The San Francisco 49ers fired general manager Trent Baalke this year, and lead the NFL with $72,397,252 in cap space. The two facts are related. The 49ers spent very little in free agency last year, but the cap space is due as much to poor drafting as anything else. The 49ers have not had nearly enough players worthy of a sizable contract extension in recent years.
Recently the New York Post studied the last five years of NFL draft classes to assess who was best and worst. They base the rankings on games played, Pro Bowl appearances, first-team All-Pro selections, and various awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year. They factor in how much the team has won during the five years, given that players on losing teams likely have an easier path to playing time. They don’t clarify how they weight each measure.
It should surprise nobody the 49ers end up near the bottom of the list. They rank No. 28. Here’s what they had to say about the 49ers:
GM Trent Baalke was fired at the end of the 2016 season after he let this roster deteriorate from a Super Bowl team to bottom-of-the-barrel. The 49ers had more picks (51) than any team in the NFL over the five years, which shows having a lot of picks does not matter if you pick poorly.
That really is the biggest strike against Baalke. One of his strengths as GM was his ability to acquire a lot of draft picks. His biggest weakness was missing on too many of those picks. The 49ers found some quality players over the years (well, minus 2012), but the lack of contract extensions is just one of many examples of how Baalke failed as a GM.
It is not surprising the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns rank below the 49ers. What is more interesting is that the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints rank at the bottom of the list. John Elway’s best performances have come in free agency. In years past that was a gamble of ending up in cap hell, but the constantly increasing cap deal makes it less of a gamble.