The Yorks have their ways of doing things, and one of those is the traditional end-of-year bloodletting. Because of that — and the prevailing idea that in the trade-phobic NFL, it’s impossible to improve one’s team from a personnel standpoint in the middle of the regular season — it’s just assumed that Trent Baalke is safe until after the regular season. That is, unless Baalke is still safely employed no matter what happens this season, but that seems highly unlikely now.
Baalke is probably on borrowed time. And that’s why now is the time to “mutually part ways” with Trader Trent, or however they want to phrase it. Because if Jed York knows that he’s going to move on from Baalke, any day with Baalke still in charge of personnel matters is a wasted one.
It’s not like the 49ers’ roster is locked, like a commissioner might do with someone’s fantasy football team if he or she either didn’t pay the ante or conspired with another player to create a super team. Sure, York could wait until the Week 8 bye to cut ties with Baalke, but that might be too late. The trade deadline is Nov. 1, and if the 49ers are in a rebuild (check the standings, they’d better be), it’s time to stop doing things halfway. If the 49ers can get something for any of these veterans, the time is now.
- Joe Staley
- Ahmad Brooks
- Antoine Bethea
- Tramaine Brock
- Glenn Dorsey
- Phil Dawson
Yes, even Dawson. What’s the point of having a 42-year-old kicker on a team that isn’t going anywhere? Kickers get hurt from time to time — watch the injury reports, offer him to a contender after their kicker pulls a groin or something, and sign a young kicker off the street.
Staley is probably the only vet with considerable value, but there are a couple of things that would make the 49ers hesitant. Staley, along with NaVorro Bowman, is one of the remaining foundation players and a locker room leader. The 49ers are also woefully thin on offensive tackles (thank you, Anthony Davis). But by the time the 49ers approach relevance once again, Staley will be 34 or 35 (he’s 32 now, as are Bethea and Brooks).
Trading Bethea and Brock would be perfect, because Baalke’s obsession with defensive backs has left some young, talented players standing on the sidelines (players like Jaquiski Tartt and Dontae Johnson come to mind). Maybe Tartt and Johnson are starting-caliber, maybe not. But on a team like this, there’s no excuse not to find out this season. Unfortunately, Bethea and Brock are overpaid and have looked awful in recent weeks.
Brooks could provide some value for a playoff contender that needs an outside linebacker, but he’s a chemistry risk and makes a little too much money as well. If Dorsey can make it back to the field, he’s someone who could add defensive line depth for a team looking to win now.
It’s questionable whether the 49ers can even pull off a single deadline deal, but that’s not the only concern.
With Baalke knowing his job is in jeopardy, do you want him discussing trades with other teams and making these decisions? (And if he knows he’s a short-timer, he probably wouldn’t want to deal veterans for draft picks because he’ll want as many wins as possible on his resume.) Do you want him directing the scouts who travel to college football games every week? (“Pay close attention to players who crumble to the turf on non-contact injuries and grab their knees while writhing in pain.”) Do you want him putting together a preliminary draft board? We’ve already seen how he dealt with Jim Harbaugh; do you want to see what he’s like as a desperate general manager willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his reputation around the league?
Those questions start with “Do you” instead of “Does York” because I don’t understand York’s thought processes. They’re easy to predict, and sometimes that’s fun for the purposes of this website, but this is a time to enact real change. Move away from the Baalke era, where unproductive draft picks are protected, quarterbacks and skill position players are afterthoughts, and the set of skills that creates a good wide receiver is too mysterious to unravel. Let the organization know that Baalke is no longer bulletproof and the status quo is no longer acceptable.
What’s the harm in making Tom Gamble, who was promoted to Assistant GM before the season, the interim GM for the rest of the season? There’s a chance he’ll end up getting the job anyway, since the Yorks prefer to promote from within. If they don’t like his contributions, open up a legitimate search in January (unlike the one that led to Baalke getting the job after Scot McCloughan left).
After all that shakes out, we’ll get to determine next year whether the 49ers have a quarterback around whom they can build, and whether or not Chip Kelly and his staff know what they’re doing. But those are open questions. We know Baalke is not the answer, so there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. Unless York still believes in him … in which case, buckle up — because more 5-11 seasons are on the way.