The San Francisco 49ers had one of the craziest offseasons a team could possibly have (well, they're still having it but presumably, things have calmed down). Things happened for which they are totally at fault -- Jim Harbaugh's departure, the weird coaching search and more -- and things happened that were totally out of their control -- the retirement of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
But throughout all of this, the 49ers have been touting one specific line in interviews and statements. No, we're not talking about "win with class," we're talking about "reload, not rebuild." Trent Baalke and Jed York have made it clear multiple times that the 49ers are not a team in rebuild mode, but a team that simply needed free agency and the NFL Draft to reload and prep for another run this coming season.
They've taken that step further by suggesting new head coach Jim Tomsula will have some explaining to do if he doesn't win the Super Bowl in his first year as head coach (hah) and have pretty much beat this point into the ground. With the selection of Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead and a trade back to acquire more draft picks, are the team's actions lining up with the team's words?
I'm honestly not sure. There wasn't a whole lot that said "reload" to me in free agency, but the 49ers were never a team to spend big money (with anything approaching a positive success rate) anyway, and have had a lot of success getting mid-tier guys so they got a pass there. But Armstead is an interesting player for a lot of reasons.
He's an incredible athlete, he's got the perfect build for his position and he had a pretty productive season with Oregon. Then again, he's also very raw, only had the one productive season and at the end of the day, was it really that productive? He disappeared for multiple games, and many consider him a boom-or-bust player.
But does that "boom" even happen in his rookie year, even if the best case scenario? I'm not so sure the 49ers have plans for that. We don't know yet what's going to happen with Justin Smith, the 49ers still have to figure out how they feel about Tank Carradine, and guys like Ian Williams and Glen Dorsey aren't exactly going to step aside quietly to give someone like Armstead reps.
Add in that the 49ers are developing Aaron Lynch on the outside and you're asking for a lot of raw inexperience potentially on one side of the defensive line.
We already talked about draft grades early on Friday morning, and one of them discussed was the "B-" given to the 49ers by Doug Farrar of SI.com. Farrar said that he likes Armstead's physical potential, but that he is "still learning."
If the 49ers are thinking of rebuilding over multiple years (and with all the defections, they should be), this pick makes sense, but Armstead could be overwhelmed early on at the NFL level.
For someone like Farrar, it's a given that the 49ers are likely rebuilding over multiple years. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they can't or won't be competitive, and he could also simply be talking about the defensive line, but it's still telling.
The fact is this: the 49ers have already kind of proven they'll say whatever they need to to try and keep the fans on their side, especially with a brand new stadium that needs seats filled. I'm not saying that "reload, not rebuild" isn't accurate of Baalke's mindset or anything -- he clearly believes in this team -- but I am saying that even if Baalke felt differently, they'd still be touting this line, simply for the fans.
I don't think the 49ers are in a full-on rebuild. They have a lot of talent, and missing the playoffs next season doesn't mean they're rebuilding, either. It's a tough division and they may need a couple "reloads" before they're where they were just one season ago. That's tough for a lot of people to swallow. But back to the topic at hand -- does the Armstead selection reflect the philosophy?
Personally, I don't think so. I can't see Armstead being a guy who starts from Day 1, and I think if you're reloading you're putting people in place now, not later. That might be expecting much of a team that might have selected DeVante Parker if he lasted just one more draft spot, but the 49ers insist they should be held to this high standard, after all.