It would’ve been unfathomable back in the late-1990s. But it has come true, at least in the short-term. The Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers have switched places. Not geographically, of course — rather, in the way their teams are run and the successes and failures that have resulted.
We know about today’s Warriors. They are a “super team,” and the NBA’s owners will undoubtedly do whatever they can in the next collective bargaining period to legislate them back to the pack. The 49ers experienced this when Eddie Debartolo and Carmen Policy worked to create their own version of a “super team” every offseason during an era that seems like 50 years ago.
But under Chris Cohan, other than an unexpected blip of goodness in 2007, the Warriors were a disaster. They looked for ways to save money. The stench of distrust lingered in the front office. Coaches came and went. And all around the league, players who used to be Warriors were heralded as valuable contributors.
We’ve gone over most of that paragraph in regard to the 49ers numerous times, so there’s no point in delving into the ridiculous amount of available cap space currently available, the leaks and backstabbing, or the head coaching carousel yet again. But not much has been said about players who used to be on the team, who the 49ers could’ve afforded but chose to let go.
Lead among these players is Michael Crabtree, who might be the 49ers’ version of Gilbert Arenas or Chris Webber. After 927 receiving yards and nine touchdowns for the Raiders in 2015, Crabtree has 308 yards and is tied for the league lead with four touchdowns through four games. He’s the second-best receiver in the entire league according to Pro Football Focus. The 49ers’ best receiver this year is Jeremy Kerley, a guy they grabbed off the street. He has 202 yards and a touchdown. Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton have 212 yards and one touchdown … combined.
Think he would’ve helped this offense?
- How about Mike Iupati? He’s the 15th best guard so far this season according to PFF.
- Delanie Walker had 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns in seven seasons with the Niners. The 49ers chose Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald over Walker, and in three-plus years with Tennessee he has 2,708 yards and 17 touchdowns.
- Future Hall-of-Famer Frank Gore has rushed for 1,220 yards since the 49ers let him walk. His replacement, Carlos Hyde, has rushed for 769 yards (albeit in nine fewer games).
It’s not like every player who left the 49ers via free agency produced at the same level as before or higher. For example, they’re better off without every member of the secondary they chose not to re-sign (Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox), and they’ve spent immense draft capital on defensive backs so those decisions made sense. And it was pretty obvious that Crabtree had problems, both with Alex Smith based on on-field chemistry and Colin Kaepernick based on comments the receiver has made since leaving Santa Clara.
The 49ers haven’t had the greatest luck, either. Two of their four famous retirements after the 2014 season were unexpected due to the age of the players (Chris Borland and Anthony Davis). The player they wanted to keep around forever, NaVorro Bowman, just tore his Achilles.
One other way to defend the 49ers: their run of bad play, bad vibes and bad luck has led to a much shorter downturn than the Warriors suffered through in the 1990s and 2000s. But without a quarterback of the future on their roster (unless you’re still a Colin Kaepernick believer; I believe if he ever becomes great again, it’ll be on another team), no obvious stars at other positions, and no proof yet that Chip Kelly is some master strategist who’ll bring the NFL to its knees with his offensive scheme, the possibility is out there that, several years down the road, the York family will be looked at much in the same way Cohan is now.