2017 Will Define How Problematic Trent Baalke Was to the 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers elected to go with a clean slate in 2017, and that meant removing former general manager Trent Baalke in the process. How things go this year will be a major indication of Baalke’s influence — both good and bad.

Trent Baalke may no longer be the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. But his epitaph is far from being finished.

After a stretch dating back to 2005 with the Niners, Baalke’s tenure came to a close when he learned of his inevitable firing once Week 17 of the 2017 season came to a close. Years of failed NFL Draft selections, poor free-agent acquisitions and a plethora of other issues sealed his fate.

Even if many considered him untouchable within the organization not long before.

There seems to be a trio of problematic figureheads atop the 49ers organization prior to his firing — Baalke, CEO Jed York and Vice President of Football Operations Paraag Marathe.

York isn’t going anywhere, at least we don’t think. And it looks as if Marathe is safe too, even though he was “technically” reassigned to other duties last season. Him being involved in the Niners’ head coach and general manager searches proves the reassignment was little more than a PR move.

Still, Baalke was a part of the problem. But how big? That is the part of his epitaph left to be determined.

Jim Harbaugh vs. Trent Baalke in a 49ers Power Struggle

Remember when Baalke was named the Pro Football Writers Association Executive of the Year in 2011?

Yes, that’s when the Niners were good again. And that was former head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first year at the helm too. All seemed right in San Francisco until, well, that whole power thing happened.

Jun 11, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke (left) and head coach Jim Harbaugh chat during mincamp at San Francisco 49ers training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 11, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke (left) and head coach Jim Harbaugh chat during mincamp at San Francisco 49ers training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

All the leaks, rumors and speculation about a rift between Baalke and Harbaugh cracked the organization. And it bled onto the field in 2014, which ultimately led to Harbaugh’s departure.

Baalke won that power struggle, which led many to believe he’d be safe for a long, long time.

And the Niners lost one of the most successful head coaches they had in franchise history.

Feb 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke speaks at a press conference during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 18, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke speaks at a press conference during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Failed NFL Draft Classes and Roster Moves

The 2012 NFL Draft is certainly considered Baalke’s worst. We know this to be a bust.

But 2013 might be an even worse year, when looking back at the seeds set for a complete roster implosion. That year, Baalke began his infamous “All-ACL” team — landing injured players like defensive end Tank Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore.

Lattimore retired before ever seeing the field, and Carradine has been nothing short of a major disappointment.

Baalke escaped all this though, at least at the time. San Francisco’s roster used to be stacked.

That was until the 2015 offseason.

Still targeting injured players often, and with mid-round picks, an en masse departure of players via free agency and retirements set the Niners up to fail big time in 2015. Baalke’s roster moves should have been what prevented a drastic roster downgrade.

The problem was his moves failed miserably. The same goes with free agency too. Signings like defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, cornerback Shareece Wright and wide receiver Torrey Smith did little to fill the gaps.

Final Straws

Hindsight tells us the 49ers would have been much better off with now-Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase instead of former defensive line coach, turned head coach, Jim Tomsula.

Gase, via CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco, broke down how his candidacy came to a close in advance of 2015:

I knew that Trent was the final decision-maker in San Francisco heading into the interview process. … So heading into that morning, I felt good about it. But never got that final word. The last call I got was they hired Jim. I really felt we had a great meeting and felt that I was in a good position. It went the other way.

Tomsula was gone after one season and replaced by recently fired head coach Chip Kelly, with whom Baalke was reportedly at odds not long into Kelly’s brief tenure.

January 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers chief executive officer Jed York (left), Chip Kelly (center), and San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke (right) pose for a photo in a press conference after naming Kelly as the new head coach for the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

January 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers chief executive officer Jed York (left), Chip Kelly (center), and San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke (right) pose for a photo in a press conference after naming Kelly as the new head coach for the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing the parallel here?

An Epitaph in the Works

Now, signs are all but pointed at Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan becoming the next 49ers head coach. And he’ll have major influence in deciding the next general manager too, according to NFL.com’s Mike Silver.

However the tandem plays out, this new relationship will certainly be compared to what Baalke had with three head coaches in his GM tenure — not including previous executive work prior to 2011.

Yet we won’t know just how much of a problem Baalke might have been until this new era in San Francisco plays out for a while.

And it’s even possible the true toxic issues stem from the top. That means York. Perhaps Marathe as well.

Still, removing Baalke was the right move, even based solely on roster decisions alone.

But how Niners fans end up finally feeling about Baalke won’t be determined for a long, long time. The Faithful will look to have some sort of lengthy comparison, and that’s now on the horizon.

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