Colin Kaepernick

Promise of Levi’s Stadium has not been fulfilled

Draft and start to build up. Don’t overspend in free agency. Trust the process. And my favorite … let’s wait and see.

This is a very healthy way to go about football fandom. There’s nothing that can be done about the 49ers’ young, unproven and underwhelming roster. Well, besides wait and believe in Trent Baalke, Paraag Marathe, and the new coaching staff.

I stopped being a fan a while ago — and unlike some reporters and columnists, I don’t believe that makes me better than anyone reading this. I remember screaming for the defense until my larynx was temporarily damaged, and I feel for 49ers fans, who now appear to be demonstrating the telltale signs of Stockholm Syndrome. You should expect more from this franchise, simply because of the promise that came with Levi’s Stadium.

Levi's Stadium debut 49ers Bears

The NFL makes most of its money from television deals, and the salary cap (and floor) ensures that teams spend roughly the same amount of money on players … over a four-year span. The 49ers spent almost their entire cap allotment in 2013 and 2014, to the point where they currently have the most cap room in the league (over $53 million) but will still meet the total required spend (89% of the cap) from 2013-16.

What’s the most bewildering thing about how the 49ers are functioning — or, dysfunctioning, a made-up word that works in this case — is that they’re acting as if there is absolutely no urgency to impress the fans who spent tens of thousands on “Stadium Builders Licenses” and season tickets to attend a stadium that has provided value for just about everyone except 49ers fans.

If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, Levi’s Stadium worked just fine. If WWE fans had any complaints during Wrestlemania, they weren’t very loud. Other than the grass looking like a Slip-And-Slide at times, Super Bowl 50 went swimmingly.

Actual fans of, you know, 49ers football, went into the Levi’s Stadium experience with extremely high expectations. The snarled roads surrounding Candlestick Park would be a distant memory, as exiting Levi’s would be as smooth and easy as zipping up a pair of 501s 505s. Of course tailgating would be as good, if not better — provided you’re one of the lucky few with a parking pass in a lot that allows beverages and open flames. The 49ers would no longer play in a multi-sport facility, meaning closer seats and a stronger home field advantage.

And the on-field product? Ho-ho-ho! The 49ers already figured out a way to win in today’s NFL before leaving Candlestick, with a stout defense, powerful offensive linemen and a maniacal head coach pushing them to both be great and believe in the mystique of this once (extremely) proud franchise. With a stadium containing every imaginable amenity, producing money by the Brinks truckload, what was to stop the 49ers from taking their rightful place alongside the NFL’s elite franchises? The San Francisco Giants now look and act like the Boston Red Sox of the Pacific time zone. Why couldn’t the 49ers become Patriots West?

Instead, look at what has become of this team. They built a penthouse to become cellar dwellers.

An 8-8 season — and every bit of drama during it — shifted the front office’s collective focus away from what brought them to a Super Bowl two years earlier, and toward their own emotional frailties. Jim Harbaugh: gone. Then came Jim Tomsula, the kind of coach one would expect the 49ers to hire if they were forced to move to Kezar instead of Santa Clara. A 5-11 season (which should’ve probably been a 4-12 season or a 3-13 season) followed.

The NFL is cyclical, they tell us. Tim Ryan used that as his most recent radio excuse in December, when he realized he could no longer back the sinking ship he called “Jimmy Tom.” But the 49ers are stuck in the bad portion of the cycle with no plan to get out other than draft, wait and hope. The players with the top seven cap figures in 2014 — Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati — are gone. Who’s replaced them? Torrey Smith and Erik Pears?

Instead of continuing to replenish their stripped roster, the 49ers have spent the entire offseason doing this odd dance with Colin Kaepernick.

It seems like he’ll end up on the Broncos at some point, with the 49ers either receiving a third round pick in 2017 or a higher pick if they pick up some of his 2016 salary.

Colin Kaepernick 49ers Broncos preseason safety

Whatever the particulars, this doesn’t seem to be the best use of their time and energy, playing the leverage game against their former starting quarterback and the Broncos. All this talk about Kaepernick wanting to be here, and they want him here, and blah blah blah forgoodnesssakejustmakeitstop. They realize they have holes up and down the roster, right???

And even if they “win” this situation with/vs. Kaepernick, and get Denver to part with a little more than they stated they would originally, what does this mean for the fans who helped build the $1 billion stadium in Santa Clara?

Say they get a second-rounder from Denver. That would equal the biggest achievement of the offseason, just ahead of signing Zane Beadles and saving a ton of money on Ian Williams’ contract because he’s injured. (Talk about Trent Baalke’s dream scenario: an injury-prone player costs way less than expected because he probably won’t be ready for Week 1 and may not play at all in 2016.)

New stadiums don’t guarantee success in the NFL, but they often seem to usher in better eras. The Seahawks made the playoffs once in the previous 13 seasons before their new stadium opened in 2002, and their lone playoff appearance resulted in a Wild Card round loss. They’ve made the playoffs in 10 out of 14 years since their stadium opened. The Cardinals suffered through 10 losing seasons in the previous 11 years before their stadium opened. They’ve only had three losing seasons in the 10 years since.

Then again, the Seahawks somehow built a stadium that’s louder than their previous domed facility, and the Cardinals sell out their stadium after years of playing in a college stadium that was often filled with tens of thousands of fans rooting for the other team. Those NFC West teams built stadiums that helped the fan experience, while the 49ers went from a gritty, troubled home to a Silicon Valley office park.

Hey 49ers, there’s only one way to turn those golf claps into thunderous screams for the defense — show the fans that you care as much about the football side of things as you do about concerts, international soccer friendlies, and winning the PR battles against coaches and quarterbacks who fell out of favor. But that won’t happen. They’ll fall back on their favorite word, “faithful,” which comes with the promise that fans will sit back, keep spending, and expect the team to figure everything out … eventually. What the 49ers don’t understand — or maybe they understand and don’t care — is that it’s easier to be faithful when your only investment is emotional. When you ask fans to change their financial game plan to help you move into a fancy palace, the least you can do is change your organizational game plan and invest in the team. How long are the “faithful” supposed to wait?

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