I decided to write this fanpost because I'm seeing increasing negative commentary on Trent Baalke's performance as SF's GM from frustrated and nervous fellow 49er fans. I sense most of this is coming from frustration over the 2012 draft (understandable), and some of it is coming from fans who want Jim Harbaugh to stay above all others (also understandable), and perhaps fallout from losing in huge playoff games in 2011-13(again, understandable). However, I don’t understand why people have to somehow try to minimize Baalke's resume to support an argument in favor of keeping Harbaugh for the long-term.
We can all agree that an NFL GM has multiple critical roles that can elevate or sink an NFL franchise. Those areas are free agency, draft picks, trades, management of contract negotiations, maintenance of the salary cap, and retaining talent on a 53 man roster/practice squad/IR. Baalke has been a slam dunk success for SF in all of these critical areas. Jed York wisely promoted him in 2010, and removed the interim tag in 2011.
1. Baalke commanded the 2010 draft 2 months after McCloughan was mysteriously "fired." He was McCloughan's top man and scout and so it is not a stretch to say Baalke already had a lot of input on that 2010 board. He pulled the trigger and had freedom to move McCloughan’s board around as the interim GM. There were also picks made in that draft in addition to the Ted Ginn trade that McCloughan never would have made, so it was clearly a Baalke flavor. (McCloughan was on record as saying he didn't believe in drafting smaller, shiftier players because they don't physically hold up in an NFL season.) That 2010 draft is one of the staples of our team right now (Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman) and Mike Singletary couldn’t do squat with it. Baalke also found Tremaine Brock as a UDFA this year.
2. The 2011 draft requires no further explanation than, Franchise QB, Franchise Pass-rusher in the first two picks. Simply amazing, particularly where he took Colin Kaepernick relative to all the other guys pundits said we should have taken. Pro bowl caliber FB (converted from DL), underrated CB and RB in Chris Culliver and Kendall Hunter, and possibly another big hit in Daniel Kilgore who should be our starting center this year. Baalke also got Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and David Akers in FA on discount deals, and spent smart money on Ray McDonald’s extension. Baalke found Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams as UDFAs
3. The 2012 draft was a strikeout, but it is still possible that Joe Looney could be the lone guy that becomes pretty good. LaMichael James is probably not going to qualify here. Baalke still managed to acquire extra mid-round picks in the 2013 draft. He also acquired Garrett Celek, Jewel Hampton, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Nate Stupar, and Michael Thomas (lost him to Miami this year) as UDFAs.
4. The 2013 draft is incomplete, but Eric Reid was a home run. Getting a pro bowl safety who is better than the pro bowl safety you let get away in FA is VERY hard to do. Vance McDonald, Corey Lemonier and Quinton Patton all contributed and have bright futures. (Maiocco reports that McDonald is particularly interesting to watch because SF's offensive coaches gave him more responsibility immediately than most rookie TEs. They expect big things from him.) Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine are very promising guys. Nick Moody will compete to replace Bowman for 8 games. Quinton Dial will compete to join the DL rotation. Baalke heisted Baltimore in getting Anquan Boldin for a 6th round pick. He also got rid of AJ Jenkins' contract by trading for Jonathan Baldwin (cut-your-losses-quick-and-don't-look-back). Baalke grabbed several promising UDFAs including Lawrence Okoye, Kevin McDermott (our new long snapper), Darryl Morris (ST stud), and Luke Marquardt (promising swing tackle).
5. Baalke regularly commits trade rape. Trading Alex Smith away for two 2nd rounders, getting Boldin for a 6th round draft pick, and routinely moving up and down the board to acquire future picks while still getting guys of value. I’m sure he’s on probation somewhere in some jurisdiction for raping so many other teams.
6. Baalke and Praag Marathe manage the salary cap like a finely tuned instrument. They also somehow convince quality players to take less to play for us while working in contract de-escalators that give us new salary cap room at the end of each year. We will probably never face another salary cap related talent-purge like we did in the late 1990s and 2003-05 as long as Baalke and Marathe are running the cap.
7. If I forgot anything, please put it here. :-)
8. Baalke’s one glaring flaw is missing on a few WR picks. Patton can redeem him, and finding a gem or two in the 2014 draft can redeem him. I find this frustrating, but if he can't draft them, then he can use free agency or trades to fix this. (I doubt for the record that he is unable to draft WRs. They have a huge bust rate historically and he should hit on a few statistically speaking.)
None of the above is a slam on Jim Harbaugh's qualifications as a HC. I love the guy, and I think he is a great HC with the potential to win multiple super bowls. The Mike Singletary experiment taught us that you can have the most talented team in the division, but if you don’t have the coach to make it happen, you go 6-10. I think we can keep both Harbaugh and Baalke so long as Jed York manages the egos and has a good, clear--the-air meetings, and sets up a new contract that reimburses Harbaugh for his 3 excellent seasons. But it is clear to me that to push Baalke out to satisfy a HC who has a personality that is insatiable and prickly to handle (in the long run), would be idiocy.
Please feel free to add to my analysis or comment below.