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Trent Dilfer thinks development, not talent is the bigger issue

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Dilfer raises some interesting points, but fails to hit on some obvious criticisms.

Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer made his regular weekly appearance on KNBR on Tuesday, and he came out swinging in support of Jed York and Trent Baalke (audio).

York and Baalke have been getting hammered for most of the last 2+ seasons, but Dilfer offered up a forceful defense. He acknowledged that this is a bottom-line business, and so sometimes changes will still happen, but he does not think York and Baalke deserve the level of blame they have been getting.

They got into a grocery analogy, which has been the go-to analogy for personnel and coaching dating back to Bill Parcells departure from New England. They got into some discussion about draft picks and how they have not panned out lately for the 49ers. Dilfer said that people around the league do not think the discrepancy in talent is the biggest issue for the 49ers. Dilfer points instead to questionable development from the last two coaching staffs, and in the final season of Jim Harbaugh’s time with the team.

There is an extensive discussion to be had about the people picking the chefs, particularly in light of Dilfer’s own comments earlier in the interview. He talked about how the problems started with promoting Jim Tomsula and then Chip Kelly came in with an offensive system that did not match the personnel. Dilfer said of Kelly, “he brings in a system offensively that highlights dynamic playmakers, and they don’t have any of those. They’ve got a lot of big guys. So, it just hasn’t fit.”

Given that Baalke and York decided to hire Kelly, if we agree that Kelly’s system and this talent are not a fit, doesn’t that fall on Baalke and York? If Kelly said he was going to make changes to fit the roster and then did not, there is something to be said. But if we accept Dilfer’s premise, this seems like a point where Baalke and York deserve some measure of criticism.

Here is a transcript of his comments. The first six minutes of the interview was about the Raiders, so that is removed. Additionally, at one point Dilfer gets into a comparison to his own struggles during his career. I removed that as well. Here is the rest of the transcript.

On how they assess 49ers roster moving forward:

Yea, I mean, this is a tough one. Jed’s not going anywhere. Let’s start there. I think that stuff’s silly, all the rumors around that. Jed cares deeply about this team, about getting it right, as does Trent. I admire Trent, his wife’s been a friend of mine for years. He’s a standup guy. He is taking the bullets and he deserves to. And He’s been the first to say that. It’s not lip service. He’s not just giving the lip service. He believes, based on his comments, that he hasn’t done as good a job as was expected to do.

“Now I typically, and my record will speak for this, not just 49ers but with other teams, too, I’m more in the less knee-jerk reaction, patience model, than to just hey blow it all up and get rid of everybody. The Jim Tomsula hire set them back big time. That’s where it started. They haven’t recovered. They should’ve recovered more than that. So you lost a year of development of all those players, the young players on the roster, with that hire. I think that’s where it started. I think Chip came in and I don’t think any of them knew what they were. And then he brings in a system offensively that highlights dynamic playmakers, and they don’t have any of those. They’ve got a lot of big guys. So, it just hasn’t fit.

Do you blow it up? I can see an argument for that. I don’t see, I mean I think the world of Mike Shanahan, he’s a very good friend, and I’ve admired him for years, but I don’t see him in any type of presidency role. I thought he would have been a good coaching hire back in the time, when this was coming up. But I don’t know which direction they’re going to go. After, I said this to you guys on the show Week 1, Trent and I, a couple years ago, had made a conscious effort to not talk about these types of things, knowing that the position that I hold in the media, and kinda the polarizing effect that has between management and the media. So we haven’t talked about these things, it’s a hard subject to talk about, because he is a friend. But, I appreciate him standing up and taking the bullets for the organization. And if I had my critical hat on, then yeah, sometimes this is a bottom line business, and if you’re not producing, if you’re not doing your end of the bargain, then it’s justifiable to go in another direction.

On what is the grading of a draft (3 years, more, less):

That’s a great question. I think three’s the number that most guys around the league kind of use. With your early picks, sometimes they’ll speed that up. Like, your first round picks, if you’re picking high in the first round, should be having an impact, a massive impact, in year two. Year one, I think kinda everyone understands that if guys have a huge impact, you kinda lucked out. But year two, your high round picks need to be having a big-time impact on your team, and to be developing into leaders. And that’s where the Raiders are another really good model, with Khalil and Derek. Not only were they good players, but they were the moral authority in the locker room. And now your younger, better players, your hardest workers, your more dynamic leaders, they’re rallying the troops, and they’re kinda setting the culture of the team. And I think that’s where the Raiders hit a home run.

I think year three is where your core guys need to start contributing. The safety you take in the fourth round has to become a starter. The fifth round offensive guard needs to be a full-time starter. I’m just throwing out arbitrary positions, but those guys need to start getting the old crusts out of their seats, and taking over their positions. That’s just the reality of the NFL. So I think you can go back, probably three years for the core guys, and two years for the high draft pick first rounders.

On idea that it’s ridiculous to think Jed is making football decisions (draft picks and whatnot):

I couldn’t say anything better. It’s silly. It’s silly for people to think that. As a player for Jed, as a friend, and as somebody that hasn’t been very close for the past couple of years at all, but still admires the people there and like the people there, I thought Jed did a tremendous job. When things go bad, people get mad. I get it. I get why people get mad and want things to turn around. But sometimes they’re mad at the wrong things. I think that’s kind of what’s happened here.

On a lot of picks not panning out and not getting the best groceries:

I’ll give two things for people to wrap their brain around. I get it, it doesn’t mean a lot coming from me, being a friend of Trent Baalke’s. I totally get that. But here’s two things globally in the league to think about. Number one, the discrepancy of the groceries is not nearly as big as people think. A lot of it’s development. A lot of it’s development. A lot of it’s once they get into your program, they were recognized to have certain traits, certain skill sets, certain competitive temperaments, and they’re in the program, and the upstairs can’t effect what happens downstairs too much. It’s the downstairs’ job to develop, to you know, to make the dinner, if we’re using the grocery analogy, and get the most out of the flavors of those players. I think the coaching part of it from Jim’s last year, Jim Harbaugh, to Jim Tomsula, to this year has failed miserably in the development of players. So that’s one thing. That’s where I’ll be completely blunt about it.

The other thing is, they took some hard knocks. Now, when you lose Aldon Smith for off-field stuff, you lose Justin Smith, who in my opinion was a top ten player in the National Football League, Patrick Willis, and NaVorro Bowman? We’re talking about four of the best defenders in the National Football League, that got them to that pedestal. And then all of a sudden you lose all of them.

So you absorb some massive, massive casualties in that process. Does it mean, should it be 1-12? It shouldn’t be that. I’m not justifying that, but that is a massive, massive blow to how then you go and construct your team and your organization. So, poor development and catastrophic losses in your locker room and on the field [inaudible] enough with that. But obviously I’m the ultimate optimist. And again, I get it. People don’t want to hear from me about the 49ers. But I do think that you should at least appreciate how bad it went so quickly in those two areas.