After a far too lengthy, unintentional leave of absence from the keyboard, I am happy to be back writing for Niners Nation. It was an extremely busy past year for me, so a handful of other things in life had to take priority, but I’m hoping to have a much more regular output again. I’m not sure many noticed this given that Fooch is a content machine and that we have a handful of other writers always churning out pieces, but figured I’d throw it out there just in case I—somehow, someway—have some adoring fans who missed me...you can stop laughing now.
Let’s get back to it…
Monday’s big headlines coming out of 4949 Centennial Blvd were that outspoken, retired right tackle Anthony Davis has applied for reinstatement to the NFL and that Senior Personnel Executive Tom Gamble was promoted to Assistant General Manager (although Baalke will claim he’s sweating from the Kung Pao chicken). For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the former.
A lot still has to happen in Anthony Davis’ journey back to the NFL, and there’s still a pretty good chance he doesn’t end up with the 49ers, but let’s take a look at where things stand.
Yes, the 49ers planned and built their roster under the assumption Davis wouldn’t be returning. But that doesn’t mean the position group wouldn’t stand to benefit—potentially significantly—from his return. The 49ers know this.
Does he come with question marks? Absolutely.
Firstly, his dedication rightfully came under fire after unceremoniously "retiring" prior to the beginning of last season. Mix in that he also has a penchant for compulsive, critical social media commentary about his professional dealings with Trent Baalke and has outspokenly questioned the organization’s desire to win.
Then there’s the performance aspect. He hasn’t played football in a year; hasn’t taken part in OTAs; hasn’t been able to learn Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme or playbook. Davis recently posted some workout videos, but who’s to say if he’s done any sort of real training up until now. As evidenced in those videos, he’s definitely looking on the small side. Teams generally prefer their right tackles to be—ya know—not small. Sure, he can put on some weight, but how much can he do between now and September?
Now Davis wants back in…but what's his motivation? Love of the game? A paycheck? And either way, does he want to be doing it in a 49ers uniform?
At his worst, an uninitiated, svelte Anthony Davis is still considerably better than Erik Pears at his best. Sure, Davis has never been strong in pass protection, but he’s still an upgrade from Pears in that department and can play at a Pro-Bowl level in the ground game. If Davis communicates—in one way or another—a true commitment to the team and to performing at a high-level, the 49ers need to put feelings and ego aside and give him the opportunity. Hell, even if that still remains in limbo, what’s the worst that can happen in giving him a shot? The team should get a pretty good idea where he’s at once he gets reinstated and can partake in the offseason, although it remains to be seen how long that whole process will take.
The potential impact of Davis and a halfway decent offensive line extends beyond bolstering the position group and maybe adding one to the win column. More importantly, an improved line is imperative to the assessment of Blaine Gabbert—or Colin Kaepernick, depending on who you think will be the starter—and Chip Kelly’s offense. The 49ers are already at a significant disadvantage in truly gauging what this offense can be given the utter lack of talent at the wide receiver position and the dubious QB battle. But if Carlos Hyde can remain healthy and if a line consisting of Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Joshua Garnett, and Anthony Davis can hold their own, it will go a much longer way in knowing what they have at the QB position and in Kelly as an offensive mind moving forward.
With the exception of an absolutely catastrophic 2016, Kelly figures to stick around for at least a couple seasons. But if 2016 achieves nothing else, it needs to answer whether the 49ers have the quarterback of the future on their roster, or if they need to go out and get one for 2017 and beyond. Based on last season, it's easy to denounce the idea of Gabbert or Kaepernick being the starter past this season. Then again, there was a time when it was crazy to think Alex Smith would go on to be a solid starting quarterback. The point is, stranger things have happened, and an adequately conditioned, focused Anthony Davis could give the 49ers a good enough line to get a true answer to that question.