The First 2017 General Manager Firing in the NFL
Black Monday has come and gone in the National Football League, and, as usual, there are a number of coaches and general managers who find themselves on the unemployment line. The first Monday after the end of the regular season is the day where struggling franchises try to right the ship by getting rid of the top decision-makers in the organization. What is interesting this season is there is only one General Manager who has lost his job right out of the gate.
That dubious distinction belongs to San Francisco 49ers' ex-general manager Trent Baalke. Just a few short seasons removed from the team's heartbreaking defeat in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens, the 49ers decided to let go of a GM who seemed to be steering the ship in the wrong direction. After running highly successful, albeit erratic, head coach Jim Harbaugh out of the organization, many thought that the Niners had placed their full confidence behind Baalke.
His firing should not come as a surprise, though, seeing as how he has led one of the worst regressions in the history of the National Football League. This year's disastrous 2 - 14 record was the final straw for a team that went from the cream of the crop in the NFC West to the bottom of the heap.
During his tenure as GM, Trent Baalke had some draft picks that were highly successful, but his inability to draft a game-changing wide receiver was one of the things that was constantly holding the 49ers' offense back.
Baalke was the director of player personnel from 2008-2010 before he became the General Manager in 2011, so we will only judge him on his draft history during his tenure as GM. Baalke’s first pick was Aldon Smith in 2011 with the seventh overall pick. Smith was one of the best young defensive players in the league, coming in second to Von Miller in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. Smith would unfortunately be involved with off-the-field problems that derailed his career, which wasn’t Baalke’s fault. Interestingly, Baalke picked Smith over J.J. Watt, who went eleventh to the Texans.
After coming short in the NFC Championship to the New York Giants the next year, Baalke selected Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins with the 30th overall pick. This pick would end up being a disaster, as Jenkins would not catch one ball with the 49ers and was later traded to the Chiefs for another wide receiver bust in Jon Baldwin. Baalke chose Jenkins over wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, along with Janoris Jenkins, Bobby Wagner, and T.Y. Hilton. None of Baalke’s 2012 picks are currently on the team
In 2013, Baalke traded up to the 18th pick with the Dallas Cowboys to draft LSU safety Eric Reid, who has been a reliable player for the 49ers. The 49ers have always needed a big play wide receiver and Baalke passed on DeAndre Hopkins, who went 27th to the Texans, in favor of Reid. Reid has been solid, so you can’t fault him for that, but he did pass on Hopkins. Later in this same draft he opted for Tank Carradine over Kawann Short, Kiko Alonso, Le’Veon Bell, and Jamie Collins.
Baalke addressed the safety position again with the 30th pick in 2014 by selecting Jimmie Ward, who hasn’t exactly moved the needle. Baalke once again missed at wide receiver, passing on Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry.
Baalke, however, will be credited as the GM that chose Colin Kaepernick. With Kap at the helm, the Niners had a jumpstart on the movement that saw quarterbacks stretch the field with their big arms and fast legs. Now Kap is known more for his sideline kneeling than he is for his fine performances on the field, and solving the team's QB problems - by somehow reinvigorating Kap's career, or by other means - will be the top priority for the incoming regime.
The 49ers' abysmal season will be rewarded with the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. This pick is obviously a huge first step of the rebuilding process, and 49ers’ brass felt it was time for a new decision-maker to choose the right player with this high pick, their highest since drafting Alex Smith number one overall in 2005.
Baalke was also the man who was in charge of player personnel when a handful of players retired unexpectedly with many productive years ahead of them. While Baalke is not totally to blame for this phenomenon - seemingly indicative of a new era where player health and "life after football" is becoming more and more important - it certainly did not reflect well on him as the man in charge in San Francisco.
Most agree that it was time to fire Baalke, especially considering the success that coach Jim Harbaugh has gone on to have at the University of Michigan since leaving the 49ers. Niners fans who are looking for dramatic change in the organization may be in for even more disappointment, however, since many feel that the true underlying problem behind the situation in San Francisco is owner Jed York. As long as he is writing the checks in the organization and firing a head coach every season, it is going to be difficult for the team to rebuild and start competing again.