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In our latest Round Table, we asked our team of writers about San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke's job security. Would he need to win a specific number of games to retain his post within the organization or is he on the hot seat?
49ers beat writer Chris Biderman from partner site Niners Wire of USA TODAY Sports joins us for this topic.
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Chris Biderman, Niners Wire
I think it's hard to quantify purely by number of wins. I think it's more about the way players develop. If players like Tank Carradine, Eli Harold, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Vance McDonald and other important draft picks don't evolve into key contributors, then it's hard to justify keeping Baalke around.
But those scenarios aren't mutually exclusive. Those guys could step up and become a part of a foundation for a winning team, but it might not directly translate in the standings. The 49ers have bigger problems, like at quarterback, that will have a greater bearing on the win column.
That being said, the base line has to be six wins. If the 49ers aren't noticeably better than 2015 under Jim Tomsula, then Baalke's going to take the fall. This is only being considered a "rebuilding effort" because the roster lacks talent, and that's on Baalke. The context of Baalke's long-term future, in my opinion, lies more in the development of his roster than wins.
Because a scenario exists where the talent on the roster remains stagnant, but Kelly's system and play calling - and the health of Carlos Hyde - leads to a significant improvement. What then? Is Baalke showered with credit because the team won more games despite the talent on the roster? The context of the season is everything.
I may be in the minority, but I don't see Tom Gamble's recent promotion as a clear sign that this will be a make-or-break season for Trent Baalke.
Jed York was quick to build an allegiance with Baalke over Jim Harbaugh, and it can be gleaned that Jim Tomsula was perhaps hand-picked by York himself. While I don't anticipate York introspectively soul-searching anytime soon, I can safely assume that he recognizes that the failures of the 2015 season are not necessarily at the feet of Baalke. My impression is that Baalke is still York's most trusted confidant in the building and it will take more than another sub .500 season to get him to sever ties.
The 49ers have a tough schedule and wins will be hard to come by. With Tom Gamble promoted to assistant GM, I expect that he will take over at some point during the season. If the Niners go on a losing streak of 4+ games, I can see Baalke being fired during the season. Anything short of 8-8 will probably get him fired, but Trent Baalke is most likely gone either way.
An indication of this is that he actually used all of his draft picks in the draft this year, as opposed to trading away picks for next year or the year after. It gives the impression that he won't be back to use those picks next year or the year after. Ironically, Baalke is going to be relying on the roster that he failed to improve to save his job. Baalke has a background on the defensive side of the ball and likes teams to grind out tough yards on the ground. The Chip Kelly hiring was distinctly un-Baalke and most likely Jed York's pick, suggesting that the team is already slowly phasing Baalke out.
This is a tricky question because I think the 49ers can be significantly better than last season and still only win 4-5 games because of the schedule and developing roster. I believe for Baalke to get another season, the front office will need to see significant strides from the younger guys who will be asked to play bigger roles. Recent draft picks like Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, Jimmie Ward, Carlos Hyde, Bruce Ellington, etc. will have to show that they are true building blocks moving forward.
That being said, the York's have already placed Baalke firmly on the hot seat by promoting Tom Gamble to Assistant General Manager, so there's a chance Baalke could be sent packing if the team doesn't make significant progress both on the field and in the win column. I'll say 6 or 7 victories buys him another year, but nothing is certain given Gamble's presence and his strong relationship with head coach Chip Kelly.
8-8. And trending upwards. While in my gut I think that Trent Baalke is untouchable in the eyes of Jed York, the promotion of Tom Gamble speaks a lot about the situation and could mean he has a short leash. Baalke has to show that he has assembled a team that can compete after being built nearly exclusively through the draft. It is no secret that Baalke is hot and cold in the draft and has found some quality players for us, but the fact that neither he nor the team can attract free agents is troubling. Yes, we all know that you overpay in free agency, but sometimes (especially when you have $50 million to spend) you have to overpay a player or two at the minimum to excite the fan base. This is either a reflection of Baalke, York, or both.
The fact that the team let him enter the final year of his contract likely speaks to the fact that he has to deliver and considering he gave Tomsula the reins to the team in lieu of some better candidates, I think that we might be looking for a new GM in the offseason.
I would say if the team ends up with a top 5 pick this season, meaning that we have most likely not improved at all or worse still, have regressed, Baalke loses his job. The promotion of Tom Gamble to Assistant GM seems to indicate that Baalke is most definitely on the hot seat. Also given an offseason where the team made virtually no moves in free agency to address areas of need, it appears that Baalke feels that coaching versus personnel was this year's biggest need, and he is therefore doubling down on his ability to draft talent. He really needs big years from his 'ACL squad' of Tank Carradine, Keith Reaser, DeAndre Smelter and to some extent Will Redmond to prove his ability to uncover hidden gems in the draft. I would therefore say the team needs to win 6 games for him to have any realistic expectation of being back in 2017.
Now, will Jed have the stomach to pull the plug? That remains to be seen.
More so than wins, I believe that the team showing some sort of progress during the 2016 season would be enough for Trent Baalke to keep his job. While the 49ers will never admit this, with so many young and unproven players currently on the roster, they know that they are rebuilding. Ownership will likely look at a number of factors throughout the season. Are there younger players that are stepping up? How are the last few draft classes progressing? Win or lose, how competitive is this team during games, particularly against teams that – at least on paper – outmatch the 49ers.
Honestly, I think as long as the team wins more games than they did under the previous regime, Baalke will be fine. That would be six victories, which I believe is an achievable mark. Anything on top of that would further validate Baalke's progress with the team to ownership – whether he deserves it or not. Unless this team just totally tanks and is once again consistently embarrassed on the field, I think Baalke stays. It will not take a playoff appearance to save his job.
I don't think Trent Baalke is in trouble at all. While many see the promotion of Tom Gamble to assistant GM as a precursor to Baalke's dismissal, I see it as a validation of him. Gamble is Baalke's guy. He brokered the partnership between Baalke and Chip Kelly by selling each entity on the positive traits of the other. He's never emerged as an ambitious back-biter, and he appeared genuinely grateful when the 49ers (see also: Baalke) released him from his contract so he could work closer to family in Philadelphia, and when they brought him back after his dismissal in Philadelphia. I don't think Jed York has a specific win total in mind for the year. Baalke must show Jed that he has an answer at QB, either already on the roster, or in the upcoming draft. Ballke has invested heavily in the trenches. The offensive and defensive lines must show improvement to strengthen the perception that he is the man to complete the rebuild, but I think he's safe through 2017, regardless.
It's a do or die year for Trent Baalke on multiple fronts — he's now entering the 2016 season with his third head coach in as many seasons, and a new assistant general manager to boot. As it would only be in sports, the three have all worked with each other in some fashion at some point of their careers. Now, they are seeking to right the ship of the 49ers in unison.
The easiest analogy I can come up with to describe the San Francisco 49ers at this point is the Titanic — the ship (Levi's Stadium), is sinking, there aren't enough lifeboats, everyone wants off, and the band is still playing.
Baalke, Kelly and Gamble are the soloists in this scenario.
After entering the offseason with one of the largest bankrolls in the entire league, Baalke did little to shift the makeup of his team, aside from hiring the aforementioned personnel to reinvent the wheel on the field for the team. Make no mistake, Chip Kelly can coach this team, and believe it or not, he can do it with Blaine Gabbert at the helm. It's my opinion that with the right pieces, as any quarterback should be able to, Gabbert can lead this team.
For the upcoming season, a realistic ceiling for the 49ers, in my opinion, is six wins. And Kelly has the pieces to win at least that many games, perhaps even more if the ball bounces his way on a few occasions. Anything less than six spells the demise of Baalke.