I’m generally pretty good about ignoring or brushing off most of the ridiculous comments that float around in the sports media universe, but every once in a while something’s said that’s so outrageous, I can’t help but respond. That’s the way I feel right now after reading what ESPN’s Trent Dilfer said about San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke.
“I get it, it doesn’t mean a lot coming from me, being a friend of Trent Baalke’s. I totally get that,” said Dilfer. “But here’s two things globally in the league to think about. Number one, discrepancy of the groceries (players) is not nearly as big as people think. A lot of it is development. A lot of it is once they get into your program — they were recognized to have certain traits, certain skill sets, certain competitive temperaments — and the upstairs can’t effect what happens downstairs too much. It’s downstairs’ job to develop, you know, to make the dinner and get the most out of the flavor of those players.
“I think the coaching part of it from Jim’s (Harbaugh’s) last year, to Jim Tomsula, to this year has failed miserably in the development of players. So that’s one thing. That’s where I’ll be completely blunt about it.”
So basically, what Dilfer’s saying is that Baalke’s done a good job of bringing in players, but Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula screwed it up. What about HC Chip Kelly?
“The Jim Tomsula hire set them back big time. That’s where it started. They haven’t recovered. They should’ve recovered more than that. So you lost a year of development of all those players. That’s where it started. I think Chip came in and I don’t think any of them really knew what they were. And then he brings in a system offensively that highlights dynamic playmakers, and they don’t have any of those. They’ve got a lot of big guys there. It just hasn’t fit.”
Let’s assume that Dilfer’s comments about Baalke doing a fine job with the “groceries” holds water (even though they don’t). Wouldn’t Baalke still be at fault here since he hires the coaches? If that’s the case, and he’s hired three coaches who were incapable of developing his players, he shouldn’t be allowed to choose a coach to begin with. Based on that alone, he probably shouldn’t be a general manager.
Didn't Baalke hire those coaches, Dilfer? Even if his argument held water (it doesn't), Baalke should be fired based on HC hires alone. https://t.co/prix1Ulha6
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) December 14, 2016
The Kelly comments might be the most ludicrous of all though, as Dilfer says his system, “highlights dynamic playmakers, and they don’t have any of those.” So Dilfer just admitted the 49ers don’t have any playmakers, but it’s Kelly’s fault that he can’t make it work? Essentially Baalke’s brought in just “a bunch of guys,” and Dilfer expects the coaches to work miracles. Wow.
But lets look at the guys Baalke’s brought in over the past five years or so shall we? Baalke inherited a loaded roster, and in fairness, did a good job of adding to it initially in the 2011 draft that brought the team OLB Aldon Smith, QB Colin Kaepernick, CB Chris Culliver, RB Kendall Hunter and FB Bruce Miller. Even that draft, while it was a nice haul, produced no long term solutions. The only player still with the team is Kaepernick, and we all know where that’s headed.
The drafts after that, to put it bluntly, destroyed the 49ers. Of the 40 players taken from 2012-2015, one of them (S Eric Reid) made a Pro Bowl, and that was as an alternate. His picks over the first three rounds in those years were WR A.J. Jenkins, RB LaMichael James, Reid, DE Tank Carradine, TE Vance McDonald, OLB Corey Lemonier, CB Jimmie Ward, RB Carlos Hyde, C Marcus Martin, DE Arik Armstead, S Jaquiski Tartt, and OLB Eli Harold. Do any of these names stick out as someone you could build a franchise around?
Also, Baalke has over-drafted certain positions (i.e. seven cornerbacks in the last three years) and blatantly ignored others. The team’s desperate for a wide receiver, but the Niners haven’t taken one before the fourth round since the Jenkins bust in 2012. Quarterback, which is kind of the most important position in sports, has been an afterthought, as the team has taken two since 2012 (both were sixth round or higher).
Looking specially behind center, the Niners entered the 2016 draft with QB Blaine Gabbert on the last year of his contract and Kaepernick, who was on a year-to-year deal at the time. Gabbert has never shown any promise of being a legitimate starter, and the team was trying hard to unload Kaepernick, so there weren’t exactly definitive options moving forward. Instead of addressing the position early on, Baalke waited until the sixth-round to select a signal caller (QB Jeff Driskel) who was cut before the season started anyway. Now the team will no have to start from scratch at the position next year. What coach can win when that’s the approach your general manager takes?
Oh, then there’s all the picks who were recovering from ACL injuries, none of which have panned out. In the case of Carradine, he was selected in the second round despite his injury with the hope he’d replace DE Justin Smith. It’s been a disaster, and Baalke had to spend first-round picks on Armstead and DE DeForest Buckner because of it.
Drafts are very important to San Francisco because they don’t believe in spending too much in free agency, and even when they have it hasn’t worked out very well. WR Torrey Smith‘s situation is a perfect example of that, as his skill set doesn’t seem to fit with what the 49ers currently have on their roster.
Look, I can write a book about Baalke and the damage he’s done to the franchise. I think his failures are as clear as day to anyone who’s paying attention. It just burns me that Dilfer, or anyone else, could try and spin things differently. Truth be told, the only way the 49ers move forward is if Baalke is no longer part of the equation.