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Everyone believes that San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is on the hot seat. In our latest Round Table, our staff was asked when they believe Baalke might get fired. The 49ers are off to a 1-5 start and riding their first five-game losing streak since starting the 2010 season 0-5.
The organization seems aware that a change needs to be made. To me, the fact that the team didn't spend heavily in the free agent market leads me to believe that Baalke didn't have free reign and was told to hold his cards - possibly so that the next GM would have the luxury of a lot of cap space.
Tom Gamble was brought in during the 2015 offseason and was given the title of Assistant GM in July. This is interesting for a franchise that has historically promoted from within for its front office positions. Gamble worked with the Niners during the Harbaugh era (and before with GM Scot McCloughan) before he left to join the Eagles, which was seen as a major loss at the time. I fully expect that Tom Gamble will be the next GM of the 49ers.
When should the change happen? Well, it's going to happen no matter what, but I'd want to give Gamble the rest of this season to set up his scouting system, to set the draft board for this upcoming draft and to give him time to evaluate the current roster. For those reasons, I think the change must be done at the bye week to give Gamble the rest of the season to get settled in. Baalke has written his ticket out of town with his continued failures in the draft and reluctance to build depth through free agency.
Despite the recent report that Baalke's job is safe, I firmly believe it's a foregone conclusion that he'll be fired at the end of the season. The 49ers roster is a disaster, and the team has gotten worse each of the last three years. Baalke's philosophy on how to build a football team is outdated, and the fact that he devalues skill positions consistently puts the Niners behind the eight ball. It's obvious Chip Kelly knows he doesn't have the players or depth right now, and he's clearly frustrated. If he wants to be, Kelly will be in San Francisco for the long haul, and to think he won't have a strong influence on the roster is naive. Whether it's Tom Gamble or someone else, the 49ers will have a new GM in 2017.
There have been certain members of the media that have called for his head following the Buccaneers game and as the 49ers head into the bye week. I can't really fathom what purpose that would serve, other than to appease the fan base. It would probability mean the interim promotion of Tom Gamble who I'd be willing to bet is on the York's radar for the long term gig.
I'd like to say that it will happen immediately following the last game of the season. I just have a feeling that Baalke will be able to weasel his way into one more season with Coach Kelly. It will be up to Jed York whether or not he is willing to tolerate another offseason of Baalke drafting 'value' players, rather than drafting players that actually fit the system and can have an immediate impact.
I didn't think York had the stomach to fire Jim Tomsula after one season, but he did, so I'm hoping that he will show some more intestinal fortitude and fire Baalke at season's end. Time will tell...
Next week? Next year? Never? Who the hell can tell what Jed York is thinking and/or going to do with this team anymore? If he'd shown any sort of logic or deliberate approach to the way he makes decisions then it would be worth trying to predict his next move, but he's basically run the team by the seat of his pants and surrounded himself with yes-men that tell him whatever he wants to hear. Subsequently, this organization is flailing and rudderless, just like it was back in 2010.
IF Baalke gets fired, and that's a big "if", I can't see it happening until the end of the season. Getting a new guy now isn't going to immediately change anything personnel-wise and if the Yorks want to entice somebody who's actually good to come and do the job, they have to put out a front of stability. Otherwise, nobody will want to go work there without a 100% guarantee they'll be paid handsomely and left alone to run the ship.
Canning Baalke now may appease some of the fans, but not for long and it's meaningless unless York gets the right guy to do the job next.
This is a tougher question to answer than you may believe. Logically, you can determine by now that Baalke's way of doing things has eroded the 49ers roster to the point they are at now. Some will point out that Baalke created a Super Bowl roster and numerous NFC Championship appearing teams. I believe that credit for those teams should go to the previous regime, to which Baalke was a part of. He just wasn't the man calling the shots back then. He rode that roster to a Super Bowl and then failed to reload it once the talent started to slip away.
Baalke has hit on a few draft picks, but his misses are glaring. His entire 2012 draft class is nowhere to be seen and he refuses to spend in free agency, even on positions of desperate need.
With all of that said, it would be nice to get a new general manager in place right away so that he can begin influencing scouting. Something tells me that is not going to happen because this team has a bizarre way of doing things. Then there is Tom Gamble, who is the logical replacement, but seems to be Chip Kelly's buddy. That relationship makes me somewhat hesitant to endorse that promotion because Gamble as general manager might give Kelly a little more say on the roster than he should have.
Then there is the curious report that Baalke's job is safe. If that is true, which I don't believe it is, then at some point Baalke convinced Jed York to just let this season play out and give the Baalke-Kelly partnership a shot through 2017. Something like, "Look, we're going to be bad this year. We won't let on that we know this, but it's going to be really bad. Then we'll have an even higher draft pick, get our quarterback of the future and have a ton of cash to build around him."
Ok, that's the conspiracy theory portion of my brain thinking. I still believe that the plan was always to give Baalke until the end of the season to allow the 49ers to at least show some impovement. That hasn't happened and I think Baalke will be let go at the end of the season.