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Just Like That, Baalke Fails

Jul 31, 2011 at 11:35 AM133

The plan, believe it or not, wasn't bad.

Oh, sure, it SOUNDED weak. "From a philosophical standpoint," Trent Baalke said, "we're not going to be major players in free agency." He didn't rule out pursuing a "high-end free agent," but he was committed to "dealing with the known, and the known is the players that have been under your tutelage." Jed York, of course, was supportive, saying that "that's where we've always focused, [on] making sure we re-sign our own guys." He even went on to mock the big spenders, for trying to "win the Super Bowl in March." (Hey, if you doubt his expertise, just ask him to show you his Super Bowl ring. Oh wait....)

Of course, there's a certain irony in preserving "the known" when all you've ever known is losing. But that's what we get for Jed's decision to hire his GM from within. An outsider might've taken one look at this 6-and-10 team and gutted the roster, importing a new, more talented core. But Baalke, you see, helped BUILD this roster. Naturally, he'd overrate it.

Fortunately for Baalke, the weaknesses of his players were subsumed by the incompetence of their coaching. Jed's old head coach was an empty pair of lowered pants, so Baalke's roster got a free pass. Jed himself admitted as much: "I think we're close, and I think that's one of the reasons why Jim Harbaugh's our [new] head coach. We think Jim can [win] with this roster."

So the plan was in place: "re-sign our own guys" but then peek outside, for experienced guys at positions of need. And, again, the plan wasn't bad. Baalke's overrating aside, he'd do the least that a GM must do. He'd increase our talent--if only a little--and Harbaugh then would take it from there.

A good plan. Catastrophically executed.

See, first off, if your focus is "always" on your own guys, you stop 'em from reaching free agency to begin with. But if they DO hit the market, you've got no choice: you pay 'em enough to stop 'em from leaving.

Baalke couldn't do either one. But, hey, at least he was focused.

"Our own guys" were primarily six: Baas, Goldson, Franklin, Lawson, McDonald, and Spikes. Spikes was no spring chicken, but he was coming off an outstanding season as Patrick Willis's partner in mayhem. Yet Spikes was only the first to go, with Baalke only barely resisting. Baas was next, and here's where things went seriously wrong. An up-and-comer at a thin position, Baas had long been deemed our top priority. The Giants might've overpaid, but Baalke's next choice--a 13-year vet who's been to six Pro Bowls--would likely cost him even more.

If there was a bright side, though, it was that Baalke might refocus on Franklin and Lawson, the two who'd seemed most likely to leave. But in paying McDonald a starter's rate, Baalke simply gave up on Franklin, and he seems wholly uninterested in pairing the edge-setting Lawson with the pass-rushing Aldon Smith. That leaves Goldson, where Baalke's bidding against the likes of Al Davis and Jerry Jones. How do you like his chances there?

There was ONE guy, of course, whom Baalke was able to snag right away: the eternal Alex Smith. We'd known for months that he'd be back--thanks, lockout--but the official announcement was still disconcerting. Sure, he showed surprising grit in organizing the players' workouts, though he seems as qualified to teach Harbaugh's offense as he'd be to teach organic chemistry. And, sure, much of his baggage isn't his fault. But there's no escaping the ugly truth: despite all we've seen in all these years, Harbaugh will start with Mike Nolan's quarterback. The saga, incredibly, still goes on.

Please, Colin. Hurry up.

With the crucial part of his plan in flames, Baalke turned to OTHER teams' guys. He needed experience at three key positions: cornerback, especially after he cut the absurdly paid Nate Clements; quarterback, especially after he cut the absurdly bad David Carr; and wide receiver, especially after Michael Crabtree absurdly announced--with great regret, of course--he'd have to skip yet another preseason. Baalke missed on a trade for Chad Ochocinco, and then he lost out on Plaxico Burress. ("Gold stars" aren't so important now, eh?) He kicked the tires on Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Moore, but he still hasn't picked up a vet to compete with Smith (or, of course, to replace him, in the likely event of his final demise).

Corner, though, was where Baalke's failure reached epic proportions. He was truly desperate and flush with cash, having spent almost none. Yet he swung and missed, again and again. Nnamdi Asomugha. Johnathan Joseph. Chris Carr. Strike one, strike two, strike three.

Trent Baalke, you're out.

Faced with such an embarrassing defeat, Baalke might've shown some remorse, or at least some humility. Instead, he only made matters worse. "We're executing the plan," he said defiantly. "I'm not going to sit here and justify what we're doing."

Oh, I see. We were told that we would "re-sign our own guys," and we've let nearly all of 'em go. We've taken shots at a bunch of guys from other teams--including the biggest name in the free-agent field--and we've landed a kicker and nothing else. Yet Baalke says we're "executing the plan"?

Nice try there, Trent.

The loser in this, of course, is Harbaugh. He could've coached any team in the league, but he wanted the Niners. So much so, he placed his trust in a novice like Baalke, the latest of the Yorks' endless series of amateurs. Harbaugh was told that "we're close," that he would put us over the top. Instead, no matter which of the remaining free-agent scraps we pick up, Baalke's stuck him with a rebuilding project, likely the Niners' worst roster in years. (Oh, did I even mention that Gore's holding out?)

Thanks to Baalke, all the excitement of Harbaugh's arrival--that wondrous sensation of glorious rebirth--is gone, replaced by an all-too-familiar dread. That sinking feeling that no one, not even Harbaugh, can save us.

Sorry, Coach, but this is life in the Yorks' poisoned realm.

You deserve better. And so do we.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • DanStarkey
    Re-visiting this article, I find it rather amusing how completely wrong the stated opinions turned out to be - proving Baalke/Harbaugh correct and author Jeff Kaplan off base. Two years later, the 49ers were one play away from a 6th Super Bowl Championship. - Aubrayo Franklin: 2 teams in past 2 seasons, 37 total tackles < 39 tackles in his last season (2010) with the 49ers. McDonald and Sopoaga have both proven to be starter-caliber players. - McDonald has been retained and he's grown into a strong contributing starter. - NYG overpaid for Baas. SF in 2012 had arguably the best O-line in the NFL, with 0 games lost to injury. - Lawson, in two seasons with Cincy, has not come close to equaling his career season in '09 and '12 was his worst since his second season in the NFL in '07. - Takeo Spikes' leadership was valuable, but NaVorro Bowman has turned into a Pro Bowl tackling machine to pair with Willis as the best (and young) LB duo in the NFL. - Goldson. He has been retained and is playing at an All-Pro level. He will be a priority again in the 2013 offseason. Go 49ers!!
    Feb 19, 2013 at 4:42 PM
  • DaveWilcox
    Jeff... Since you were so wrong on this, you deserve a 2nd helping of crow. Crow is a dish best served cold. If you ever hope to regain any credibility around here, you should make your next piece about crow. How much you like it, and all the ways you can prepare it.
    Oct 22, 2011 at 9:35 AM
  • alex
    just like that, this article fails.
    Aug 14, 2011 at 5:36 PM
  • RichmondPete
    Hahaha YOU FAIL ONCE AGAIN negative nancy.
    Aug 10, 2011 at 11:34 AM
  • tom
    Hey Mouth, So whaddya think of Baalke now? Quick to damn, are you quick to praise?
    Aug 7, 2011 at 8:46 AM
  • dcsham
    "Thanks to Baalke, all the excitement of Harbaugh's arrival--that wondrous sensation of glorious rebirth--is gone, replaced by an all-too-familiar dread. That sinking feeling that no one, not even Harbaugh, can save us. Sorry, Coach, but this is life in the Yorks' poisoned realm. You deserve better. And so do we." You probably feel pretty stupid right now, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 6:48 PM
  • Jikkle
    In Jeff's defense he wasn't the only one jumping the gun and calling this FA period horrible. I mean I can't count the number of talking heads that called it bad and are still calling it bad on ESPN etc. Also it should be noted that Baalke does take input from the coaching staff so it's obvious that Fangio wasn't on his hands and knees begging Baalke to resign Franklin and Lawson. It's clear by the lack of effort to resign them Fangio didn't think highly of them. Was this FA period a massive success like the Eagles? No, but I don't think you could argue that we didn't have a successful free agency period in our own right. The secondary is upgraded, Edwards is an upgrade and is completely no risk to the team, and Goodwin is on the downside of his career but still was a recent pro bowler on one of the best lines in the league and will bring far more experience and leadership on the line than Baas would have. Not to mention all these guys were signed at low risk and reasonable contracts. They work out we work on keeping them long term and if they don't work out we dump them with little to no penalty. Expectations were too high if you didn't feel it was a solid offseason now.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 2:50 PM
  • Tim
    This article is as funny as the other one about "are you smarter than a general manager?" I will answer for Jeff.... NO.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 12:12 PM
  • Tim
    To follow up on Dan's request, I also hope your new article talks about how you jumped the gun in criticizing Baalke, and how you were wrong. I was concerned, but overall Baalke has come through IMHO.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 12:12 PM
  • Micky6
    Just like that... this article became pointless, outdated, and full of holes. Gore's holdout... Nice try. The bottom line is they tried to sign their guys, but they wanted too much money. So they replaced them with better, cheaper talent. Baalke is winning this offseason.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 9:00 AM
  • RSJ
    KC, you just contradicted yourself. First you say we didn't get better but then name off all the people we have signed in FA and say they are slightly better or upgrades lol. Which one is it? Doesn't matter if it's slightly better or much better than last year, according to you, we are better. I understand Kaplan enjoys writing and most of us enjoy reading most of his amusing and mostly negative articles, but he whiffed on this one. Had Baalke not signed anyone, he would be pounding his chest about how right he was and how Baalke has failed (title of his article), but now he has to backtrack because that's clearly not the case, at least on paper.
    Aug 6, 2011 at 6:31 AM
  • Dan B
    I am submitting my formal request for another article. The offseason has been too long and I am in need of much regaling!
    Aug 6, 2011 at 1:47 AM
    Response: It's coming, Dan....
  • louie
    You boys are definitely starved for some football action. What's all the commotion about? Jeff doesn't have much faith in Baalke and he's certainly not alone. Baalke indicated he would keep the team pretty much whole and add a couple of free agents. Well, that's not what happened, and Jeff jumped him as soon as he failed to land some early free agents. Why would a star player say yes to a loser? What happened, and will continue to happen, is a rebuild that the 49er management didn't want to call a rebuild. You know, it might make them look like they haven't been doing a good job in the past too many years! So, instead of jumping Jeff maybe it's time to realize that Baalke never meant what he said about keeping the team from last year, and that Harbaugh wanted a bunch of new players (and more new faces to come over the next couple of years) to replace the sad bunch that York, Nolan, McCloughan, Singletary, AND Baalke had assembled. Some of these new guys won't even be around more than a year but Harbaugh knew he needed to make some improvements in the short term while he rebuilds HIS team.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 10:47 PM
  • Aunt Edna
    Jeff, pay these fools no mind. They don't know what a great boy you are. You are such a smart boy too. Your uncle Virgil and I still love you.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 10:33 PM
    Response: ?!
  • Shane
    mrg80, i would have to disagree. If you look at articles from mid july, via ninernation, his exact quote was "we will not be big spenders in FA, our top priority will be resigning our guys, I feel we can win with this team." Now let me be clear, i didn't really agree with this, i felt there were some major upgrades needed, but that's what Baalke said. we fast forward to July 31st, the date of this article, and we had signed no one (except of course the great alex smith). we lost Baas and spikes and were cutting Nate. with nothing but a bunch of whiffs to show for it. as we remember, the majority of the nation, including myself, was in panic. Then we land a couple of guys via luck & castoffs, that was a part of the plan? stone hands Rogers, the 8th best CB out there. Stone hands Edwards, who no one wants cuz he may get suspended. Goodwin pure luck (proof: they were praying Snyder wld work out) so my point was only this, the article was completely accurate at the time written, who had we signed? 2, i laughed at the irony of people knocking it a week after the fact when that's what media is. an assessment of events up to TODAY. That's why PTI is on every day and not just once a year.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 9:08 PM
  • Dan
    Team's better by virtue of the coaching change. The rest of the roster changes are just to get the talent to match with what the coach wants to do with this team. The FO clearly doesn't want to commit obscene amounts of money to any one player to get the job done. As ticket-buying fans we should at least appreciate fiscal responsibility. I don't think Baalke did a fantastic or terrible job with the free agents and I didn't interpret his plans about free agency to mean that he would be aggressive. It seemed like he said he would sit back and try to improve the roster and see if he could keep some of the guys from last year. He clearly had an idea which ones of those he thought were most important to the team. I don't think Aubrayo was in a hurry to sign any contract with us anyway. I get the feeling he wasn't happy with his job here. I'm leaning to my usual wait and see what happens before you start calling for people's heads here Jeff. You would make a terrible medieval monarch (or a wonderful one depending how you look at it). You would have heads rolling all over your castle.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 7:53 PM
  • KC
    Jeff, Nice article! Don't worry about these fools! Yes I said fools. Baalke has picked up some decent players since this article. But for anyone to say that we are BETTER than last year other than at WR is a joke! Ike was on the team last year! Franklin still started and was franchised!! Cmon, Franklin is the BETTER player. Carlos Rogers? Eh, better than nothing but CLEARLY better than Nate? The two vets at safety? Probably an upgrade but not a huge upgrade! Lawson we could do without, Baas vs Goodwin we will wait and see, probably a wash. Braylon, if he can stay out of trouble, is a def. upgrade. Problem I see here is the one-year deal....If he balls we are paying out the nose or back to square one when he leaves....Baalke has not IMPROVED the roster, it's pretty much a wash with last Harbaugh BETTER be GREAT!
    Aug 5, 2011 at 6:15 PM
  • Derrrrr
    Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr u look like a serious dumbass, bro. Next time wait for the facts to unfold before u go off half-cocked. Seriously how much time didju waste on this crap? Tell us.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 2:42 PM
  • Michael
    Jeff, you and I have sparred for some time now with equal measures of contempt & respect, however, you really shanked this one pretty bad. I have to say I am in absolute delight watching Niner Nation beat your boy bag like a drum. I will not pile on, this once. Please, for future reference, keep your pants up and never repeat such a silly mistake again. I like it so much better when your articles are at least within the range of normality.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 2:30 PM
  • EVB
    See this is what I have been saying all along about you Kaplan. You are so bent on writing the negative, front-office bashing piece. You want the attention-grabbing commentary. You take every opportunity to write commentary slamming our beloved Niners! That's all you do! Negative Nancy! You couldn't wait to jump on the front office! You shot your load way too early and now you look like a jackass again and I LOVE IT! The truth is the only loss that really hurts is Franklin and I think Ike steps in and does a fine job. We drafted this guy Aldon Smith who is tearing up camp so far. Heard of him? Of course you have? You slammed the pick! He'll make us say "Manny Who?" pretty quickly. Exit Bass, enter a Super Bowl winning, Pro Bowl center. Upgraded @ safety with or w/out Goldson. Upgraded over Nate @ CB, added a nice LB to lessen the Spikes departure and, to boot, we got Braylon Edwards. SF took shots @ a few other big names, but the truth is they didn't really have a shot @ those guys based on the competition we were in for their services. Let this be a lesson to you, Jeffy! Quit being so consumed with being a hater and try being a waiter! In other words, wait it out a bit...
    Aug 5, 2011 at 1:06 PM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    You people need to get off Jeff's back. Ok so maybe Baalke may redeem himself. That does not mean that there are no red flags. Look at the fact of how the Niners are handling the Taylor Mays disaster. They send out a mass e-mail to all the NFL teams saying that Mays is available???!!! This makes Mays' trade value go to just about zero. Smart move Huh? This lack of professionalism and expertise is what Jeff is pointing out and it certainly bears following. Jeff does quite well on keeping us up to date on these issues and sharing insights I might add. Maybe everyone wants a yes man, company man, but I want someone who is going to "tell it like it is".
    Aug 5, 2011 at 11:06 AM
  • Gmoney
    Jeff, I think your mistake was assuming the Niners front office would function differently after Harbaugh. I made the same mistake. But if you look at this offseason, the front office has done what it always does...wait for deals once the big ones have been made and try and get value. They were supposed to keep their own yes, but the guys they lost were replaced by better players (arguably). Niners didn't panic, didn't overpay, they just waited for their time. I also like the mixed approach of signing certain guys for 1 year and then locking up the ones they know they want for multiyear deals. Now if they pluck another starting corner I will be totally content. BTW, I wonder if Crabtree's foot is going to miraculously heal now.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 9:50 AM
  • Richard
    Hey Jeff: Just like that--you overreacted! Does not surprise me.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 8:54 AM
  • mrg80
    Shane, you couldn't be more wrong. The whole article blasts Baalke for not meeting his commitments, but ignores the most relevant comments from the Niners front office. We were told that the Niners were not going to give away their strategy (aka tip their hand) to the press, which would inhibit the plan they were going to execute. I still think that Baalke did try to retain our guys - those that didn't have unrealistic salary expectations and were committed to staying with the 49ers. A couple probably didn't fit with the coaches' plan (e.g. Lawson), which is to be expected. At the end of the day, there was no "catastrophically executed" plan. He refused to tip his hand, people made assumptions, people got nervous after a couple days and the plan now appears to be flawlessly executed.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 6:35 AM
  • Jeff
    How can you write an article like this? It's like the race is a mile long and you're taking cheap shots at the quarter mile claiming we are going to lose the race. You're saying the GM failed, clearly you have no clue - oh sorry I forgot you're a front office GM who has won super bowls and selected talent. Excuse me - that's right...Really.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 5:19 AM
  • WildBill
    Just Like That This Article Fails--quick to judge just because we didn't go diving in and overspend. You failed because you did not take into account or see what some have said, that Baalke was not going to make a splash by overspending on one or two players. That Baalke said he had a plan and he stuck with it. Wait till the market settles and not overreact. That teams will have to move and cut players. You did not think about having to consider that you don't just spend but must manipulate the cap. You also may be one of those that are tying the sins of the father to the sins of the son because Baalke was part of the organization when failed regimes screwed the niners, not realizing that a person can be their own and not be like their previous. Patience...victory goes not to those who are the swiftest or the strongest but to those that endure to the end. People that are like rabbits may lose to the tortoise, tho slow, they are steady.
    Aug 5, 2011 at 3:15 AM
  • Ryan
    Jeff, I look forward to your columns eh? I thought yours on Sunday was premature, but that's not an issue; IF you post a similarly quick knee-jerk reaction to what has transpired since Sunday. That's all. Sincerely yours. - NinerNation 20 years and counting.
    Aug 4, 2011 at 11:39 PM
  • Old Fan
    What a difference 4 days make. I'm sure that now you would not write that article criticizing Baalke!
    Aug 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM
  • Platt
    How's that humble pie taste Kaplan?
    Aug 4, 2011 at 9:01 PM
  • HB
    Do we need to call 911 so you don't choke on your foot?
    Aug 4, 2011 at 8:53 PM

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