While a ton of credit goes to the coaches and obviously the players for good reason 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke deserves a lot of credit for this season’s turn around. Usually when you talk about a GM’s off season performance it’s all about who he added to the roster, his performance in the draft and the free agent market. Baalke did great in this portion of the off season and we’ll get to that later but first this off season was just as much about subtraction from the roster as it was the additions to the roster.
The 49ers have had some talented players in the last few seasons, unfortunately a lot of them didn’t fill their roles or live up to expectations, warranted or not. In what seemed like a step backwards early in the off season the 49ers purged these guys off the roster. First it was Cornerback Nate Clements, brought in to be a “shutdown” CB and while he had some nice moments in a 49er uniform he’s really no where near a shut down guy he was getting paid like one and that’s what forced this marriage to end.
Manny Lawson is a very talented player, drafted to be a passrusher at Outside Linebacker after playing Defensive End in college he didn’t fit the role he was drafted for. An excellent run stopper and coverage LB Lawson’s main flaw was the one that the 49ers were hoping would become his greatest strength, rushing the passer. Lawson followed Clements to Cincinnati on a 1 year $1 million deal, a sign the 49ers wanted no parts of him.
Now most 49er fans knew those moves were coming, Clements and Lawson weren’t exactly fan favorites. The moves needed to be made for both financial and strategic needs for the team. The next 2 which happened to be the first 49ers to sign elsewhere in free agency stung at first. David Baas a former 2nd round pick that finally had a breakout season at Center left for the NY Giants who paid him like a top 5 C. I don’t think you will find anyone that thinks he actually is a top 5 C but the loss looked to set back an Offensive Line that was finally making progress. Next was Takeo Spikes who signed a 3 year deal in San Diego after what he described as only mild interest from the 49ers. Spikes was a Captain and true leader on the team, he was Patrick Willis’ mentor, but he was also 34 and got a 3 year deal, the 49ers were wise in letting him walk.
Another obvious offseason move was the departure of Nose Tackle Abrayo Franklin who seemed poised for a big long term contract. The 49ers have Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald, both younger Defensive Lineman and at least to me the choice seemed simple. McDonald can rush the passer, that’s what Vic Fangio wants to do, no reason to give a 31 year old NT a big contract. Still the move stung as Franklin has been stout the last 2 years and earned heaps of paise from star LB Patrick Willis. Anybody second guessing the moves made on the DL now? Didn’t think so.
While it’s too early to judge a draft classs just 5 games into their rookie seasons the early reviews are good. Aldon Smith looks like a pass rushing machine, the opposite of Lawson. While he must master the rest of his game like coverage and run support before he can crack the lineup at DE or OLB 3.5 sacks in a limited role 5 games into the season is a great indication of what’s the come. Kendall Hunter actually had people thinking Frank Gore should be benched or have his carries dramatically decreased. Third round pick Chris Culliver has come up big the last 2 weeks in huge wins vs the Eagles and Bucs. Several other rookies including Bruce Miller who is making a nice transition to Fullback after playing defense in college along with Colin Jones, Demarcus Dobbs, Ian Williams, Mike Person, Daniel Kilgore and Scott Tolzien have found their way onto the 49ers roster this season.
Now onto the free agent moves, Baalke went into the offseason with a sound strategy. He refused to overpay for players like Dashon Goldson, Abrayo Franklin or big name guys like Nnamdi Asomgha or Jonathan Joseph. The 49ers waited patiently in the bushes while other teams like the Eagles spent big.
Once the ball got rolling Trent Baalke made his mark and found some real gems in FA. With the massive amount of FAs due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement extending restricted free agency the season before a flood of quality players were on the market. Baalke’s strategy was obviously to wait until teams spent big and they would scoop up the quality guys left over.
Carlos Rogers has been huge leading the NFL with 3 Interceptions this season. Donte Whitner has shored up the Safety position and the run defense. Jonathan Goodwin has done a great job at C in Baas place and at least in the short term has been an upgrade over Baas. David Akers has been flat out awesome, aside from a point blank miss in his return to Philly he has hit several long field goals including a record at Candlestick 59 yards in the preseason. The Braylon Edwards signing hasn’t done much since he’s been injured much of the season but that’s all about to change. There is no denying the obvious chemistry built between QB Alex Smith and Edwards during the pre season and a Edwards/Michael Crabtree combo sounds scary.
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Topics: Aldon Smith, Alex Smith, Braylon Edwards, Carlos Rogers, Chris Culliver, Colin Kaepernick, David Baas, Donte Whitner, Frank Gore, Jonathan Goodwin, Kendall Hunter, Manny Lawson, Michael Crabtree, Nate Clements, Scott Tolzien, Takeo Spikes, Trent Baalke