San Francisco 49ers’ Issues Start At The Top


The San Francisco 49ers are headed in the wrong direction. At 1-4, their record may actually look better than what they truly are. There is plenty of blame to spread around among players and coaches for the lack of execution on the field, but a majority of the blame can be credited to the 49ers’ front office.

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In recent seasons, General Manager Trent Baalke has failed to add or develop enough new talent for the 49ers, either via the draft or through free agency. Even after the exodus the 49ers endured this past offseason, Baalke failed to find immediate contributors to replace players who were either let go or retired.

The biggest reason the 49ers are suffering through a precipitous drop in performance is due to the complacency of Baalke in the draft while the team was successful. When a team is stacked with budding stars and future Hall of Famers like Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Chris Borland, it’s easy to lose your focus in something like the draft. No one expected a rookie to supplant or challenge an established veteran during the Jim Harbaugh era.

Therein lied the issue that is giving the 49ers problems now — too many selections in the draft during the Harbaugh years seemed more like filler to the team. Baalke’s strategy, such as it was, seemed to be drafting risky prospects to groom, in hopes of developing them into impact players. However, far too many of those draft day risks are either no longer with the 49ers or have yet to bring consistent play to a suddenly talent-deprived team.

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Over the last five years, Baalke has made a habit of trying to add a consistent deep threat wide receiver. He reached for A.J. Jenkins at the end of the first round in 2012, only to trade him away a year later after he failed to impress coaches. Baalke exacerbated that selection by trading him for another wide receiver draft bust in Jonathan Baldwin, whom the 49ers promptly cut a year after the trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Baldwin contributed a whole three catches for 28 yards.

Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington, drafted in the fourth round in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are still looking to put their stamps on the team as either return specialists or third receivers. At their current rate, at least one of them may be gone next season if they do not make any significant contributions.

The defensive line has failed to absorb the losses of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Besides Aaron Lynch, the 49ers are not getting much return from their top DL picks. Tank Carradine has 29 tackles and four sacks in his two healthy years on the team. Corey Lemonier and Quinton Dial, defensive end/outside linebackers who should have benefited most from the departures of the two Smiths, Willis and Borland, have not had a huge impact.

Sep 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead (91) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 47-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Since recording five sacks in the opener, the 49ers have had just four sacks in as many weeks. 2015 first rounder Arik Armstead was originally to be brought along slowly but was  thrust into  a significant role after the 49ers cut one of their top free agent signings in Darnell Dockett. Baalke gave him $2 million guaranteed to never suit up for the 49ers.

The 2015 free agent class may be Baalke’s worst group since his arrival. Along with Dockett, cornerback Shareece Wright was inactive in all five games and was cut after he asked to be released.

Reggie Bush was signed to give Colin Kaepernick a weapon on third and longs, as well as compete for return duties. He has almost as many calf pulls (two) as carries (four).

Baalke’s track record with running backs has not been kind. Remember LaMichael James? He flamed out after barely two seasons. Marcus Lattimore? He retired before he could ever showcase his first round talent. Kendall Hunter was a solid backup RB but could not stay healthy. If not for Carlos Hyde, Baalke would have been completely shut out in the RB department.

Along with his many poor personnel decisions, Baalke has not exactly endeared himself to players and coaches. His battles with Harbaugh were well documented and 49er legend Frank Gore didn’t appreciate the way he was treated on his way out. Gore never got a chance to speak with Baalke concerning his role with the team if he were to re-sign with the 49ers. Once that conversation was bypassed, Gore knew it was time for him to leave.

During his tenure, Baalke has certainly had positive returns (Borland, Hyde, Lynch, Eric Reid, Anquan Boldin) and was a big part of why they made it to a Super Bowl. But too many missteps and poor development of higher risk players are haunting this present 49ers team. If the 49ers and Baalke do not find a way to infuse talented players who can contribute immediately in the coming years, the 49ers will fall into another dark age similar to that of the post-Steve Young/Jeff Garcia eras.

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