Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Ok, I will admit it. I bought into it, even if I should have known better.
I'm sure some of you did as well. That is to say, we all believed that the 49ers would be big players in free agency. To be fair, there was a good amount of conventional wisdom to support this viewpoint. A brand new coach in Chip Kelly, whose system is a radical departure from that of his predecessor – which in turn implies that the front office needs to go out and stock the roster with the people that will make it work. Combine that with an existing roster with some sizeable holes in it and over $60 million in available cap room, you can logically see where this is heading. Big time free agency signings.
Excuse me, allow me to re-introduce you to Trent Baalke, who we all apparently forgot was the 49ers General Manager.
Baalke has made his name as one of the more frugal free agency spenders who isn't named Ted Thompson. There is sound logic and reasoning behind that as well. As we have seen in Day 1 of 2016 free agency, teams are tripping over themselves to sign talent that may or may not be worth it. Case in point, I like what I saw from Brock Osweiler last season, but $18 million a year? That is the result of a bidding war, plain and simple, the body of work on file doesn't seem to fit that price tag. Doug Martin? We already have Carlos Hyde on the roster, who if he can remain healthy and productive (big ifs), could command the same type of money down the road. Olivier Vernon? His five year, $85 million contract screams "renegotiation" two years from now. He would have been a nice fit, but if that is the kind of money it was going to take, I can understand why we didn't pull the trigger. Sean Smith was apparently a big time target for Baalke, but $10 million per year for an aging, solidly average corner who may have two good years left in him is a gamble, that worked initially with say, Carlos Rogers, but there is no assurance lightning will strike twice.
We all seemed to forget that big time spending in the first round of free agency just isn't Baalke's M.O. He is a general manager who places a premium on value, someone who prefers to find players who have underachieved, yet find a way to be productive in the 49ers system. Then, the team likes to build through the draft and place a priority on re-signing its own homegrown talent.
There is just one problem with that philosophy this year: there has to be some homegrown talent to re-sign in the first place.
The roster was decimated last year with the well documented early retirements, Aldon Smith's final meltdown, etc. The big priorities this off-season was NT Ian Williams (check), and Alex Boone, who I feel had little to no interest in returning to the team, no matter what money was thrown his way. Anquan Boldin, Phil Dawson and Reggie Bush are all examples of players who at this point are replaceable at a cheaper price, so it is unlikely that they will make a serious run at retaining their services.
So what is the big issue here? Is the team not seriously pursuing free agents, or are they being told thanks but no thanks by these prospects? If it is a case of the former, that is more of the same that we are familiar with in Baalke these past six years. That seems to be a highly questionable strategy, especially when it would seem that your job is on the line. Baalke seems to be following the idea that if he is to be damned, he is going to be damned for who he truly is. He isn't going to change his style now, even with his job on the line.
What about the latter? What if the team is now unable to attract the big time free agents, due to the perceived dysfunction that is running rampant through this organization? Normally $60 million in cap room will alleviate this, as players will generally go where the money is, but if players are being genuinely put off by the 49ers front office combined with the prospect of working for Chip Kelly, that is a major problem. It is a problem that is further exacerbated when the general manager is unwilling to pull the trigger in free agency. Agents may also be dissuading their clients from talking to the 49ers as they know Baalke's strategy well and can make more for their clients (and themselves) by shopping them elsewhere. These two issues may very well be turning San Francisco into Cleveland, from a player's perspective. Scary thought.
It would appear that Baalke is putting his stock once again into the second and third tiers of free agency, so 49er fans have to sit tight and watch this all unfurl, hoping that this move combined with the draft is going to fill all the spaces on the roster. I can see the team making a play for free agents such as Prince Amukamara, Jerrell Freeman, Casey Hayward, Nick Perry, Akiem Nicks, Jarvis Jenkins, Jahri Evans and Kelvin Beachum. All would fill spots and create some depth on the roster at a price that Baalke is willing to pay in free agency.
It remains to be seen if that price is ultimately Trent Baalke's job. Hold on tight faithful, this is shaping up to be an interesting ride. Trent Baalke is going to do what he always does. Shame on us for being surprised.
Date: March 10, 2016 at 4:55 PM
Comment: John, I think everybody wants a big splash in free agency, including myself. It shows that the team is doing something. After not signing anyone it's human nature to get down on ownership and management. My thinking changes, why spend 10's of millions on players that could never live up to the inflated contracts. The game is now played in 3 year contention levels, after that it's rebuilding time again. The exception is having a franchise QB, but they are few and far between.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: March 10, 2016 at 1:06 PM
Comment: Did you really think that it was going to get any better? We got a horrible GM and a coach that has more baggage than a 747. Not really a winning formula. I'm sorry but I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel for this team right now.
Date: March 10, 2016 at 11:10 AM
Comment: John I agree with your article and I would be interested to know which case is it. Are agents keeping thier clients away because of the bad rep of Kelly and the Front office or are we being smart in managing our cap space and not overspending on some of these players? I too was hoping we would at the very least address our O-line
By: Brian M
Date: March 10, 2016 at 10:47 AM
Comment: Jed & Trent are arrogant and misguided. As a 40 year 49er fan, it seems apparent that a local buyer must be sought. With all the tech money at our door step, certainly someone is passionate enough to pay that apathetic family from Youngstown Ohio to walk. Give us back our team Jed. I wouldn't hire you to run a Taco Bell much less the fry station at that Taco Bell. Join the military and grow a pair or just put your head back in the sand. The 49ers deserve a better custodian than you and your inept lap dog.
By: Tom Cox
Date: March 10, 2016 at 10:38 AM
Comment: Your Right John, We have become The Cleveland Browns of the West! Look what is Happening In Oakland now, Players are now wanting to go there to play, where a few years ago it was a place for players to end there careers! I am sure agents are telling there players to stay away from 49ers, And I am sure after what happened to Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, We have become a toxic Place to go to. What a sad state of affairs this Great Organization has become! I just don't see any change coming any time soon----Larry Ellison where are you!
Date: March 10, 2016 at 10:32 AM
Comment: I'm honestly not upset with this approach... would I LOVE to see Niner news on NFL network and ESPN. Absolutely, but you hit the nail on the head, none of these contracts I would want to be a part of. I'm ok with mid level talent this year b/c I truly don't believe there is any HIGH level talent out there. Personally, If they can pull a 2nd rd pick out of Jets or Browns... Maybe drive up Denver to pick #31 for Kaep and a 5th rd. I would say we've won so far in free agency!
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:43 AM
Comment: If only they would sign those players... But he'll probably shop the scrap heap like Shareese Wright and Jerome Simpson
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:43 AM
Comment: Mr. Frugality will hand off a healthy cap situation to his successor. For that Tom Gamble can thank him. I just wonder how many years of losing it will take to get him fired. Two? Three? More?
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:40 AM
Comment: I don't have a problem Niners stay out of overpaying FA but also FA market has few good reliable players to build a roster. Signings of Jeff Allen, Mitchell Schwartz, Derrick Johnson, Lardarius Green and Tashaun Gipson were quite solid without overvalue them and that's how good GM work taking modest but good players to raise their rosters. Perhaps many players are not willing to work for Kelly but also is about how Baalke and his front office is selling the franchise's image to lure them. If things keep going as they are then I really doubt Niners could even improve from their 5-11 record in fact they could be racing for the 2017 first overall pick. Good thing about that would be Baalke won't be the GM after another awful season.
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:40 AM
Comment: Using FA to stockpile more mediocre players for depth just gives you a mediocre roster with no difference makers. Baalke is either choosing to ignore the situation we are in (as in we have no talent on our roster) and the fact that we have seen teams in the new NFL go from cellar dwellers to the playoffs overnight with shrewd use of free agency and the draft, or York is telling him not to spend that money. At this rate we may actually need every draft pick we have to fill holes. All those compensatory 7th rounders must be top flight starters in Baalke's mind....
By: Al Wharton
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:34 AM
Comment: the problem with all of that , Baalke can't pick good players to save his life in the draft ?
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:23 AM
Comment: Really, "dis-function"? The correct spelling is dysfunction (or in some cases, you might see disfunction). Please do not always trust what Word offers you up.
By: Erik Vaught
Date: March 10, 2016 at 9:14 AM
Comment: Building a winning organization isn't "Balke's M.O.". I've been a 49er fan for over 25 years and I think I've had enough with this sadness factory. Lets start the "Sell the 49ers" petition. The Wolverines are looking pretty good. I wonder why? #Browns West