting through conservative play-calling, Bradley Pinion punting exhibitions, and long runs for opposing running backs week after week after week.