I was planning on writing a story titled “Trent Baalke is next in line to get dumped by Yorks” or something similar yesterday, but while driving on HWY 24 I saw an email pop up on the top of my phone’s screen (I wasn’t texting — just navigating through and around Bay Area traffic).
Subject: 49ers Name Tom Gamble Assistant General Manager
And there you have it. Prescient story ruined. Thanks, Jed. You just had to let the world know what I had already assumed over the weekend and for several weeks prior.
To be fair, I wasn’t the only one to make the startling declaration that Trent Baalke could be on the hot seat. Many fans have connected the dots, and Tim Kawakami expressed a similar lament to the one I had in the moments after the 49ers announced their new Assistant General Manager.
Gamble will replace Baalke within six months
That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it. If the 49ers start 0-6, Gamble could supplant Baalke as the team’s GM as early as October. If they meander to the finish, not looking absolutely terrible but never playing all that well either (finishing anywhere from 5-11 to 7-9), the change will take place a day or two after they lose to the Seahawks on Jan. 1 … if it doesn’t get leaked before then. (Insert winking emoticon.)
Most of us know little about Gamble other than his resume. The 49ers lovingly detailed Gamble’s accomplishments in yesterday’s press release, which also included this vote of confidence from the incumbent.
“Tom is an accomplished talent evaluator who grew up around the game of football,” said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. “Having spent the last 28 years of his life in the NFL, his wealth of experience has been invaluable to our organization for almost a decade. Tom is a hard-working professional and more importantly a good man. We are excited he will continue to play an integral role in the development of our team.”
Before we start thinking about how they seem like such good buddies, and one would never directly or indirectly oust the other, remember what Baalke said five years ago.
- “I met this man six or seven years ago at a college All-Star game and I fell in love with his energy.”
- “He had passion. It really became evident that this guy had the ‘it’ factor. He had what we were looking for.”
- “This is the start of a new generation.”
- “What we have to do is bring back the culture of winning. He’s a guy who can lead the 49ers franchise back to where it rightfully belongs.”
OK, maybe Baalke didn’t call Jim Harbaugh “a good man,” but we should probably take Baalke’s niceties with a grain of NaCl. It’s not like Baalke makes any of these front office decisions anyway, and there have been five signals that the Yorks might think about parting ways — mutually, of course — with Baalke.
1. They’re running out of things to change (and people to blame)
Over the last couple years the 49ers have changed their stadium, uniforms (for a couple games a year, anyway), head coach (twice), starting quarterback, and Paraag Marathe’s title. Other than demoting Jed himself (ha!), there’s only one alteration left.
2. They tightened the purse strings
The 49ers have more available cap room than any other team with a roster that could use a lot of help. Does anyone think it was Baalke’s choice to be so frugal? Unless he’s saving up for one of the top free agents who won’t be available for another year, a GM will always spend as much as his budget will allow. However, GMs don’t set budgets.
It might be slightly more complicated than saying that the Yorks wouldn’t allow any excess spending on free agents because they’re cheap or they didn’t trust Baalke to make smart purchases. The 49ers aren’t a premium destination these days due to their quarterback situation and never ending turmoil. Plus, agents and players are easily spooked by the pay-as-you-go style of contracts the 49ers prefer.
However, rest assured — this argument that there were no Pro Bowl players available in free agency, and that’s why the 49ers effectively sat out, is pure spin. If Baalke was given the chance to spend, like he did on Torrey Smith a year earlier, he wouldn’t have hesitated. If this team keeps losing, he’s out of a job.
3. Chip Kelly is here to stay (for a while)
The 49ers’ new head coach signed a four-year deal worth a reported $24 million, so the Yorks would never consider making him a one-and-done guy like Jim Tomsula. And unless Baalke had a major change of heart in regards to his football philosophy, Kelly probably wasn’t his first choice. This decision, hiring an offensive-minded innovator with more than a few doubters throughout the league, seemed like Jed trying to channel his uncle when he hired Bill Walsh before Jed was born.
As we all know, Kelly and Gamble are known to be close. If things get rocky this season, as they almost surely will, Kelly and Gamble could be looked at as the duo to pull the 49ers out of their tailspin. Who knows, maybe that’s already how the Yorks see them.
4. Baalke deserves any and all scrutiny
One of Baalke’s most noteworthy draft choices is known for embarrassing the 49ers (Aldon Smith). Others either garnered media attention the 49ers surely didn’t want (Chris Borland), or simply annoyed them to no end due to flakiness and insubordination (Anthony Davis). His 2012 draft was one of the worst, if not THE worst, in franchise history. He wasted millions last offseason on Darnell Dockett, Shareece Wright and Reggie Bush, and the team has progressively gotten worse in three consecutive seasons.
Jed famously called Baalke “Trader Trent” during the 2015 draft, but what does he have to show for those trades? The 49ers have the NFL’s worst roster (on paper), meaning a lot of the young players he’s acquired need to prove their worthiness ASAP or Baalke is going to look even worse than he already does.
The Yorks also loved Tomsula, and had to admit a massive mistake when they fired him after his only season as head coach. Baalke escaped their wrath that time, but maybe they feel like Tomsula was forced to lead a team that never had a chance, due to several personnel decisions that didn’t turn out particularly well.
OK, I’ll put it another way. Do we really think the Yorks would pin 100% of the blame for Tomsula’s short, bumbling, failure-ridden tenure on themselves?
5. Jed doesn’t call him “Trenty B”
Just like he showed his love for Tomsula by calling him “Jimmy T,” we saw that kind of familial closeness after Jimmy T’s termination when Jed talked about Baalke.
There are very few general managers that have built championship-caliber rosters and I think it’s important that we have somebody with that experience and having a good staff around him, like [senior personnel executive] Tommy Gamble, like guys like that that have been there and done it that we can continue to build this thing because this is going to be a very important offseason for us.
I can already picture it, sometime around Jan. 3 or 4, 2017: “We expect to win Super Bowls. We haven’t achieved our goal in recent years, but I have the utmost faith that Tommy G and Chippy K will build, teach and mold a championship-caliber roster. A roster that wins with class. A roster that the faithful can be proud of.”
Actually, I pictured this press conference quote a few days ago, but Jed solidified this vision with yesterday’s announced promotion. Sometimes they make it so easy to figure out what will happen — and who they will scapegoat — next.