Just over two years ago, the San Francisco 49ers were one of the favourites to win the Super Bowl. They’d reached three NFC championship games in a row, boasted an experienced roster bursting with talent, and were led by charismatic head coach who (at the time) had won 36 games and lost just 11. And then the rumours started to circulate …
Firstly it was rumoured that young and inexperienced CEO Jed York wanted to trade Harbaugh to the hapless Cleveland Browns. Then we heard whispers that Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke didn’t get along. Soon it became apparently that Harbaugh’s time in San Francisco was up. At the end of a disappointing 8-8 season that was derailed by instability, Harbaugh left to coach the University of Michigan. York claimed that 8-8 simply wasn’t good enough and only Super Bowl wins would do. The outside world sniggered at his naivety.
These days York and Baalke would kill for a mediocre 8-8 season. Under new head coach Jim Tomsula, who had been promoted way above his abilities, the 49ers crashed to a lamentable 5-11 record in 2015. They didn’t end up with the No.1 overall pick in the draft (thanks to a couple of close wins) but according to most metrics, including Football Outsiders’ DVOA, they were far and away the worst team in the NFL. Tomsula was soon shown the door too.
Within a short period of time the 49ers had become a laughing stock. Many of their best players retired prematurely (perhaps sensing the coming catastrophe), while influential quarter-back Colin Kaepernick was portrayed as a one-read QB with no pocket presence. Tomsula seemed out of his depth at press conferences, often rambling incoherently, and a series of poor drafts classes by Baalke left the roster short on quality on both sides of the ball. His policy of drafting injured players, because they were supposedly undervalued, backfired spectacularly.
The 49ers are now in a hole deeper than the San Andreas fault. The new head coach, Chip Kelly, is trying to install his quirky high-tempo offense with precious few playmakers and the young defence is making mistake after mistake. The 49ers’ have already lost three of their four games and some fans have already given up on the season. Securing a top 5 draft pick in 2017 might be the only way for the team to sign a promising QB for the future.
The 49ers are set to play divisional rivals the Arizona Cardinals in Santa Clara this week. Although the Cardinals have had a rough start to the season too, fans who do legal online sports betting in America predict the Niners will lose again. Two years ago, when Harbaugh was still in charge, such a outcome would’ve been unthinkable.
Unless the 49ers improve rapidly, the man likely to take the fall is Trent Baalke. He might be close to York, who has very few contacts throughout the NFL, but every failing CEO needs a scapegoat. What’s more Baalke probably deserves the sack. After a promising start as GM, things have gone from bad to worse. Baalke’s injured draft picks have generally floundered and while he’s unearthed the odd diamond in the rough, and managed the salary cap well, he’s failed spectacularly to draft good skill position players. The Niners’ crop of quarter-backs, wide receivers and tight-ends is probably the least talented in the NFL. Meanwhile, top free agents avoided San Francisco like the plague this summer.
Just over two years ago, York let the opinionated Jim Harbaugh leave and put all his faith in Baalke. All the evidence suggests this was wrong call. Had Harbaugh remained and Baalke departed, the fans would’ve been happier, the roster would’ve been in better shape, and maybe Colin Kaepernick’s development wouldn’t have stalled so spectacularly. Who knows, perhaps Kaepernick might have made the front cover of Time for football reasons rather than political ones.