Why Win Today When You Can Win Tomorrow?
March 4, 2004 at 12:00 AM
After a slew of prominent veteran releases, general manager Terry Donahue had this to say about the future of the San Francisco Forty-Niners: "As we see it, the future looks really bright."
By "we" he means him and his imaginary friend Tito, right?
Wasn’t it just a few years ago that fans heard "We are looking ahead to the future?" Wasn’t the future supposed to be now? Didn’t the 49ers already go through the re-building process in order to get to this point? At this rate, the 49ers make themselves over more often than Michael Jackson’s ever-so-static facial features.
The future looks painful at best, especially for Tim Rattay and Dennis Erickson.
"But Tim looked great last season!" Yeah, so did Kurt Warner before he was pummeled over, and over, and over, and over. Don’t get me wrong; Tim Rattay is an excellent quarterback. He posted phenomenal numbers last year. He led the team to their only back-to-back wins last season. As I have said before, he is a prototypical Erickson quarterback. He has a strong arm, makes quick decisions, and throws a deep ball prettier than the cover of this month’s Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. What good is all that if he’s on his back looking up because the pocket disintegrated around him?
The release of Derrick Deese and Ron Stone assure the fact that the 49ers will be less effective passing and running the ball. Deese had not allowed a sack from Garcia’s blind side in two seasons. Even on a gimpy ankle he provided Garcia with enough protection to under throw the ball. Kwame Harris was inconsistent in his time in the trenches. He would allow mediocre defensive ends beat him with mediocre moves. Harris will eventually be a great offensive tackle, but trial by fire on the quarterback’s blind side is not the preferred method in the NFL.
Moreover, Green Bay exposed Rattay’s weakness: his mobility, or lack thereof. The mantra when facing Rattay is simple: blitz him hard and blitz him often. He doesn’t slip out of the pressure like Tom Brady, and he doesn’t run around like Jeff Garcia. He’s more like Marc Bulger, which is a good thing for Erickson’s offense. The wide-open one-back offense necessitates a quarterback that will let the play develop. Without an anchor on the left side, however, defensive linemen can start licking their chops.
Deese was the anchor, but Ron Stone was the bulldozer. The 49ers bread and butter running play was a power run behind Stone and center Jeremy Newberry. Now, the 49ers will have to make due with an offensive line that is missing two of its three best players. Combine this with the fact that the o-line’s depth was as thin as Kate Moss on a diet and you have an unsatisfying recipe for disaster. At least the 49ers will have an extra draft pick to use on an offensive lineman after "Owens-Gate."
As for Erickson? Well, we need only take one look at his tenure in Seattle to know that he is not the man for a re-building project. Sports pundits always cite the fact that the Seahawks were in disarray throughout Erickson’s time there. How do the 49ers look any different now? They have no leaders, a brand-spankin’ new coaching squad, a comatose GM, and a reviled owner who is not willing to pay $1.4 million to keep a proven Pro-Bowl performer at right guard. They have players refusing to sign offer sheets in order to "test the free-agent waters." When did Ken Norton, Gary Plummer, Steve Young or Jerry Rice ever want to test the waters? They didn’t. They wanted to stay on, restructure, and win.
Wait, what does that word mean? Is it like...saving money?
If the NFL handed out Lombardi Trophies for penny pinching, 49er fans would be falling over themselves to applaud John York. The 49er’s brass is touting the $4 million they will save in 2005 and the $14 million they will save in 2006. What do fans do in the meantime? John York has been talking about the "future" since he arrived.
If I could say one thing to Terry Donahue and John York it would simply be this: Do not be so naïve as to assume that when you sign someone to a contract that will pay them 9 million they will be willing to take 4.5 million. Make smart decisions when you negotiate contracts, and make smart decisions when you release players. For someone as business minded as John York, the simple concept of "investments" seems impossible to grasp. He didn’t understand it when he hired a head coach. He proved once again by releasing Stone that he just cant understand how $1.4 million this year would have kept more than a right guard; it would have retained a mentor for the offensive lineman he will draft. It would have protected his new, young quarterback. It would have kept some semblance of locker room stability.
But instead the 49ers will make a run for the whole enchilada in 2006. The 49er faithful have been looking ahead to the future since 1999. As Zack De La Rocha so eloquently put it, "It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime. What better place than here, what better time than now?"
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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