SANTA CLARA — Much of the fanbase has been extremely critical of the 49ers brass post-Harbugh firing. Not many of the “faithful” have really given both Jed York and Trent Baalke a fair chance to right the ship that sunk faster than the Titanic upon that incident.
General Manager, Trent Baalke has conducted 6 drafts through his tenure, the 2016 draft will be his 7th. He took over in 2010 in relief of former GM, Scot McCloughan who was released due to a suspected drinking problem; though that was never officially confirmed by the organization. In that 2010 draft, Baalke hit homeruns by selecting both right tackle, Anthony Davis and left guard, Mike Iupati who came in that year and made a significant boost to the offensive line. Neither Davis or Iupati are on the 49ers roster any longer.
Baalke actually has done considerably well at scouting talent coming in to the league which was his primary function prior to taking over as General Manager. That has not been his problem – sans the 2012 draft where he completely bombed out. The problem has been in his ability (or lack thereof) to find and keep solid free agents and retaining the talent that he has done well in drafting.
What does this say?
It says that Baalke was an excellent scout… I’d even say he was a spectacular executive in that position. He can run a great war room during the draft. He is great at getting extra picks similar to what the Patriots have done to build the dynasty they have built. He has even done very well in building one of the best scouting departments in the nation. But when it comes to his relationships with the players and head coaches, he has failed miserably. He doesn’t get involved too much in contract situations like other great general managers have. The essence of what he has projected over the past 6 seasons is that he is more of a “boss” than he is a “leader”. What I mean by that is that he fails to bring out the best in everyone around him opposed to stamping home the “my way or highway” type mentality.
The X-factor in all of this trickles down from Jed York. As much as the fans want to crucify Jed York, it has been far from all bad there too. With that said, York is still learning. York is still very young in to his career. And let’s face it, he is nothing like John or Denise in the sense that all he cares about is the dollar. He truly cares about this team despite popular opinion. If he didn’t care, he would not be in communication with his uncle, newly named Hall of Famer Eddie DeBartolo. He would not give players like Aldon Smith 900 different chances to get it right knowing that he possessed all the talent in the world; he would just cut his losses and call it a day. He cares about this team. How could he not? He grew up in the locker rooms of one of the most storied franchises the NFL has ever seen.
Inexperience is where York lacks. It’s not his lack of desire to win a Super Bowl. Even with the potential concept that all he cares about is money, a Super Bowl generates more money than any possible skimping on free agency could, or allowing the talent to slip away in to free agency. This is a franchise valued at $2.7 billion dollars according to Forbes. York isn’t hard up for cash. What he is hard up on his legacy. York realizes this. York most likely does lose sleep over the popular opinion of what the masses think about him.
All that in to consideration, this is a make or break year for general manager Trent Baalke. If he does not have a draft that knocks it out of the park in 2016, all his other deficiencies will make it easier for Jed York to realize that the project of hiring one of the best scouts in the NFL to run a team as the general manager failed.
Here’s a list of the talent that Trent Baalke has brought to this organization over the past 6 years (in pictures):
So as you can see here, on the whole, it has not been bad with the draft picks. It has been quite well actually. But the earlier picks in Baalke’s career have not been retained. You can not build long term success through a short-term vision. Many agree that Harbaugh had built a bully. But Harbaugh also walked in to a pretty nice situation with some key veterans already in place. It was and has been Trent Baalke scouting and selecting the talent the 49ers currently have and his involvement prior to Harbaugh on the scouting side of things was instrumental.
On the surface, without having a full wealth of context behind why players are not wanting to stick around and build something in San Francisco will most likely remain a mystery. However, if Baalke does wind up having a less than stellar draft in 2016, and York ultimately cans him, then it will be evident in that the managerial skills were lacking with Trent and it will have been another hard lesson learned for the young team President, Jed York. On the flip side of that, if it works out for the better and the Niners win 9-10 games (or more), then the strategy of building through the draft primarily will be cemented as an effective method for this franchise.
One thing will always remain true in the world of the National Football League: Winning cures all.