Now that free agency is mostly a wrap, and the NFL Draft is just around the corner, it apparently is time for people to start ranking general managers. In a random bit of timing, Rotoworld and USA Today's For The Win each put together rankings of the 32 general managers across the NFL. Trent Baalke ranked No. 24 in the Rotoworld rankings, and No. 17 in For The Win's rankings.
I think it is safe to say people will make arguments why one or the other is correct. I even imagine some would say both are wrong, either being too far in the positive, or too far in the negative. Opinions are significantly mixed when it comes to Trent Baalke.
Rotoworld did not rank new general managers. That included Titans GM Jon Robinson, Lions GM Bob Quinn, Eagles GM Howie Roseman, and Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. Both rankings listed DePodesta as the GM. Sashi Brown is listed on the Browns site as Executive Vice President, Football Operations. I don't know exactly who has what power, so take that how you will.
Aside from the new general managers, people listed below Baalke in both rankings included Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum (Rotoworld: 28, FTW: 32), Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff (27, 19), Chargers GM Tom Telesco (26, 22), and Colts GM Ryan Grigson (25, 28).
Here is what each of the rankings discussed with Baalke:
Before the roster imploded last offseason, Baalke had assembled a talented roster comprised mostly of homegrown players. It remains to be seen if he can do it again or if
JohnJim Harbaugh was really the key to the 49ers' run of success. The Colin Kaepernick deal was a mistake, even if the 49ers can get out of it whenever they want. Kaepernick was a product of a talented supporting cast but was paid like a transcendent player. You can argue the front office had no choice but to give Kaepernick a big deal, but a trade would have netted San Francisco a nice package and saved the team a lot of cap space. We need more creativity from NFL general managers.
Best move: Drafting NaVorro Bowman.
Worst move: Kaepernick's contract extension.
Trent Baalke won his power struggle with Jim Harbaugh, but has lost everything else the past two years. Baalke has overseen a talent exodus like few in recent memory, and replaced Harbaugh with the worst coaching hire of the decade. Baalke has at least corrected his Jim Tomsula mistake, but done so with a fellow egomaniac in Chip Kelly. The my-way-or-the-highway duo figures to have an exceedingly difficult time agreeing on a lane. To Baalke's credit, his 2015 draft was solid, and he hasn't tried to compensate for his talent deficiencies by "winning" free agency. It's also true that many of Baalke's losses weren't his fault. It's just that when you're trying to rebuild your roster from the bottom up, you're usually better off doing so with one of the best coaches of a generation. Failing to co-exist with Harbaugh is likely to end up Baalke's football epitaph.
People will complain about Baalke's drafting or free agency, but opinions of Baalke will remain shaded by Jim Harbaugh's departure. Whether you think it was a Baalke/Harbaugh problem, a York/Harbaugh problem, or something in between, for a lot of people, if the team continues to struggle under Chip Kelly, it will all go back to Harbaugh.
Baalke was quiet in free agency this year, but is coming off a 2015 draft that is off to a solid start. Arik Armstead showed he belonged in the NFL. It was not quite the big impact many expect from a first round pick, but for the snaps he got, he was quite efficient. Jaquiski Tartt got important experience at strong safety after Antoine Bethea's injury. He needs to improve on consistency, but hopefully that comes with further experience. Eli Harold was not quite the pass rushing demon I was hoping for, but he got some solid experience and should see even more in year two. Blake Bell did not get much work until later in the season, but has a chance to emerge with more playing time this year. Mike Davis did not do a whole lot of much, but will see more opportunities in year two. Bradley Pinion improved as the season moved along. Trenton Brown moved into the starting lineup the final two weeks of the season, and looks to have the first crack at right tackle this offseason.
We can't call it a home run draft by any means, but it is looking pretty solid. Add in a 2014 draft that has serious options in Jimmie Ward, Carlos Hyde, Dontae Johnson, Aaron Lynch, and Kenneth Acker, and I would contend he has bounced back to some extent from an abysmal 2012 draft, and a relatively poor 2013 draft.
These last two classes need to show further development in 2016, but it feels like both are at least moving in the right direction. And so, it makes sense that Baalke would not be ranked particularly high in these GM rankings, but does not deserve to be in the cellar as some will contend.