Once upon a time, the San Francisco 49ers were a proud and arrogant franchise able to get away with being proud and arrogant.
As they saw it, every player was replaceable, because they lucked out when they dumped Joe Montana for Steve Young, had the fortune of dumping Jerry Rice for Terrell Owens, then dumping Owens for relatively nothing.
Now, the Niners are mostly just arrogant cheapskates with nothing to show for it, except the stamps that John York would make employees pay for. Oddly, the Niners have overspent on bad players (i.e. Jonas Jennings) and have tried to stiff the good players (i.e. Michael Crabtree).
Since 2000, the Niners have only two winning seasons to show for their moves and probably would have had another in 2009 if the Niners had not dug in when Crabtree held out.
Crabtree averaged about four catches per game in 2009 in 11 contests. At that average, Crabtree would have had about 70 had he played all 16. Yet, if Crabtree had been signed before training camp, he could have had even more.
Don't be surprised if Crabtree breaks 100 in 2010. If Brandon Marshall can top 100 with Kyle Orton, then Crabtree should easily top 100 with Alex Smith or Shaun Hill.
Problem was, the Niners are still stuck in cheapskate mode, because they seem to think that every player should be willing to give them a discount.
In terms of the Draft, the Niners have mostly done well; however, one blunder that stands out was trading their 2008 first-round pick to the New England Patriots in order to select OT Joe Staley in 2007.
Staley would be beaten out by Barry Sims for the starting spot at left tackle in 2009.
The Niners have also put the cart before the horse in some cases, such as starting Alex Smith as a rookie for a rookie coach, Mike Nolan.
I still believe that Smith is the quarterback of the future, because Smith was too young when he left Utah and had not played in a pro-ready offense. Smith is now 25, which is actually around the average age for starting quarterbacks.
Yet the Niners won't go anywhere if they continue to treat players as just bodies. The previous regime of Bill Walsh set a bar not easy for anyone to match.