Let's give Baalke's last two drafts the benefit of our doubts. Let's say all the previous draft picks and free agents come to the fore, and, further, that the medical redshirts stay healthy. Let's say that the sage one has, indeed, already accumulated the necessary ammunition to, as he said last winter, "reload." Let's say, just for kicks, that we will someday remember 2015 as the year when several new starters leapt forward, some of them superb. Even so, Baalke must still replace those replacements. In other words, the 49ers not only have to reload, they also, simultaneously, must rebuild. They must reload and rebuild.

Take, for example, Craig Dahl. Miscast early in his career as a starter in St. Louis, he is nonetheless a serviceable player, who can fill in for a few snaps at safety and contribute on special teams. Every roster needs such players. Still, should Bethea retire and/or, heaven forbid, Eric Reid sustain another concussion, few would expect Dahl to permanently replace either. Perhaps Jimmie Ward, or another younger player, might eventually fit into a reconfigured secondary. Whether from injuries, attrition, retirements, or player movement, NFL rosters can turn over rapidly, as Niner fans now well know. Because of this, the more young, cheap, potential future front-line starters on the depth charts, the better.

Baalke's first signing in free agency, Torrey Smith, represents a classic implementation of the reload strategy. NFL teams often damage their long-term prospects by overestimating the quality of their existing roster. After all, they know these players and selected them themselves. How could they possibly be wrong about their own personnel? We know what we're doing, they tell themselves, surely we will contend. Why, we're only one or two players away!

Thus does hubris and organizational overreach tempt teams to overspend on free agents, or to trade multiple draft picks just to get that one would-be savior who will purportedly put them over the top. Sometimes, these teams turn out to be right. Last year, New England rode a one-year rental of Darrelle Revis to the Super Bowl. But, more often, the short-term fix hamstrings a team's long-term prospects, as when Ditka's Saints infamously traded their entire slate of draft choices to secure the selection of just one player, Ricky Williams. Or, sometimes, the supposed savior can even become a toxic asset. Just ask the Seahawks about Percy Harvin. Eventually, they gave him the gate. Notice, too, that the Patriots, rather than jeopardize their whole personnel structure, this off-season let Revis walk.

Heretofore, Baalke, even when the Niners had a flush roster, has not succumbed to the just-a-couple-players-away temptation. He recognizes the opportunity cost of squandered draft picks, ill-conceived deals, and cumbersome contracts. However, with all the off-season turmoil, and the pressures that come with it, will he abandon his talent-acquisition discipline? And was the signing of T. Smith to the largest free-agent contract of the Baalke era the first incremental move toward salary-cap perdition?

I don't think so. Fans already know that the structure of Smith's contract insures that it does not exceed his market value, and that this in-his-prime receiver fills a need. I like the signing also for a couple of other reasons. First, far from hubristic, the signing represents a de facto admission that the 49ers during Baalke's tenure have mostly failed to identify and develop young receivers. Maybe Patton and/or Ellington will eventually pan out, but, until then, if you can't pick 'em, purloin 'em. Second, both the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick remain in the years-of-decision register regarding the future of the quarterback position, and the Niners still want to give Colin every possible opportunity to succeed by surrounding him with complimentary cohorts. Also, Torrey seems like a genuinely high-character kind of a guy.

Even if, early in the off-season, Baalke had tended toward a full-on reload-not-rebuild action, subsequent events have surely choked it back. The tumultuous player exodus that shocked some fans probably, at the very least, prompted some second thoughts in the front office. A cavalcade of possible low-cost free agents has since paraded through Ninerland, and continues apace as of this writing. Baalke always likes to sign a few of these roster fillers, both to shore up depth and to keep opposing teams guessing about which players the 49ers may or may not take during the draft, but this year he might have to settle for more than the usual quotient of just flat-out warm bodies. It will take more than one off-season to replenish the rearranged young talent.

How ironic that, during his first season replacing Harbaugh as the putative co-face of the franchise, Trent Baalke now faces, full frontal, perhaps his most difficult challenge. On the other hand, the flux has provided, also ironically, the new head coach, Jimmie T. -- as Jed calls him -- with some room to breathe. No one can convincingly say, whatever the Niners' 2015 record, that Coach Tomsula messed up Harbaugh's team. This ain't Harbaugh's team any longer, if it ever was -- simply too much turnover to call it such.

So the new coach gets a fresh start, in more ways than one, a maiden season during which his positive attitude and aw-shucks demeanor may very well, in contrast to his predecessor, wear well, at least until his team goes into a prolonged losing streak. But the 49ers are not now entirely bereft of talent. They're just not the stacked-roster juggernaut that blasted through the league just a few years ago. And even avid Harbaugh supporters will not miss the wolverine's battles with the game and play clocks, his travails with timeouts, nor his at-times intransigent offensive philosophies. Hell, no one can tell for sure what kind of team the 49ers may produce this year, and that uncertainty brings with it a brace of hope, as well as anxiety. If Kaepernick and the offense improves, if the replacements excel, and if key players avoid injuries, this team could carouse its way right back into the playoff mix. (Ah, the off-season, a time of emphatic "if's.")

In any case, Tomsula will probably get a long, fair trial to remain head coach. He gets along with folks, shows well at team functions, and does not outshine the owner during joint press conferences. Seriously, the ability to get along with others is not a negligible skill. And Tomsula possesses another attribute that may also endear him to his owner. Scribes have dubbed Coach Jim a "working class, blue collar, guy," something many owners seek: someone to oversee, but not supersede, the team. A coach, according to some owners, should know, and remember, his place in the team hierarchy. Jimmie T may just suit Jed York's "win-with-class-distinctions-intact" dictum. None of which, of course, precludes the man from becoming a fine NFL head coach.

I think the 49ers will be fun to watch this year, and may delight us in unexpected ways. So, too, may their new head coach. We don't really know what to expect from this guy, or from his team. That's part of the fun, and possible frustration, of being a fan.