Category: Football

Niners Baffle Me in Draft

As you well know by now, I’m not a big fan of 49ers’ GM Trent Baalke. I’m also pretty skeptical about the newly hired head coach Chip Kelly. Their (presumably) joint performance in the 2016 draft has added fuel to the fire of my discontent.

By way of background, the way they’ve handled their whole QB situation is amateurish and unnerving. They failed to respond to early reports that Colin Kaepernick, the presumed starter who was treated shabbily last season, had asked to be traded. They allowed a major April 1 salary milestone to go by, paid him the $11.9 million he was due at that point, and then went radio silent. The Broncos had reportedly expressed interest in Kap, who would have been a great fit for their offense, but the two teams couldn’t come to a deal. (The Broncs may not have been all that serious considering they dangled a mid-round draft pick for a guy who, properly managed and coached, still has the tools to be a top-third NFL QB.) This whole silliness slopped over into the draft as the Niners were widely expected to pick a quarterback with their first-round pick at the seventh spot.

But the speculators — and I include myself in that, though I didn’t ever think it would be smart to draft a QB in this relatively weak class, at least past the second pick — forgot something. Kelly is an advocate of what he calls “positive yardage” offense. Translation: he really prefers to run the ball. So he manages to convince Baalke to keep Kap (or so it seems), who has great wheels. Then we see Baalke’s influence in making the first-round selection: DE Deforest Buckner out of Oregon. (His penchant for Ducks and Pac-12 players is the stuff of legend.)

Don’t get me wrong. Buckner has massive (literally…he’s 6-7 and 291) potential. In fact, using the NFL.com 10-point rating system for players in the draft, Buckner ranks second highest among any of the first-round players picked, at 7.2 (which translates to “All-Pro or Pro Bowl Ability”).

But defense was far from the most glaring need the Niners had coming into the draft. (Side note: the Broncos drafted the QB, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, that most of the prognosticators thought would go to the Niners at #7.)

The Niners traded up to the 28th spot in the first round from the Chiefs and then used that somewhat costly move to draft…a freaking offensive lineman! By all accounts a pretty good one — Joshua Garnett (6-4/312) out of Stanford. But here’s the problem: he’s a left guard, and the Niners’ big free-agent acquisition this offseason was LG Zane Beadles. I’m with ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez on this one: “Strange pick, indeed, considering the bigger need is at right tackle.”

One final point: the Niners used their next two picks to add cornerbacks. This despite the fact that the team already has far more CBs on its roster than it could conceivably keep. Consider the current roster corners: Kenneth Acker, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Cromartie, Chris Davis, Dontae Johnson,and Keith Reaser. Now we can add Will Redmond (5-11/182 from Mississippi State) and Rashard Robinson (6-2/180 out of LSU) to the mix. Baalke says Redmond will play right away. I wonder if he’s making that decision already or if he’ll let his new coach decide. Wow. So now we have eight corners on the full roster.

Good luck with that, guys.

Based on my first take on these guys, I’m giving the Niners a C-minus for the 2016 draft, which still has a few rounds left to go but nothing significant is likely to happen the rest of the way.

The Kap Saga Drags On…and On…as Niners Look to Completely Rebuild

49ers logoMost of the news during this NFL off-season as far as the 49ers are concerned has focused on the quarterback situation. One-time superstar darling Colin Kaepernick was benched near the end of the 2015 campaign, giving way to little-used backup Blaine Gabbert. Now, it’s fairly obvious to everyone that Gabbert is not a premium NF signal-caller. He doesn’t have the physical skill or the stats to earn that assessment.

The problem is, this is a very weak year for drafting quarterbacks out of college. And while it appears that Kaepernick is willing, even eager, to be traded, the Niners have not yet been able to put together a deal with a team that really needs him. The most recent rumors swirled around the Denver Broncos, who would find him a great fit for a number of reasons. But they were apparently only willing to part with a mid-round draft pick in return for the once stellar-performing Niners’ QB.

Given that the Niners have decided to go with the unproven, mediocre Chip Kelly as their new head coach, and given his offensive propensities, my guess is that Colin would be a great QB fit for the team. I don’t know where the impetus for the trade is coming from. It may be from Colin himself, which wouldn’t be surprising given the way the Niners have screwed his career. On the other hand, there were early rumors that the team really doesn’t think he’s worth the contract he now has, a contract which produced a hefty guaranteed payment on April 1.

I’m not inclined to participate in the speculation about what might happen to Colin. My considered opinion is that he had at one time the potential to be a well-above-average NFL quarterback (though I was angry over the trade of his predecessor, Alex Smith, and still am), but that he’s probably no longer in that class. Between switching offensive coordinators every season, and front-office turmoil — to say nothing of the 2015 personnel losses that have all but decimated the squad — he’s probably much better off finding greener grass. If I were him, I would certainly be leaning in that direction in the absence of a serious commitment on the part of the Niners. That’s a commitment current ownership and management seems unwilling to make.

About the only good news coming out of this mess is that the Niners have huge salary cap space. They should be in a position to shore up most of their needs, even if it costs them more money than they’d like to spend. With the draft only a little more than two weeks away, fantasy players and prognosticators are going crazy trying to create the mock draft that will get the Niners to a point of something close to respectability. My guess is that we’re at least two years from having a competitive team again, regardless of what the team does at quarterback. And that’s just going to have to be okay. We Niners’ fans became spoiled during the days and 90s; it’s time to suck it up and watch other teams enjoy success.

Niners Open Spring Workouts With Kaep a Big Question Mark That Shouldn’t Be

49ers logoNFL teams begin their spring workout schedules tomorrow on the same day as Major League Baseball launches the official 2016 season. This produces information overload for sports junkies.

The San Francisco 49ers enter the workout sessions with a huge question mark at quarterback, a question mark that shouldn’t be there and that bewilders almost everyone observing it. QB Colin Kaepernick, who two seasons ago was given a massive contract as he was seen by the team as their future superstar, is apparently this close to being traded to the Denver Broncos for a stinking mid-round draft pick. I was never a big fan of Kaep, but I have to say, I think the team is making a huge mistake here. Colin is tailor-made for new head coach Chip Kelly’s offensive philosophy, he has a sterling record as the QB with the lone exception of the 2015 season which was a disaster for the entire team thanks to the idiotic decision to hire lightweight Jim Tomsula as “head” coach, and he’s a victim of bad coaching and too many offensive coordinators.

As Cole Little at EndZoneScore.com opines:

So why are the Niners looking to rid themselves of Kaepernick before giving him a shot under the leadership of Kelly? And why are they doing it after all of the good quarterbacks are off the free agent market? And, also, why are they doing it in a year in which the quarterback draft class is as weak as this one? Beats me.

Face it, fans. The Niners are in a rebuilding period that will probably last 2-3 seasons at least. Wouldn’t you rather have a QB with a proven track record and some locker room chops at the helm while a discarded head coach and the worst management team in the NFL wanders around bumping into walls trying to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear?

Yeesh.

Niners Well Positioned for Strong Off-Season But is Management Up to the Task?

The San Francisco 49ers are in a prime position to enjoy a significant upgrade to their depleted roster during this off-season. Among all 32 teams, the Niners are in the fourth best position in terms of salary cap and they have an enormous number (12) of draft picks available. This is practically an embarrassment of riches for a team coming off a dismal 2015 season.

If they were any other team, fans would be justified in jumping up and down with joy, but Niners fans have come to expect raging mediocrity when it comes to the quality of the team’s management. Trent Baalke has among the poorest track records of any general manager in the NFL when it comes to picking talent and managing player personnel. His record in the draft borders on pathetic. During its heyday, the team was characterized by brilliant and insightful draft choices, which often surprised other NFL observers and Niners fans but which proved with time to be exceedingly wise.

Not so much in recent seasons.  Since 2010, when he was named vice president of player personnel preparatory to his promotion to general manager the following season, the Niners’ draft choices have been for the most part mediocre and consistently unexciting. He seems to have a low-risk approach to evaluating and recruiting talent. The problem is, in the NFL today, that “play not to lose” strategy doesn’t even achieve its paltry goal of keeping your record above water.

The blogosphere is alive with advice to Baalke about how to use that salary cap space and that dozen draft picks. I’m not going to attempt to offer any further advice here. But given his track record, it might behoove him to seek additional counsel before making decisions about how to augment the team’s current weakened roster. Free agency appears to be a better route this season for most skilled positions, as the draft appears relatively shallow. It might therefore be a good idea to trade some of the team’s draft picks for free agency choices. Beyond that, the Niners GM really needs to examine his history and chart a more adventurous and potentially successful course of action for this hopeful off-season.

What Do NFL Schedulers Have Against the Niners?

For the second season in a row, the San Francisco 49ers have one of the toughest list of opponents in the upcoming campaign. This flies in the face of the NFL’s oft-stated goal of achieving parity among the teams, thereby increasing and extending fan interest well into the season.

In theory, a low finish in one season should result in a less difficult slate of opponents the following year. But the Niners, who are engaged in a painful “rebuilding” phase of the franchise’s history, finished last season with a dismal 5-11 record. Only four teams finished with worse records and two others tied the Niners. Yet, the announced list of Niners’ foes for 2016-17 has a combined win-loss record of 142-115 (0.555) for the just-concluded season.

That is tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the toughest record of opponents this season. But it seems like part of a pattern. The combined records of their opponents in the 2015 campaign was .539, second only to the Chicago Bears for toughness of schedule. This despite a middle-of-the-pack 8-8 record the preceding season.

One partial explanation for the Niners’ schedule challenges is that the NFC West has transformed into arguably the toughest conference in the league over the past few seasons. That means, e.g., this season they will face the Seahawks (10-6 in 2015) and Falcons (13-3) twice, giving them a huge handicap of opponents with a combined record of 23-9 (.719) before the schedulers get into options.

Still, I can’t help wonder if there isn’t a bit of revenge lurking here. After all, the Niners were a dynasty for nearly 20 years until they (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Trent Baalke and Jed York) shot themselves in the foot at the end of last season. Even without revenge, the satisfaction of seeing the Niners struggle is at least likely to bring a smile to some NFL lips,

Interesting List of Top 4 Candidates for Niners’ Head Coaching Job

Speculation is rampant, of course. It always is in situations like this where an NFL team fires its head coach right after the season ends, giving prognosticators lots and lots of time to offer suggestions and insights so top management of the teams can make the right choice for the next guy in the Hot Seat. It’s mostly fruitless but it’s still fun.

I’m working on my own list of top candidates. Meanwhile, I thought you’d find this list from Niners Nation columnist David Neumann interesting. It’s one of the better-thought-out lists I’ve seen in culling through dozens. Neumann offers the following four guys as his top picks for the Niners to focus on and he provides some interesting statistical support for his recommendations. You’ll enjoy hearing from him.

  • Hue Jackson
  • Chip Kelly
  • Josh McDaniels
  • Sean Payton

One notable name missing from his list is Mike Holmgren, who is rumored to have expressed serious interest already. Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback reported a few days ago that Holmgren was interested.

His list also excludes Mike Shanahan, who has reportedly already had one interview with the Niners’ management. (Please, God, let it not be Shanahan!)

Sacramento Bee Niners’ beat reporter Matt Barrows, who has pretty good sources and is considered one of the better guys covering the team full-time, adds to Neumann’s list Todd Haley, Adam Gase (who you’ll remember was on lots of pundits’ short lists before the 49ers stumbled over Tomsula), Vic Fangio, and David Shaw. He also mentioned Shanahan (Yikes!) and Holmgren.

Watch this space for my own prognostications in coming days.

 

Niners Can Tomsula

So the Ego in the Front Office wins again.

The Niners announced before the last fan had straggled out of the stadium today that Jim Tomsula, the sacrificial “head coach” (yeah, the quotation marks are back, for a different reason) they plugged in to fill the huge gap left by their idiotic decision to fire Jim Harbaugh last season.

No word on whether he’ll stay with the organization. I hope he doesn’t. Ownership and management showed no regard for him as a person or a coach either in promoting him to a job he wasn’t ready for or in releasing him with no dignity when he performed as could have been — and was — predicted.

This is a team headed in three directions to nowhere.

I say again. Fire Baalke or nothing gets stabilized for years.

Holmgren to Helm Niners?

Mike Holmgren, easily one of the best coaches in NFL history, is reportedly actively interested in the Niners’ head shed. He’d be a fine choice, to be sure.

But (you knew there had to be one, right?) but ONLY if he gets the GM job in the package. I still think Trent Baalke should be shown the door and Holmgren is one of the few men around who could take on the dual role and thrive in it.

 

Let’s Keep Tomsula, Fire Baalke

As you know, I’m not one of Jim Tomsula’s biggest fans. All season long as I’ve commented on the 49ers and his role in their utter collapse, I’ve put “head coach” in quotation marks to indicate my disdain for his ability. I was horrified that the Niners — in a fit of ego pique on the parts of GM Trent Baalke and owner Jed York — fired Jim Harbaugh at the end of last season in one of the worst coaching moves by any team in my NFL memory (which extends back more than 50 years).

jim_tomsulaBut now that the end of the season is upon us with the Niners playing their last game tomorrow, I’m loath to join the chorus of Johnny-come-latelys who have decided it’s time to dump the coach. Nope, after watching the Niners implode for the last 17 weeks, I’ve concluded that changing coaches right now isn’t the smartest move the team could make.

Instead, the Niners should fire Baalke. (I’d be advocating for York to go, too, but all those silly voices clamoring for that are apparently unfamiliar with the basic concept of “ownership”. You can’t force York to sell the team he owns. So why spend energy trying to make that happen?

So why don’t I still want Tomsula gone? Here are my main trains of thought:

Talent. The team overall talent level can only go up from here. Between injuries, early retirements, dumb trades and other weird happenings throughout the just-ending season, this is one of the thinnest Niners rosters in history. The good news is this gives the team great draft positioning. Properly utilized, the 2015 draft class could form the basis for a strong rebuilding process that won’t take many seasons to accomplish. Since talent isn’t and never was in Tomsula’s purview, we can hardly dock him for the problem.

Seasoning. Tomsula now has one very tough year as an NFL head coach under his belt. I can see some signs that he’s learning and growing into the job. He’s another season or two from respectability, probably, but the players — to a man as far as I can tell — love and respect him. If he manages to give his assistants and coordinators more leeway in guiding the team, particularly on offense, and plays the role of inspiration and steady hand at the tiller, he could be more of an asset than bringing in yet another new head coach. The non-verbals would also be powerful.

Fairness. This isn’t an angle I expect is very popular among Niners’ fans, or in management for that matter. But it’s going to count for something as this team staggers forward in the process of rebuilding over the next 2-3 seasons. If the 49ers fire Tomsula now, more veterans and second-tier guys are going to start listening for the footsteps in the dark, considering early retirement, and engaging in other behaviors pursued by folks who feel uncertain in their jobs. That won’t be helpful.

49ers General Manager Trent Baalke. Time to go.

49ers General Manager Trent Baalke. Time to go.

Firing Baalke, on the other hand, will send the current and immediate future players a clear message that management recognizes the awful mistakes — in drafts, in handling coaching changes, in dealing with the press, in motivating players, and in so many other ways — Baalke has made. He’s really a pretty mediocre GM as those jobs go in the NFL. From that position, a guy ought to be able to play a highly inspirational, motivational role for owners, players and fans alike. When’s the last time Baalke inspired in you anything but discouragement or boredom? Thought so.

So I’m changing my tune vis a vis the 49ers Head Coach (no quotation marks…for now). Let’s give a rebuilding team some continuity of leadership with a players’ coach, get rid of the nimrod who’s been calling too many shots wrong for too long, and take a deep breath. In two, three maybe four years, we’ll have a powerhouse on our hands again.

Or at least a respectable team.

Gabbert Hasn’t “Earned” a 2016 Starting Role Yet, You Nincompoop

I get it. Guys like Grant Cohn over at Bleacher Report get paid to make stupid statements that will trigger lots of backlinks and heated discussion on the Web. Most of the time, I just shrug and let it pass.

blaine_gabbert

SF 49ers Backup QB Blaine Gabbert

But Cohn’s latest hypothesis that the Niners can just release their multi-year starting QB Colin Kaepernick without a backward glance because his sub Blaine Gabbert “showed he deserves to be the starting quarterback in 2016” by his mostly mediocre but winning performance against Da Bears on Sunday.

Gimme a freaking break, Grant!

I mean, seriously. I don’t fault the Niners for benching Kaep, even though I think he was probably responsible for only about 1/3 of his declining performance. Lousy head coaching and piss-poor game planning had a lot more to do with his drop than anything else. But no team fires a newly hired “head” coach halfway through his first season; to do so would be to admit the Head Shed made a mistake and Head Sheds never do that.

But Gabbert “posted a passer rating of 64.5 until the final play of overtime (more on that below) and led the offense to just 14 points the first four quarters,” as Cohn himself pointed out.  His big recommendation for a starting job in 2016? “He didn’t make any mistakes.” Well, whoopty-do. It was bad enough Cohn said that “he played like the second coming of Alex Smith,” (a ridiculously over-the-top statement akin to the ravings of The Donald) but then he had the audacity to opine that, “with the game on the line, Gabbert played like the second coming of Steve Young.”

SERIOUSLY??!!!

You gotta be kidding me!

It’s one thing to troll for feedback, dude, but when you go so over the top that your readers have trouble picking themselves up off the floor after rolling there for laughter for several minutes, you might want to re-think your occupation.

Gabbert deserves to be in the mix for 2016. He may, by the end of the season and based only on sustained performance, even deserve to be the default starter. But Kaep was a way-above-average QB for too many seasons to let one mediocre campaign sideline him forever when the real problem was his “head” coach and management.

I can guarantee you this. If the Niners dump Kaep, the team that picks him up will be laughing all the way to the playoff bank. And if the Niners don’t dump “head” coach Jim Tomsula, Niners’ fans can expect 2-4 more years of the same crappy football we put up with this season. But at least Jed York and Trent Baalke’s egos will remain intact.

Yeesh.