Looking at the 49ers Through a Wide Lens


There’s never a single problem galvanizing a defunct NFL franchise. There is a host of issues behind a team’s stumble, and this idea rings true with the San Francisco 49ers.

There’s talent found in every corner of this roster. Still, a slew of hardships have pounded their chances of success into oblivion.

The offensive line has been without Anthony Davis and Daniel Kilgore for most of the season, the latter even a gamble for next year’s training camp after a scary fracture ended his season in a late October rout by the Denver Broncos. Jim Harbaugh‘s buddy at Stanford, Jonathan Martin, has been a sieve on the right side as Davis’s fill-in.

The defense – which is easily the most important part of this roster – has again shined, but has done so without  NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, or Aldon Smith  for most of the season. They’ve fought tooth-and-nail all year, but give me a clean bill of health for an entire season from the above trio, and a powerful unit suddenly becomes the league’s best. 

But let’s not analyze solely the players on the roster. The NFL is a business, and those within the hierarchy are responsible for their respective team’s crash as well.

I’m not fortunate enough to know Jed York, but I do know he is young and brash, and that his outspoken ways have created palpable tension within this franchise. Incendiary comments on Twitter do little to aid the team, but rather expand in-house problems into bulbous balloons that are ready to pop at any moment.

The best NFL executives do what’s best for the direction of their franchise, but are often smart enough to stand back and allow the football decisions to be made by those paid to oversee said decisions. I give a thumbs-up to York for his passion, but take a page from Eddy D’s book and let the gridiron geeks manipulate their tools without constant haranguing.

And then there’s Trent Baalke – a man riddled with football intelligence and fortitude who is capable of making the tough decision. But Baalke, to me, is somewhat of an oxymoron.

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He is a student of Bill Parcells’, and he even goaded the Big Tuna to coach the 49ers before Jim Harbaugh was chosen as Mike Singletary‘s replacement in 2011. The idea was that Parcells – who was in his late 60’s in 2011 – would coach for a few years before riding off into the sunset with more jewelry and clout than he had upon arrival. The plan foiled, and the Harbaugh Era began.

Fast-forward just three and a half years later, and Baalke and Harbaugh have a functional on-camera relationship that is actually a behind-the-scenes power struggle between two stiffly resolute men.

Here’s my problem: Harbaugh and Parcells are both larger-than-life personalities who lead their team with iron fists. Each has a lighter side, but when it comes to football, they’re all about winning.

So is it plausible that Parcells and Baalke would have had a fallout as well? Or worse, would Baalke and Parcells have been successful because of their friendship? While a great relationship is an obvious plus, personal differences must be cast aside, because in a league this fickle, you never know who your next work partner will be. Most of us don’t get to choose who we work with, but we do our best to get on.

 Parcells commented on the play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently, touching on a point that I now see as valid: While many of us want Kaepernick gone, he’s actually a small part of this team’s demise.

“I don’t think he has a real good supporting cast right now, said Parcells.

“All players have characteristics that don’t allow harsh criticism. They don’t respond to certain things well. This guy Kaepernick has demonstrated at some point in time the ability to lead his team successfully. Things have gone well, really, for Kaepernick up until this point. This year has certainly been different from the others.”

Bingo. We cannot ignore Kaepernick winning a tough Wild Card game in Green Bay last season. We cannot ignore him roaring back against Atlanta in the 2012 NFC Championship Game to punch the 49ers’ first Super Bowl ticket since 1994. He’s been awful of late, and while it’s true he’s at a breaking point in his young career, he deserves another chance, and with players that will rally behind him and give their all.

Take Vernon Davis, now commonly referred to as The Ghost of Vernon Davis. He was questioned about Kaepernick’s play last week (before the Niners lost in Oakland), showing how little he cares about the grand scheme of things.

“I’m aware Colin has a lot of weapons, a lot of receivers. And I don’t want to add stress to whatever it is he may be going through, as far as everybody in his ear. I don’t know if everybody is in his ear, but it could be a possibility. I don’t want to add to anything.

“I don’t go to the coaches and ask questions like ‘why this? why that?’ I just do my job because at the end of the day, I figure they know what they have in me, as far as contributing to the team. I just stay in my lane and leave it up to the coaches.”

How ambiguous is that? Also, where are these weapons? We could use your 15 total touchdowns from last season, Vernon. Let’s suss out what’s a weapon or not after you’ve reestablished your dominance – 25 catches for 236-yards is not dominance. If this attitude persists, do we really want another season of Vernon’s disinterest in the locker room?

His last words – ‘stay in my lane and leave it up to the coaches’ – were bothersome. It’s a way of saying that he’s being utilized only as a run blocker, not as a pass catcher, which of course leads to the ineptitude of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

There are few things easier than denouncing Roman’s play-calling, so I won’t bore with a laundry list of miscues and gaffes. For me, the great equalizer is performance. The Niners offense has been grinding to a halt ever since Roman took over as coordinator. One of the best offensive lines in the NFL and Frank Gore‘s final push manifested a powerful offense that few wanted to clash with during the stretch run of a season. Toss a few wrenches into that formula and Roman wobbled, adjusting by adopting a pass-heavy identity that was never going to be easy for a young quarterback who made his bones playing schoolyard ball.

But will Roman be ushered to the nearest exit? Not until Harbaugh is, which on my watch is less than a month away.

The question: is this a repairable franchise?

The truth: nobody has the answer to this question.

But York must be the one to right the direction of this franchise; he has to let Baalke go.

What better way to scare off head coaching candidates than to fire one that has the second-highest winning percentage in franchise history? The front office has made it shockingly clear: win a Super Bowl in less than three years or pack your bags and get out-of-town. No replacement will have the chops or experience that Harbaugh does. It will be an experiment gone wrong.

Patch things up with Harbaugh, but let him know that an uptick in franchise responsibilities comes with a caveat: let Roman go, and the General Manager/Head Coach duties are all yours. Harbaugh gets his team and the freedom to mold a franchise, York shows his influence while building towards a brighter future.

We can’t predict if Harbaugh will take these responsibilities and produce a Super Bowl winner. We can, however, predict that he will approach everything with passion. It’s one of the only certainties in this franchise.

Think back to Harbaugh’s start in San Francisco. He was a bull in a china shop, shattering everything around him until all that remained was his vision. He might chafe the more sensitive players, coaches and executives, but there will always be supporters who go to bat for a proven winner with a team-first mentality.

Scrapping the 49ers isn’t the answer. Reinforcing what you know works is. Make the right move and stick with Harbaugh.