49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

March 17, 2013
What the heck is Trent Baalke doing?!?! Exactly what he did two years ago, that's what

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-- Bye Nnamdi! Sorry you couldn't play for food stamps! Our origination is so cheap it's unbelievable!!

-- He's not signing here,49ers too cheap..Craig Dahl terrible sign if a starter, white guys don't do well as DB's this isn't 1950

-- I am assuming both Baalke & Pope Harbaugh are aware that free agency period started already! Craig Dahl???

Jeeze-Louise, Trent Baalke sure has been taking it on the chin the last few days, as the preceding comments -- just a smattering from that destroyer of the English language, Twitter -- indicate. In fact, the last time this many 49ers fans thought their general manager was an idiot was 2011. You remember, right?

It was quite similar to the current free-agency period. A few days in, the 49ers had lost several of their own players, including center David Baas. While other teams were reeling in prized free agents left and right, showing them off at press conferences and getting all sorts of kudos on ESPN, the 49ers' only signing was a kicker, David Akers.

Most infuriating to fans, the 49ers had shown some interest in the biggest, most seductive catch of all, can't-miss cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but backed off the hunt. The Eagles ended up signing him to a massive, five-year deal.

"What are the 49ers doing?!" the fans railed while pulling out their hair, shaking their fists at the heavens, threatening to jump from bridges. "Every other team is getting better! Our team is getting worse!" (Except it was punctuated poorly and every other word was misspelled).

This year, the 49ers have watched Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois depart via free agency. In return, the team has signed defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, special teamer Dan Skuta and safety Craig Dahl. Most fans probably hadn't heard of the last two. Neither was even drafted. (In fairness, the team also has traded for receiver Anquan Boldin).

Two years ago, Baalke and the 49ers waited until the din of free agency died down and then made a few quiet but key moves. They got cornerback Carlos Rogers, Jonathan Goodwin and re-signed Goldson. Not every move was a stroke of genius - the name 'Braylon Edwards' springs to mind - but that's not the point.

The 49ers never intended to emphasize free agency. Instead, they wanted to emphasize the draft, where that year Baalke found Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller. It looked like a gold-star draft as soon as the 2011 season ended. In fact, Baalke was named the NFL Executive of the Year just five months after fans were certain he was the 32nd-best GM. And that draft looks even more impressive now after Kaepernick established himself as the quarterback of the future.

This year Baalke again is betting on the draft, not free agency, and he has a huge stack of chips going in. The 49ers expect to have 14 selections, including as many as six in the first three rounds. That's enough firepower to be able to target a few select players, and the 49ers intend to do just that.

Of course, all those picks, while an advantage right now, could become a burden for Baalke. San Francisco's 2013 draft class will be scrutinized like no other precisely because of that bounty. If the 14-pick haul is squandered, it will be like a poker player who has a huge stack midway through the game but only a few, scattered chips in front of him at the end.

Still, Baalke's 2011 draft class points to a positive outcome. And the fact that he has abstained during the fast-and-furious opening days of free agency bodes well, too.

No other player encapsulates the absurdity of free agency like Asomugha. He played terribly in Philadelphia, his massive, five-year deal became an albatross for the franchise and the Eagles had to cut him. He embodies the free-agency cautionary tale.

And yet once again the prospect of Asomugha getting away - he'll visit the Saints today - is causing fans to hyperventilate and to call Baalke a fool.

The last time the GM took this much abuse was 2011. He probably ought to start clearing some space in his trophy case.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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