49ers Should Sacrifice 2004 to the Future
January 17, 2004 at 12:00 AM
By Brett Pahler
In all likelihood, the 49ers will not traverse deep into the playoffs next season. They could. They are not significantly worse than the Rams or Seahawks. They've proven that they can beat the Eagles and Bucs. They've blown away some terrible squads. It is not uncommon in these rags-to-riches NFL days for teams to rise to glory in a single season.
It's possible. But it's also not likely. Our defensive line doesn't generate enough pressure on its own. Our offense, despite having been “tweaked” every hour on the hour since Erickson's arrival, doesn't sustain drives or score in the red zone. We won't have the cap room to sign any free agents, and will probably lose several of our own. Any improvement won't manifest itself in terms of talent, only in mad-scientist Erickson's incessant tweaking.
So, if we can agree that the 49ers are on the downside, why not take our medicine this year? Why not do what enabled us to rebound so quickly after our collapse in '99? Only this time, let's get totally (cap) healthy, so when it comes time to re-sign our high draft picks four and five years from now we'll have the cap room with which to do so.
The quickest way to rebuild a franchise is to cut the high-priced veterans who are already on the downside of their careers, and who would have long-since retired or lost their usefulness by the time we win the championship anyway. Unfortunately, Jeff Garcia fits into this category. He's a nice guy, an average guy, with quick feet and an arm. He's not your typical “Me First” athlete. Relentless. His sincerity is admirable, especially in his solemn words following his DUI. He's an amazing success story, playing Canadian football after college, and landing his first break in the NFL at age 29. Underdog. If only his demeanor translated into a tighter downfield spiral.
A player's value has everything to do with who's playing behind him. If Garcia were playing for Dallas or Chicago, he could command whatever salary he desired. However, in yet another of Garcia's unfortunate breaks, he has the regrettable misfortune of having Tim Rattay undercutting him. Terry Donahue can't rationally pay Garcia $10 million this season when Rattay can do the job almost as well for $1.5 million, which would free up 8.5 million to spend on Owens and Plummer (Peterson will already be resigned). It doesn't matter that Garcia, six years older than Rattay, is slightly better right now. What matters is that Garcia by himself is nowhere near as valuable as Rattay and Owens combined.
Ideally, we would renegotiate Garcia's contract down to a palatable size, and then trade him in order to avoid the $10 million accelerated signing bonus. Probably a quarter of the teams in the league would be willing to invest six to eight million in Garcia. The Cowboys, Bears, Giants, Redskins, Saints, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers probably all consider themselves to be a good quarterback away from the playoffs (or beyond). Is there any doubt Daniel Snyder would pay whatever it takes to have Garcia running his offense?
If we didn't enjoy watching Garcia play at age 33, we're certainly not going to like what we see when he's 35 – presumably the next time we'll have any hope of a Super Bowl. Unless we intend to pay him $10 million a year until he's 37, we're going to have to deal with his signing bonus at some point. The sooner the better.
If we could trade Garcia for, say, a 1st and 3rd round draft pick, which we are in desperate need of to solidify our offensive line, receiving corps, defensive line, and free safety spot, and get another team to take him off our books, two years from now we'd be looking pretty solid when our draft picks begin to realize their potential. No manager in the league would give up Tim Rattay, Terrell Owens, and two high draft picks for Jeff Garcia. Why, in essence, are we?
As good as Garcia can be, there's a great deal of evidence that Rattay will be better. Rattay has the stronger arm, makes quicker decisions, has pinpoint accuracy, progresses through his reads faster, throws the ball down the field better, and studies film like he's Steven Spielberg. He's patiently waited behind Garcia for four years, and has earned the right to start. His quarterback rating was 96.6 last year, 16 points higher than Garcia's. He's only 27. His first two starts as a pro (quarterback ratings of 110 and 130) had the whole league buzzing about whether he was the next Chad Pennington. As heartbreaking as it was to see Joe Montana leave to Kansas City, the greater crime would have been to leave Steve Young sitting on the bench.
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