The San Francisco 49ers fans may have their deepest prayers answered as rumors are swirling that General Manager Trent Baalke may be fired at season’s end. He would end his tenure with the 49ers as the overseer of both a Super Bowl roster and the worst roster in the NFL.
Trent Baalke may have gotten a longer leash that he deserved by being able to take credit for the accomplishments of others. He took over the General Manager position just weeks before the 2010 NFL Draft when then-GM Scot McCloughan stepped away from the team due to issues with alcoholism. This draft got the 49ers NaVorro Bowman, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis. These were all key components to their Super Bowl appearance, and it could reasonably be assumed that Baalke didn’t build a draft board from scratch, which means that he got them from cribbing off McCloughan’s draft board. He then rode the Jim Harbaugh train all the way to three conference championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. When there was a conflict of personality, 49ers’ President Jed York went with Baalke (he made the wrong decision).
Baalke’s roster disintegrated in a hurry, with many key players from the Super Bowl leaving all at once, along with Harbaugh. What was left was the rotten husk of the roster that Baalke had built. Years of failed draft picks and failure to woo quality free agents saw the team quickly plunging to the depths of the league; they became the laughing-stock. Years of drafting, and failing to get production out of, players with ACL tears had left the roster without a young nucleus to build around when Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree and Justin Smith all left at once. The roster Baalke inherited and plugged holes on was entirely gone, and what was left was his destiny: one of the worst teams in the NFL.
The ACL picks aren’t his only blunders. From 2013 through 2016, the 49ers spent six-of-seven top-fifty draft picks on the defense, a defense which was historically bad in 2016, without any real redeeming factors. In 2012 he spent his lone top-fifty pick on A.J. Jenkins. In 2011 they went to Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick, both players who had many career ups and downs. On draft day, he was the master of moving around in the draft to get “his guy,” but that might be because nobody else wanted “his guy” at that price point. He rarely found a quality late round pick.
The mishandling of the 49ers franchise under Trent Baalke’s watch may have set this team back a decade, and the next GM will have a heck of a time trying to rebuild it. All he’ll have to do is stay away from Baalke’s pitfalls and actually be able to be a real talent evaluator.
And don’t draft guys with ACL tears.