Analyzing a team in the early offseason can be tricky – there are many unknowns, and many variables. You have to take into account free agent departures, free agent signings and, of course, the team’s draft class. So I will attempt to do just that with what information we already have available.
For the 49ers, this has been a really hard offseason that started right after the last game of the season with the dismissal of Jim Harbaugh. Then came the
circus, I mean the search for the new head coach. I will be honest, I was completely shocked at the decision to hire Tomsula, when all signs pointed to Adam Gase. To this day, no one knows or will ever know what happened with that situation. After the initial shock, I believe they hired the right guy and I am looking forward to seeing what Tomsula will do as the main man for the first time in his coaching career.
Now, I am not a fan of Trent Baalke, not one bit, but I will give credit where credit is due. I believe he did an outstanding job during free agency and made the hard decisions that needed to be made to keep the team above water when it comes to the salary cap. Plus, the additions of Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush and Darnel Docket were excellent acquisitions, in my opinion. I’m still on the fence on the Jerome Simpson signing, especially with the “we want to win with class” line they keep feeding us with, but his contract is not bank shattering and he can be cut at any time without much of an impact on the salary cap. However, as with all free agent signings, every one is a risk – there’s a reason why their former teams decided the price tag was not worth bidding for. So we will see if any of these signings bear fruit, especially the Torrey Smith signing; his is the priciest free agent signing in the Trent Baalke era.
The retirement of Patrick Willis, although unexpected, is understandable. Willis gave everything to this team. There can be no argument that he left everything on that field, and I am happy that not only was he able to go out his way, but that he also found something that made him happy.
Now, on Chris Borland my opinion is quite the opposite. From what reports have said, he had a feeling that he would only play one year. He was drafted in the third round 77th overall, still a high pick and a pick that was wasted in my opinion. If a guy knows he’s not in it for the long haul, why put a team in a position to draft you and then you are gone? He had an outstanding rookie season, and I truly believe he could have been the next Zach Thomas. While I respect his decision, I feel he did the team wrong.
Justin Smith’s departure was expected, and I believe he had a hard time deciding and that’s why his decision took a while. Like Tomsula and Baalke stated, he deserved to take all the time he needed, he earned that and I am glad he was given that opportunity.
We now come to the draft, where I graded them at about a C+. The Arik Armstead pick really baffled me, not because he doesn’t have potential, but because this is the second year in which you have an outstanding WR class and you decide to trade down two spots and take a project defensive end. I’m sorry, but Baalke, what were you thinking? My guess is the A.J. Jenkins pick is still haunting Baalke, and he’s afraid to fill one of the biggest needs this team has had since, well, 2012 when they drafted Jenkins. This pick alone dropped my grade down to what it is.
At first, the Jaquiski Tart pick also baffled me, but after watching some of his tape, the kid can play. With the uncertainty of the health of Jimmie Ward, the constant concussion issues with Reid, and not to mention that Bethea is an aging veteran, the pick makes sense.
Eli Harold, Mike Davis and Trenton Brown, if they pan out, are steals in my opinion; all three can be instant contributors. Especially Mike Davis – in the event that Hunter can’t stay healthy, Davis can make an immediate impact to the running game behind Hyde and Bush.
Now when they drafted punter Bradley Pinion, the writing was on the wall for Andy Lee who I was sad to see go, but the move was a salary cap move; younger and cheaper, so it makes sense. De Andre Smelter could turn out to be a great draft pick, but it seems he will be another “red shirt” project and we won’t see any return on that investment anytime soon. The undrafted FA out of Alabama DeAndrew White really stood out during camp, but it remains to be seen if he can keep his stride once he puts on the pads in training camp. However, one thing is for sure: Trent Baalke’s message from this draft was loud and clear – he still believes there is enough talent on this team to win now, so he drafted for the future. All these players are good prospects, but still need a little work, especially Armstead.
One of the things that I’ve heard coming out of camp is that they have been working on tempo out of the huddle; they feel that Kaepernick is a rhythm player, and getting him out of the huddle faster will greatly help him see what the defense is trying to do to take him away. There is also talk that his throwing motion is much improved and he’s made some pretty good touch throws in camp. Kendall Hunter, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith, and Keith Reaser are all players who really stood out during camp. What does all this mean? In reality, not much – not until they start going full speed with pads will we get a more accurate idea on what to expect. That said, the one statistic that stood out throughout minicamp and perhaps the most important one for now is “ZERO” – zero injuries this offseason.
Many people have this team finishing dead last in the NFC West and a recent article stated that no one in the division fears this team. The coaching staff is said to be weak and non-experienced, but this coaching staff in my opinion has a lot to prove. There are former head coaches on this staff who would love another chance to be the head man again at some point. This, coupled with the fact that Baalke put these type of coaches around head coach Jim Tomsula tells me that he wants to see Tomsula succeed.
So, there are a lot more questions than answers at this point in time, and it is yet to be seen if this new direction that clearly York and Baalke want to move in will work. However, this uncertainty has me excited and optimistic. Anything can happen. I am not going to sit here and predict a Super Bowl 50 victory or even a trip to the playoffs, but I will also not count out a team that, from what’s been stated, are extremely hungry and eager to prove all the doubters wrong. I strongly believe this team will be a lot better than some people think.