As all of you know, except for the upcoming Combine, the period between now and the Draft gets more than a little SLOW.
Where I live, the daytime weather this time of year is in the high-70s and sunny. To ward off my feelings of off-season boredom, I decided to mix myself a Margarita, go lounge in the sun, and maybe even take a snooze and do a little day-dreaming. As I lay there my thoughts eventually turned to the Niners and that led to some interesting happenings, so I thought that I would tell you about it.
Last weekend I was attending a cocktail party and, lo and behold,Trent Baalke was also in attendance. Eventually I got the opportunity to meet him and told him that I'd been a Niners fan for more than 60 years so had some degree of perspective on the team's history as well as the team's current roster needs. He actually showed more interest in my opinions than I had any right to expect. Then he hit me with a bombshell ... he said that he had been planning to have dinner with an old friend that evening but his friend had taken ill that afternoon ... would I like to join him for dinner? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course I would!!
After cocktails, we walked over to a local steakhouse and were seated at a table for two in a quiet corner. Given this time of year the conversation obviously turned to the forthcoming draft. What were my thoughts? What? Trent Baalke is asking me about my thoughts on the draft? Well ... as most of you well know ... I do tend to do some thinking about the Niners draft from time to time. I said that I felt that there were two conceivable draft strategies for the Niners this year: trading up IF one of three or four prospects fell to the low- to mid-twenties (Plan A), or trading multiple picks down to gather picks in the second and third rounds where a number of prospects who could help the Niners would be available (Plan B). And, we wouldn't really know which way to go until we saw how the first eighteen or so picks were made. I expected Trent to counter with some alternative that I hadn't even considered ... but he indicated that he agreed with my thoughts. I also shared what I thought was the appropriate disposition of each of "our" free agents ... who should be re-signed and who let go. As we ate we shared our thoughts on a good many different draft prospects and how they compared. Lots of great discussion ... what an incredibly down-to-earth kind of guy he is. After an additional glass of wine we eventually decided to call it an evening. I thanked Trent for picking up the tab, wished him well in the forthcoming draft, and said goodnight.
I didn't think too much more about it until several weeks later. Then some interesting things started to happen. First, the Niners announced that they had re-signed five of their own free agents to new deals: Michael Wilhoite to a three-year deal; Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson for two years each; and Parrish Cox and Kassim Osgood to one-year contracts. Great ... all good retentions.
Then, a few days later, they announced the signing of two free agents from other clubs: OG Geoff Schwartz from Kansas City and our old friend, special teams ace Blake Costanzo from Chicago.
Finally, a week later they made two player trade announcements: first, trading OG Mike Iupati to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for the 50th pick in the second round of this year's draft; and then, trading RB LaMichael James to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for their fourth round pick in the forthcoming draft.
Hold it!! This is uncanny ... Baalke is executing every step of the wild-ass pre-draft plan that I had suggested to him during our dinner discussion. No! This can't be happening!
Then came the Draft ... which didn't go well for the Niners as far as the Plan A trade-up strategy was concerned. Baltimore took WR Mike Evans of Texas A&M at pick #16, then Philadelphia took S Calvin Pryor of Louisville at #22, and finally San Diego took CB Justin Gilbert at #25. Damn! The only possibly-reachable guys that I would have considered trading up for in the first round were gone. Then, Goodell announces that the Niners have traded pick #30 in the opening round to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for pick #48 in the second round and pick #79 in the third round. Thus, the Niners end Day 1 of the Draft with NO SELECTIONS ... but are well positioned for tomorrow's Day 2. But wait a minute ... that's the exact move that Trent and I discussed at dinner if Evans, Pryor and Gilbert were taken before the Niners' pick. Is there any possibility that Baalke will really go with my crazy Plan B strategy? No, come on Al, you know better than that. Come back to reality.
But ... after Day 1 of the Draft, while having dinner with Mark Lamping (President) and David Caldwell (General Manager) of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Trent voices his desire to move down again with the Niners pick at #61 in the second round ... they agree on another trade ... Jacksonville gets the Niners' picks #61 in the second round and pick #189 in the sixth in exchange for the Jags' 2 / 70 and 4 / 115.
After dinner, Trent goes back to his room, pulls out his phone, and calls Ray Farmer, the new GM of the Cleveland Browns. Once again, Baalke trades down ... pick 2 / 56 to Cleveland, who want to try to get WR Jordan Matthews in they can, and the Niners get picks 3 / 71 and 4 / 102.
God ... Baalke's a wild man. Now he's on the horn to his old friend, Phil Emery, the GM of the Chicago Bears, and they quickly agree on yet another trade ... the Niners getting Chicago's pick 3 / 82 and Chicago getting the Niners' 3 / 94 and 4 / 118 that Baalke got for LaMichael James.
Finally, Baalke takes a shower, hits the sack, and starts thinking about what is about to happen.
Day 2 of the Draft ... Round 2:
- With Pick #48 acquired from Dallas, Baalke selects C Travis Swanson (Arkansas), the Niners' new starting center ... as it turns out, for the next eight years.
- With Pick #50 acquired from Miami for OG Mike Iupati, Baalke selects CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), who will take over for the departed Carlos Rogers.
I suddenly realize that Baalke is actually doing some of the wild-ass stuff that I had suggested to him as Plan B ... he's marching right down my list ... absolutely unbelievable!
Day 2 ... Round 3 ... and the fur really starts to fly:
- With Pick #70 acquired from Jacksonville, Baalke selects WR Martavis Bryant (Clemson) ... a guy with 6'5" height, 4.38 speed, and incredible athleticism for his stature ... not only a great red-zone target but willing to go after the tough catches over the middle. Bryant is going to need some developing and polish, but he will become the WR that the Niners have been looking for for a LONG time.
- With the very next pick in the Draft, #71 acquired from Chicago, Baalke selects safety Deone Bucannon (Washington State), the Niners starting strong safety to pair with Eric Reid for the next five years.
- With Pick #77, acquired from Tennessee last year, Baalke selects OT Billy Turner (North Dakota State), the primo left tackle for the three-consecutive-FCS-National-Champion NDSU Bison ... an incredibly athletic 6'5" 316-pound guy who can run and dominate; the Niners' plan is to convert Billy to an offensive guard where his abilities will stand out.
- After waiting one pick for Baltimore to make a selection, Baalke then selects WR Robert Herron (Wyoming), with pick #79 acquired from Dallas. Although Herron is only 5'9", like Bryant, he has 4.38 speed and great hands ... this guy runs great patterns and is incredibly quick.
- Wait two more picks and Baalke is at it again ... with pick #82, acquired from Chicago, he takes the 6'3" 215-pound CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) ... still a bit raw but a guy with tremendous potential.
- Then, as it turns out, Andy Reid of Kansas City is wanting to trade down from the third round to try to pick two early-fourth-round guys that he wants; thus, Trent agrees to trade #102, which he got from Cleveland, and #115, which he got from Jacksonville, to Kansas City in exchange for Pick # 87 in the third. With Pick #87, Baalke selects a developmental QB to compete with Bethel-Thompson for the #3 QB roster spot ... QB A. J. McCarron (Alabama).
- Finally, Trent closes out the third round of the Draft by using the Niners' compensation pick at #98 for RB Terrance West (Towson) ... an outstanding power runner to replace the non-used LaMichael James in the running back stable.
Wow! Are you serious? Check this out for a third-round haul:
- #70: WR Martavis Bryant (Clemson)
- #71: SS Deone Bucannon (Washington State)
- #77: OT/OG Billy Turner (North Dakota State)
- #79: WR Robert Herron (Wyoming)
- #82: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska)
- #87: QB A. J. McCarron (Alabama)
- #98: RB Terrance West (Towson)
- Round 4 / Pick #125: OT James Hurst (North Carolina) ... a projected mid- to late-second round pick until he broke his leg in UNC's December bowl game; the Niners will put him on the NFI roster and red-shirt him in 2014; then he'll compete with Marquardt and Bykowski for the backup swing tackle job in 2015.
- Round 5 / Pick #158: Trent trades this pick for a 2015 fourth-round pick because there is no fifth-round prospect in the year's draft who would have any realistic chance of making the Final-53 roster.
- Round 7 / Pick #219, from New Orleans: CB Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma) ... a projected third-round pick until he tore his ACL during Senior Bowl practice; he too will be put on the NFI roster and red-shirted until the 2015 season.
- Round 7 / Pick #220, from Carolina: KR / PR Dri Archer (Kent State) ... one of only three guys in the entire 2014 Draft class that is faster than both Bryant and Herron. We wanted some speed ... WE GOT IT with these three guys! In addition to returning kicks, this guy has excelled at both the RB and WR positions in the Mid-American Conference, and, as we all know, Harbaugh loves diversity.
- Round 7 / Pick #222: Safety Jonathan Dowling (Western Kentucky) ... a bit of a typical story: a highly-ranked 6'2" 198-pound athletic safety in high school, who got into off-field trouble at a big school and then transferred to a smaller school to straighten himself out and excel on the football field; this guy should become an outstanding special teams player.
Little did I know that when Trent had to divert to the Plan B draft strategy that he would get this kind of a haul. When those guys develop the Niners will be stacked 53 players deep ... even after Crabtree walks and Anquan retires.
Wow! This couldn't possibly have turned out any better, given that we couldn't get any of the top-3 WRs, or Pryor, or Gilbert.
Maybe some of my Niners management ideas actually have some value. Could this possibly mean that Baalke could consider offering me my dream retirement job as his assistant? Alas, NO! But, why not? Because my wife then awakened me for dinner!