It wasn't too long ago that the San Francisco 49ers reestablished themselves as the envy of the NFL. They were an organization that seemed to be doing all the right things and headed in the right direction.
Things changed a couple of years ago when news started to leak about a rift between management and then head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was seen by the fanbase as a savior following years of frustration. Everything seemed to snowball from there leading to his "mutual" parting of ways, the hiring of a position coach with little experience as his replacement, and the departure of players via free agency and surprising retirements. Here we are years later and the team is still trying to rebuild its roster and its image. After observing the difficult time that the organization has had accomplishing those tasks, we are forced to ask a very simple question. Does anyone really want to play for the 49ers?
Of course, that question is a bit extreme. There are certainly players that want to be with the team, but given recent events, it is tough to not ask the question and wonder if management and the overall view of the organization is making San Francisco a less desirable place to play football for certain players.
Davis' abrupt retirement in early June last year threw the 49ers' offensive plans into chaos, and the team paid for it all season long. The team went into the 2015 offseason and draft thinking that Davis would be part of the offensive line and planning accordingly. Was that poor planning on management's part? Perhaps. Regardless, his retirement forced a shift in plans and threw backups quality players into starting roles. You know you are in trouble when bargain bin players like Jordan Devey and Erik Pears are announced as starters given the task of protecting your quarterback.
Following a year off, Davis has continued to declare his intention to return to the NFL after recovering from injuries that forced him to miss nine games in 2014, most notably the lingering symptoms from a concussion. In the nine games that Davis had missed, the team averaged 66 less rushing yards per game.
Since Davis has failed to officially file for reinstatement, the 49ers have been moving forward with their 2016 offseason plans without him. Earlier today, Davis took a strange shot at his former and would-be boss.
I'll be filing for reinstatement to the NFL later this year. Dealing with Trent is giving me a headache.— AD (@BamDavis_) April 1, 2016
That would be general manager Trent Baalke. It's probably not the wisest move for someone to take a public shot at a potential employer, which begs the question, "Does Davis even want to play for the 49ers?"
We know he wants to return to the NFL and plans to do so. If he files for reinstatement, the 49ers will own his rights. Could alienating management prior to returning be a preemptive move to try and get out of San Francisco?
In the past, new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly has not looked fondly on players that do not buy into his system and has been fine with letting those players go. Plus, some question how Davis would fit into Kelly's offensive scheme. By stalling his return and missing part of the team's offseason program, he is forcing the 49ers to move forward with their offseason without him, perhaps even finding a suitable replacement for him prior to his reinstatement, making him a tradable asset.
Could it have been an April Fools joke? It doesn't seem to be Davis' MO. If it was, it was executed poorly and some in the media don't believe that to be the case.
If you think @BamDavis_ did April's Fool joke, do you think he's not filing reinstatement later this yr or Trent doesn't give him headache?— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) April 1, 2016
Yesterday, Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area stated that, during last week's NFL owners meetings, Kelly said that he was comfortable with the 49ers' offensive line. "Obviously, the O-line, led by Joe Staley, there's a lot of talent there, too," Kelly said. "I think it's a good group."
That's the very same offensive line that gave up 53 sacks last season, which tied them with the Cleveland Browns for second worst in the NFL (The Tennessee Titans were first). The 49ers could certainly use all of the help that they can get along the offensive line. Maybe Davis knows that and a quick return would lessen his chances of playing elsewhere.
We all know the continuing narrative by now. Kaepernick was benched in November in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Shortly after, a revealed injury to his left shoulder forced the team to place the quarterback on injured reserve. He is currently recovering from multiple surgeries. While none are expected to be long-term issues, he has had surgeries on that shoulder, his right thumb, and his left knee since being placed on injured reserve and had been recovering from his surgeries at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.
In February, just a day after Baalke stated that the quarterback would be on the roster on April 1 and after Kelly enthusiastically discussed working with him, Kaepernick's representatives requested permission to seek a trade, which the 49ers eventually granted. That led to numerous reports and drama surrounding a possible roster move to land him with another franchise.
The Cleveland Browns were reportedly interested, but after being unable to figure out a salary agreement with Kaepernick's camp, they dropped out of the race following the signing of Robert Griffin III. They later denied that talks between them and the 49ers evolved that far.
The New York Jets were in the rumor mill as well. However, they seemed to be taking a "wait and see" approach before eventually declaring that they were out as well.
That leaves just one potential trade partner in the Denver Broncos. Talks between the two teams have stalled since March 10 and the issue seems to be compensation. The Broncos reportedly value Kaepernick at a fourth round draft pick while the 49ers know that he would immediately be inked in as their starter and feel that he is worth more. The Broncos, who are just $1.62 million under the cap per the latest NFLPA report, reportedly asked Kaepernick to take a $7 million pay cut following a possible trade.
Kaepernick will be present for the 49ers' offseason activities when they kick off on Monday. He has to be or he will forfeit his $400,000 bonus that kicks in when he attends at least 90 percent of the team's voluntary offseason program. However, all other indications would make it easy to say that Kaepernick does not want to be in San Francisco anymore.
While a trade is still possible, the 49ers have to be hoping that they can mend the relationship with their disgruntled quarterback. Perhaps once he is with his teammates, has an opportunity to work with the coaching staff, and the playbook, his view will change.
The 49ers entered the new league year with over $60 million in salary cap space. A healthy sum for a rebuilding franchise to go along with 12 draft picks. The team could have restocked their roster and filled a number of holes, if they could convince free agents that the organization was a desirable place to continue their football careers.
It was predicted that, with a lot to prove, the 49ers would be more aggressive in free agency by spending the money needed to show that they were serious about becoming relevant again. While they may have tried, Baalke's sales pitch has apparently fallen short.
The team was reportedly aggressive in their pursuit of former Kansas City Chiefs CB Sean Smith, who was deciding between the 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. He eventually chose Oakland. One of their own free agents, G Alex Boone, could not get out of San Francisco fast enough, signing with the Minnesota Vikings.
The team was able to re-sign their top free agent, NT Ian Williams. Of course, now you have to wonder if that was due to his rehabilitation from injury. You have to wonder how many teams would have offered him a massive contract given the fact that he is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season in September. His best bet ended up being a return to San Francisco. on a deal that was eventually reduced to just one year.
The team was able to bring in OG Zane Beadles for a relatively small sum, a shockingly solid addition of a player whose career seemed to diminish in Jacksonville. Then there is QB Thad Lewis, a long shot to make the team, especially if the 49ers end up drafting a quarterback within the first few rounds of the NFL Draft later this month.
WR Eric Rogers was signed from the CFL and is an intriguing prospect but comes to a team that already has a lot of competition at the position. It was reportedly Kelly's sales pitch that sold Rogers, who was coveted by numerous NFL teams, on playing in San Francisco.
Here is a list of the players that the 49ers were reportedly interested in during free agency and lost out on – and these are just the ones that we know about.
RB C.J. Anderson (Denver)
RB Lance Dunbar (Dallas)
CB Casey Hayward (San Diego)
OL Ted Larsen (Chicago)
LB James Laurinaitis (New Orleans)
WR Marc Mariani (Chicago)
RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)
LT Russell Okung (Denver)
CB Sean Smith (Oakland)
LB Courtney Upshaw (Atlanta)
OG J.R. Sweezy (Tampa Bay)
Despite a desperate need to infuse the roster with talent, Baalke reverted back to his old ways with his refusal to overspend on a single player. He either really believes in his system, feels that he has a good deal of job security, or both. Of those on the list, only Smith and Larsen seemed to be giving San Francisco serious consideration before closing to play elsewhere.
A good plan would have been to address the offense, especially the offensive line, in free agency and then the defense in the draft. Now the 49ers are forced to look solely at the draft to begin their rebuild, a philosophy that they would love fans to believe was the plan all along. The problem is that they have drafted poorly in recent years, further accelerating the team's demise.
One has to wonder if the 49ers get it. Does Baalke get it? Does Jed York not recognize that Baalke may be part of the problem? If Chip Kelly fails in San Francisco, which I truly hope he does not, then Baalke may quickly become the newest scapegoat and eventually find himself on the outside looking in.