Tag: 49ers

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,

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.

 

 

What Happened to Parity in the NFL?

Over the last decade or so, the National Football League has been striving to create a balanced league in which the old saw “on any given Sunday” could literally be taken as truth. A league where several playoff spots would be up for grabs into the 14th, 15th and 16th weeks of the season. A league with fewer haves and have-nots and more sharing of talent and potential.

Well, this year, that plan has turned to, you should pardon the expression, poop.

At this writing, we have completed 10 of the 16 weeks in the season, just past the halfway point. We still have 37.5% of the season ahead of us.

But in six of the eight divisions, one team is essentially running away with the title with records well above average, with seven to 10 wins under their belts. In all cases, they have at least a two-game lead. That’s not yet a title, but it’s certainly imbalance.

Equally revealing, almost half (15 of 32) of the teams have rung up fewer than five wins with six games remaining. Most of those teams are looking at losing seasons and only a handful have any shot at a playoff spot. (Notable exceptions are the AFC South and East where the division leaders are playing .500 ball and their closest competitors are one or two games off that tepid pace.)

Unfortunately, my San Francisco 49ers are not only dead last in the NFC West at 3-7, they have the worst PA (Points Against) rating in the entire league, being outscored by their rivals, 252-139. That’s a 113-point deficit. The only other team to come close is my once-favorite team, the Detroit Lions, with an 89-point deficit.

It’s ugly out there, folks, and it ain’t gettin’ any prettier.

Bleacher Report Gets it Right: Tomsula is a Lousy Head Coach

From the moment the San Francisco 49ers announced Jim Tomsula as their new head coach, I’ve questioned his ability and his suitability for the job. Other commentators have generally counseled a wait-and-see attitude. But now that the Niners find themselves mired at 3-7 and hopelessly out of the post-season chase, the widely followed Bleacher Report has finally publicly acknowledged what I’ve been saying all along: “The biggest takeaway from the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 11 loss? Jim Tomsula is a bad head coach.”

When this season ends — if not before — Trent Baalke needs to can Tomsula. then he needs to resign. The Head Shed on this team sucks. Too bad we can’t force the owner to sell because this fish rots from the head down driven by monumental egos with zero justification for their positive self-images.

 

Niners’ Win Over Falcons Meaningless, But Telling

49ers-FalconsThe San Francisco 49ers won a football game Sunday. They beat the 6-2 Atlanta Falcons. Can’t you feel the excitement in my voice? Ah. Didn’t think so.

The win, which has the Niners at 3-6 with a bye week coming up, is fairly meaningless because:

  1. The Falcons didn’t appear to send the A Team onto the field. Instead, they played flat and complacent, taking the win for granted. That’s always a mistake. The Falcons lost this one far more clearly than the Niners won.
  2. The Niners were without several key players, including three of the four starting corners, so it’s hard to take any lesson from the game with any certainty.
  3. A one-point victory at home is never a good sign. Conventional wisdom gives the home team a three-point advantage before we start tallying comparative strengths and weaknesses. (But the Niners were huge underdogs, so there is that….)
  4. Backup QB Blaine Gabbert, pushed into the starting role, was almost bound to have a decent game in his first start in 3+ seasons. In that setup, he’s almost a rookie and the Falcons’ defense couldn’t quite figure him out. Next game won’t have that same advantage.

Still, a win is a win. A year from now, few will remember the weakness of the opponent or the good fortune (along with some good coaching; more on that in a moment) that led to the victory. It’s in the W column and that’s what counts long-term.

The defense played particularly well Sunday against a top-10-ranked Atlanta offense. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that they held Devonta Freeman, the league’s second-leading rusher, to 12 rushing yards on 12 carries. This may say more about Eric Mangini, the twice-head-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator, than about the on-field talent. Still, that’s impressive.

Gabbert was average, which is to say much better than Colin Kaepernick has been the last two outings in particular. He definitely earned the coaching staff’s confidence, which they demonstrated by announcing him as the starter Week 11 after the bye this week.

All in all, a squeaker win from which we could take a very few lessons but not garner much long-term hope. I’ll take it.

Tony Dungy on Kaep: It’s Not a Talent Problem

I’ve always respected Tony Dungy as a football coach. In a piece today on USA Today, Dungy braced the Niners’ front office’s decision to bench QB Colin Kaepernick. Here’s his comment, with which I heartily agree:

“I think the guy is good, and someone that has been to championship games and has looked so good and did some things so well early on his career, I just don’t see how it falls off that quickly,” Dungy said. “I don’t think it’s talent, I don’t think it’s ability. I think he can be a starter again, and I think he’ll get with someone that gets it back out of him.”

Translation: It’s the coaching, stupid. Or it’s the stupid coaching. Take your pick.

Let the 49ers Blood-Letting Begin. In All the Wrong Places!

In the past few hours, the Niners have announced the trade of veteran franchise-making tight end Vernon Davis and the benching of Colin Kaepernick in favor of his ludicrously unqualified backup, Blaine Gabbert. As the team attempts to deal with the dismal 2-6 record accumulated so far this season, it seems intent on making every possible wrong move and not making moves that could actually improve things.

“Head” Coach Jim Tomsula is the main problem. He should be axed forthwith.

The offensive line sucks and is a major reason for Kaep’s weak performance so far. Shoring up the line and maybe replacing either or both the offensive coordinator (Geep Chryst) and the O-Line coach (Chris Foerster). Maybe elevate a couple of guys off the second rank and give them a shot? It’s obviously too late for these moves to have a measurable impact this season but the symbolism of those moves would perhaps make some difference to the players.

Davis, a 10-year starter with the Niners and a staple at the all-important TE post in a West Coast offense, has appeared in six games this season, collecting 18 catches for 194 yards. That’s a decent per-game average that the team will have difficulty making up.

But that won’t be as visible as it might otherwise be because Gabbert, who’s the new signal-caller, hasn’t started a game since 2011. After a promising start at Jacksonville in 2011, he faded fast before being picked up by the Niners. He has virtually no legs and is interception-prone. But he’s the guy the Niners think can salvage some of their season?

More screwups by GM Trent Baalke who probably didn’t even discuss these moves with his yes-man “head” coach.

It’s one thing for a once-storied franchise to have an off year and to need rebuilding, It’s quite another for it to deliberately tear down the wrong parts and rebuild them with lower quality.

Laughingstock may be too good a name for these guys.

Niners Rot from the Head Down

Forbes Magazine is not one of my go-to sources for sports news and analysis. But the current post by Vincent Frank on the current state of the 49ers so clearly nailed the thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the past eight weeks or longer that I just had to share it.

In chronicling what he calls “one of the most historic declines in the recent history of professional sports,” Frank highlights the chain of events that led to this demise with a clear if jaundiced eye.

49er Owner and CEO Jed York

49er Owner and CEO Jed York

Correctly, I think, he lays the blame clearly at the feet of spoiled rich-kid owner Jed York, whose ego is as monumental as his claim to any real ability is pure fantasy. York inherited the Niners. He doesn’t know jack about football. It’s not clear what he might know jack about. Business is clearly not very high on that possibly empty list.

So you have York twiddling knobs on the team’s dashboard. GM Trent Baalke (whom Frank calls “one of the most overrated general managers in the NFL”) should be playing the role of defender of the team from dangerous meddling by ownership. Instead, he throws his fate in with York and arranges for the departure of one of the best coaches in NFL recent history, Jim Harbaugh.

Meanwhile, Baalke, not wanting a new coach who might ruffle York’s pinfeathers, reaches down into the ranks of his own organization and elevates Jim Tomsula to the top coaching slot. Frank generously describes Tomsula as, “a well-liked former position coach that [sic] seems to be in over his head.”

49ers GM Trent Baalke

49ers GM Trent Baalke

Just to keep things interesting, some terrible drafting under Baalke’s leadership added more weight to the sinking Niners’ ship. Did you know that not a single player from the 2012 draft is even on today’s roster? Or that, as Frank says, “While six players from San Francisco’s 2013 class remain with the team, only Eric Reid and Quinton Dial are paying dividends right now.”

Ineptitude at every level.

And Frank lands where I do on the inevitable outcome. York’s ego and Baalke’s fawning mean that they’re not likely to fire Tomsula (which they clearly should do, like now). So who’s going to get the axe? QB Colin Kaepernick, who has admittedly had his share of difficulties. But come on, people, he’s been sacked 28 times so far this season! Do you wonder that he’s skittish, making bad decisions about releasing the ball when he’s constantly being pressured through a sieve of an O-Line that seems unable to stop anyone?

Clearly, this is a franchise barreling full-speed ahead over the waterfall. Time to jettison the useless baggage, beginning with Baalke. Go into a rebuilding phase with the idea that in 2-4 years the team can be respectable again.

Because today, as Frank says, “San Francisco is now a true laughingstock around the National Football League.”

The franchise that had every legitimate expectation of playing in Super Bowl 50 in January on their great new home turf is now going to be hoping for a tailing finish that gives them the first draft pick next spring.

How sad.