Could it be that the 49ers are just cooler than all the other NFL teams?
The Niners have the most interesting and off-the-wall coach, whom they considered trading. They have the league’s first hip-hop rock star quarterback. And now they’ve traded for a guy sure to be the most carefully watched and analyzed second-string (maybe third or fourth string) tackle in the league.
“Wait a minute,” protests the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man, “nobody’s cooler than us. Haven’t you noticed the way Pete Carroll chews gum while doing yoga?”
Sorry, 12th Man, the 49ers just saw your culture of cuteness and raised you Jonathan Martin.
Now all the 49ers have to do is draft Michael Sam, volunteer for HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and it will be “Gentlemen, start your calliope.”
And, say, is Richie Incognito still available?
Trading for Martin was a small but excellent – and meaningful – move by the 49ers. Credit to general manager Trent Baalke, head coach Jim Harbaugh and boss Jed York. Team effort! Why, it seems like only yesterday that these three were locked in a backroom, three-way mortal squabble over power, pride and money.
Credit Baalke with being smart enough to pick up an O-lineman with starting experience for next to nothing.
Credit Harbaugh with having Martin’s back ever since he walked away from the Dolphins and from football last season. And credit Harbaugh with having shaped a locker room that can handle what some see as a potentially destructive distraction.
Usually when people talk about distractions, they’re referring to media attention and public scrutiny that can interfere with team focus. This goes deeper.
The Martin-Incognito case is something that not only provided juicy debate fodder for fans and media, but it divided the NFL at the grassroots level. Even in the locker room of Martin’s former team, the Dolphins, there seems to be no clear consensus on whether the big storm was caused by the crude taunting and bullying of the out-of-control Incognito, or by Martin’s wimpiness.
Is Martin a courageous whistle-blower, or a sellout who brought embarrassment on his team and league because he wasn’t tough enough to handle a little garden-variety locker-room banter?
There is potential for disagreement among 49ers players. They now present a united front in support of Martin, but who knows how many 49ers see Martin as a guy who wimped out, ratted out and isn’t worthy of pulling on a set of shoulder pads?
Also, Martin could be a lightning rod for fan abuse wherever the 49ers go. To many, the NFL is our gladiator sport, and what gladiator ran away from the Roman Colosseum because the lions were being too crude?
The NFL is, at its core, a glorification of bullying. The idea is to bully the other team until it breaks. If you can single out one weak guy, you concentrate your bullying on him. And you put a cherry on top of the intimidation by taunting and crowing. Right, Richard Sherman?
Many fans, and at least some players, feel that bullying should carry into the locker room, a useful tool to weed out the lily-livered. Rules of etiquette and standards of human interaction have no place here. This is the last frontier of guys.
Harbaugh would seem a likely candidate to champion that caveman side of the philosophical divide. He survived 15 NFL seasons as a sub-superstar, and he never misses a chance to salute the toughness and manliness of his 49ers.
But Harbaugh is big on team unity, on teammates supporting teammates. And he knows Martin well, having coached him at Stanford. Besides, Harbaugh, through his dad and going back to Woody Hayes, is a disciple of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Had Emerson been consulted, surely he would have said, in 5,000 big words, “Trade for the guy.”
Harbaugh likes players who arrive with something to prove. It was his idea to place above each locker stall a plate with the player’s high-school scouting rating. Walk around the team room and you see a bunch of losers and nobodies who fought their way into the NFL – to hell with the experts and critics.
–Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle
The seasons go by slowly and painfully when you don’t have a real quarterback and yes, it has been an 11-year slog since Rich Gannon wore the Silver & Black.
Since then? No true long-term QB and no authentic hope for the Raiders to be any good for any length of time.
Yes, Carson Palmer and Jason Campbell weren’t terrible when they started games for the Raiders the last few years.
But neither was the full answer at the position and both proved it by not making the playoffs or sticking around here for very long.
So, even though the NFL movement period has not started off wonderfully for the Raiders, general manager Reggie McKenzie can still rally up some momentum if he can just find a QB.
Or, let me suggest, the Raiders can find strength in numbers by wisely collecting three QBs and then use the 2014 season to figure out which one is worth keeping.
The suggestion: Sign one, draft one and keep one. And then hope.
If the Raiders get to January 2015 with a lot of losses but with a real QB in hand, that alone will come close to justifying a lot of things.
(This all presumes that McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen know how to pick the candidates and that they have a strong enough foundation for the right one to bloom.)
OK, here’s my step-by-step process …
IN FREE AGENCY …
Sign either Michael Vick, Shaun Hill or Josh Freeman.
Vick and Hill are only stop-gap options and Freeman probably isn’t a great long-term option, either. But the Raiders need something stable at QB and these might be the best candidates to fit with offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s system.
Any one of these three could give the Raiders just enough consistency and leadership to provide a reasonable bridge to the next guy.
I eliminated Matt Schaub, who could be released by Houston any day now, because I just don’t think he should stand behind a questionable offensive line ever again.
And I eliminated Mark Sanchez, who could be released by the New York Jets soon, and Brandon Weeden, who was released Cleveland on Wednesday … because they’re Mark Sanchez and Brandon Weeden.
IN THE DRAFT …
Take Fresno State’s Derek Carr, but not with the No. 5 overall pick. If they can’t get Carr, take Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo or Alabama’s A.J. McCarron in later rounds.
I can see how McKenzie and Allen might lean to Carr. They like leadership guys who can grasp the full dimension of an NFL offense, and Carr seems to fit those categories.
Back in 2012, when I asked Allen to name a player with the attributes he most admires and would want to build around, he said Drew Brees.
That would not seem to be a profile that precisely fits Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Central Florida’s Blake Bortles or possibly even Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
But the problem is that Carr probably isn’t worth the fifth overall pick.
–Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News
Okay, so the San Francisco Giants had a rather uneventful offseason.
Maybe it is better that way.
Let the rest of the National League West steal the headlines.
Let the Giants lay low.
They know what they have to do to win, and they have shown it, winning two of the last four World Series. And they know why they have stumbled the other two times, including their 86-loss 2013 season, in which they finished 16 games back of the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s all about starting pitching, and while other teams can spend an offseason looking for quick fixes to what ails them, the Giants know that the answer to the questions that surrounded their 2013 season can best be answered from within.
And the signs have certainly been positive in the early days of spring.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, both of whom will be 29 on Opening Day and should be in their baseball primes, have taken the initial steps to give the Giants reason to believe the anchors to their rotation are ready to regain their roles among the elite big league pitchers in 2014.
Lincecum followed up five perfect innings from Cain in a Monday start against the Cubs by working into the fifth inning in the Giants 4-3 victory against the Chicago White Sox at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
“They are premier pitchers,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They have pride. It’s about being resilient in this game. It’s what great players are good at.”
Lincecum allowed just one hit in four shutout innings, then gave up three hits and was charged with two runs while retiring only one batter in the fifth. They are the only two runs he’s allowed in 9 1/3 innings this spring. And if that’s a good sign for the Giants in their hopes that the right-hander who won two Cy Young Awards in his first three full seasons can bounce back from three consecutive sub-.500 years, check out Cain.
Cain has given up one hit in eight walk-free innings, striking out nine in his two spring starts.
“When the season starts, everybody is at zero, but you want to build momentum during the spring,” said Cain. “You want to have positive reinforcement.”
Most of all, there is that desire to eliminate the negative thoughts of a year ago.
“If a guy goes out and says he doesn’t doubt himself, he’s lying,” said Cain. “It is human nature. What you have to do is be able to have the confidence you can get the job done. You have to believe you are good enough to overcome [the negatives].”
Cain and Lincecum have shown they are capable of overcoming any negatives.
Lincecum was in the big leagues 11 months after the Giants made him their first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He won NL Cy Young Awards in 2008 and ’09, his first two full big league seasons, and by the end of the 2010 season had a 56-27 big league record.
He was selected to the NL All-Star team for the fourth time in 2011, but the trouble had begun. Lincecum is 33-43 the last three years, suffering a losing record each season.
The Giants were able to overcome Lincecum’s problems in winning the World Series two years ago, but last year there was nobody to pick up the slack. Barry Zito slipped back into oblivion. Ryan Vogelsong battled injuries. And Cain, coming off a career best 16-5 in 2012, was buried by a first-half struggle.
Add it all together and the Giants rotation had a 4.37 ERA, 12th in the NL and also the 12th highest ERA for a San Francisco rotation in the 14 years they have called pitcher-friendly AT&T Park home. What had been considered the best rotation in baseball went bust.
And it started with the two anchors, Lincecum and Cain, who not only were a combined 18-24 last year, but saw the Giants go 26-36 in their combined 62 starts. That’s why the Giants got an early pass to go home, where they watched the baseball postseason instead of being a part of it.
–Tracy Ringolsby, MLB.com