Baalke to blame for 49ers struggles

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Baalke to blame for 49ers struggles

Photographer: Davide Gabino

Photographer: Davide Gabino

Photographer: Davide Gabino

Shomarl H. Block,
Contributor

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Looking into my crystal ball to see what the future holds for the 49ers, here’s what I see: Colin Kaepernick jerseys on clearance racks at Ross stores across the country, endless streams of sports talk radio callers condemning CEO Jed York for his ineptitude as an owner. “How could he fire Harbaugh…He’s not his Uncle Eddie…He’s running this franchise into the ground…” they say, with the distinct speech patterns only anger and inebriation can deliver. Meanwhile social media buzzes with memes featuring head coach Jim Tomsula.

The sky is falling and Christmas has been cancelled in “Ninerland.””

The San Francisco 49ers have lost four games in a row this season. The sky is falling and Christmas has been cancelled in “Ninerland.” Many are pointing fingers at the team’s quarterback, owner and coach; but what about General Manager Trent Baalke? He is the problem.

Baalke spent the off-season watching his team lose All-Pro players like defensive end Justin Smith, linebacker Patrick Willis and offensive lineman Mike Iupati. The team also lost Pro Bowl players like defensive end Ray McDonald and running back Frank Gore. Key contributors like tackle Anthony Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree also left. All of these players helped the 49ers come within four yards of their second straight Super Bowl just two seasons ago.

Baalke inherited all of these players when he was promoted to General Manager in early 2011. He also inherited the most significant remaining 49ers: Navarro Bowman, Joe Staley and Ahmad Brooks.

So what has Baalke contributed to the team’s roster?

The answer: not much.

He brought in a struggling offensive line, the floundering quarterback and countless high draft picks that are no longer with the team or no longer in the NFL.

The 2011 draft was Baalke’s first. Virtually all of the work had been completed when he took over for GM Scot McCloughan weeks before. This draft yielded promising early returns. First round pick Aldon Smith quickly emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the league. The following year Kaepernick led the offense to the doorstep of a Super Bowl victory. Late round picks Bruce Miller, Chris Culliver and Kendall Hunter all played key roles on teams that played in three consecutive NFC Championship games.

Free agent acquisition Carlos Rogers led the team in interceptions and started at cornerback in the Pro-Bowl that year. Free agent safety Donte Whitner also made plays for San Francisco on their way to a 14-2 regular season record followed by two heartbreaking fumbles in an NFC championship game loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

In 2012, Baalke was named Pro Football Writers Association Executive the Year. This set the stage for the bare cupboard that is now the San Francisco 49ers roster. First round pick AJ Jenkins played just one season with the 49ers and no longer plays in the NFL. Second round pick Lamichael James played just two seasons with the team. Only one player, guard Joe Looney, played for the team last year. This year none remain.

After going 0-for-7 in the draft, Baalke then signed future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, receiver Mario Manningham and massive running back Brandon Jacobs. Moss and Manningham were largely role players in the 49ers passing attack on the 2012 team that lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. Brandon Jacobs languished on the bench before the team deactivated him for the second half of the season after publicly questioning his lack of playing time. Only Manningham played for the team for more than one season, making nine receptions for San Francisco in 2013.

In 2013, Baalke found a pro-bowler in first round pick safety Eric Reed. Defensive ends Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial log significant playing time on a defense that has played well at home but allowed 40 plus points in two road games this season. Linebacker Corey Lemonier, tight end Vance McDonald and receiver Quinton Patton have yet to establish themselves in two seasons. McDonald, a second round pick, sits third on the depth chart behind starter Vernon Davis and undrafted free agent Garrett Celek. In all with 11 draft picks in 2013, four more than a usual draft, Baalke found one starter. At that rate, it will take him 22 years of unusually large draft classes to acquire starters for each the 11 offensive and defensive positions.

Baalke managed to acquire receiver Anquan Boldin in an offseason trade with the Ravens and he has been the leading receiver in the team’s anemic passing offense the last two seasons. Free agents Glenn Dorsey and Phil Dawson have played prominent roles on the defense and special teams respectively.

Any judgements on the 2014 and 2015 drafts are premature. These drafts produced starters Carlos Hyde, Marcus Martin, Aaron Lynch and Kenneth Acker. Chris Borland, who retired suddenly after a stellar rookie season due to concussion concerns, was also drafted in 2014.

Free agent signings like turnstile tackles Jonathan Martin and Erik Pears along the offensive line have led to Kaepernick being sacked at a potentially record breaking pace this year. Free agent safety Antoine Bethea took over for Donte Whitner and went to a Pro Bowl in his first season in red and gold. Torrey Smith, last off season’s big acquisition, has yet to make an impact in a passing game; characterized by a confused quarterback running for his life after blocking breaks down before he can process the information necessary to make competent pass.

Baalke inherited a roster with the talent to reach three straight NFC Championship games. His greatest contribution was the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, the coach that led them to that success. Since that time he has replaced the successful coach, drafted 50 players and brought in numerous other players through free agency and trades. With over 100 at bats, Baalke couldn’t manage the twelve hits it would have taken to keep this team at the level of excellence it achieved as he took power.

From those wondering what happened to their beloved 49ers, this index finger is pointed at you Baalke.