San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh and the Top 10 Changes the GM Needs to Make
Trent Baalke was promoted to general manager of the San Francisco 49ers earlier this week, and he must now go to work retooling both the roster and the coaching staff.
The 49ers finished the season a disappointing 6-10 after most NFL evaluators picked San Francisco to win the NFC West. Instead, they were third in the division and didn't beat a single team with a winning record.
The 49ers already parted ways with head coach Mike Singletary, who was fired after less than three seasons in San Francisco. But the carnage won't stop there.
Here are 10 moves that Baalke needs to make to get the 49ers back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
1. Hire a Head Coach
The 49ers have been linked to both New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. But the man they really want is Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh just happens to have the same agent as Baalke, so the San Francisco GM is hoping to use that relationship to land one of the best college football coaches in the nation.
2. Find a Quarterback
The 49ers started the season with Alex Smith as their starting quarterback. However in seven weeks, the former No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft managed only one win and was replaced by Troy Smith.
The latter Smith won three games in five starts, but was replaced again by Alex Smith after Week 13. Neither quarterback had a very good season, and Alex Smith's days in San Francisco are likely over as he is scheduled to become a free agent.
So is Troy Smith, but nobody in San Francisco should really be upset about that, considering his career 78.5 QB rating as their quarterback. That means the team will have to look outside of the organization for a solution.
Here's a breakdown of potential options, looking at the draft, NFL free agency and trades.
3. QB: NFL Draft
The 49ers will have the seventh pick in the NFL Draft and that puts them in an excellent position to draft a franchise quarterback.
They won't have a shot at Stanford's Andrew Luck, but there are several other great alternatives. Auburn's Cam Newton is probably the most talented player that could be available, but he'll need to spend a couple of seasons on the bench before he's ready to start an NFL game. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Washington's Jake Locker and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are also all good options who could start almost immediately.
Later in the draft, San Francisco could look at Delaware's Pat Devlin and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. Any one of these players figures to be an improvement over Troy Smith in the long term and maybe even the short term.
4. QB: Free Agency
Peyton Manning may be in the final year of his contract with the Colts, but he's not going anywhere. Michael Vick will get a lot of offers to leave the Eagles, but he's likely to stay in Philadelphia—the team that gave him a second chance.
After that it's a long list of career backup quarterbacks and reclamation projects. There's Cleveland's Seneca Wallace, Carolina's Matt Moore, Houston's Matt Leinart, Denver's Brady Quinn and Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski.
None of these players are really an improvement over either Troy or Alex Smith, but they could be an effective stop-gap solution for a season or two until whoever the 49ers draft is ready to start full-time.
5. QB: Trade
McNabb wants out of Washington and there are several teams who will make an offer for him. San Francisco should be one of them.
McNabb is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the NFL, and would bring a great deal of veteran leadership to the 49ers despite having a down season in 2010. San Francisco could trade for McNabb and still draft a quarterback in the first or second round, but the combined price of those two moves might not be worth the return.
Denver's Kyle Orton and Oakland's Jason Campbell should also be available for the right price, but neither is a long-term answer.
6. The Offensive Line
The 49ers surrendered 44 sacks this season, the sixth most in the NFL. Now they stand to lose starting center David Baas and left tackle Barry Sims to free agency.
San Francisco showed a commitment to retooling their offensive line by spending two first-round picks in the 2010 NFL Draft on left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis. But that obviously wasn't enough.
There are several notable tackles potentially available via free agency, including Atlanta's Tyson Clabo, New England's Matt Light, Washington's Jamaal Brown and Baltimore's Jared Gaither.
The center position is significantly more barren, with only Carolina's Ryan Kalil able to boast any kind of experience at the position. But the Panthers are unlikely to let him go.
There are a few good linemen in the draft, but none that would be worth the San Francisco's first-round draft pick. Florida's Mike Pouncey would be a good fit at center if he falls into the second round, as would Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski. At tackle, maybe Arkansas' Demarcus Love or Colorado's Nate Solder.
7. The Secondary—Draft
The 49ers finished 2010 ranked 24th in pass defense, giving up 231.1 yards/game. They did that playing in the NFC West against a collection of pretty mediocre quarterbacks, so there's obviously a problem with the secondary.
San Francisco only had 15 interceptions, and outside of 31-year-old Nate Clements, nobody on the team is much of a ball-hawk or coverage specialist. Free safety Dashon Goldson is also not expected back, although rookie Taylor Mays could be ready to take over.
Still, that leaves a major hole at cornerback. Nebraska's Prince Amukamara is a great prospect, as is LSU's Patrick Peterson if he falls to San Francisco at No. 7. Either would be able to start immediately and be a major boost to the secondary.
Texas' Aaron Williams, Virginia's Ras-I Dowling and Colorado's Jimmy Smith all could be had later in the draft and would likely be used as a nickel back.
8. The Secondary—Free Agency
It's difficult to see the 49ers spending big bucks on a free-agent corner with Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer already on the roster. But neither Clements nor Spencer has shown the ability to consistently shut down opposing receivers, so a change may be in order.
Denver's Champ Bailey headlines the free-agent class, and he is joined by Washington's Carlos Rodgers, New York's Antonio Cromartie and Carolina's Richard Marhsall. The 49ers could also look at Baltimore's Fabian Washington, Cleveland's Eric Wright, Buffalo's Drayton Florence and New England's Kyle Arrington.
None of these options would be better over the long term than Amukamara, but San Francisco might need to use their first-round draft pick on a quarterback.
9. Wide Receiver
Michael Crabtree was great in his second NFL season, catching 55 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns. But Josh Morgan (44 receptions, 698 yards) is not good enough to be a starting wide receiver and the 49ers didn't have any other wideout with more than 12 receptions.
If San Francisco gets a third weapon to join Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis, they could have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL (assuming they find a quarterback). There are many big names available via free agency this upcoming offseason.
San Diego's Vincent Jackson should be available, as should either Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes. There's also Terrell Owens and Randy Moss among the high-profile names. The 49ers could also look at TJ Houshmandzadeh, Jacoby Jones and Chansi Stuckey.
Any of these would be an immediate upgrade for a passing attack that ranked just 18th in the NFL, and San Francisco is guaranteed to acquire at least one wide receiver.
10. The Pass Rush
Patrick Willis is one of the best defensive players in football, but he can't do it alone. San Francisco's 36.0 sacks ranked 14th in the NFL and left end Issac Sopoaga and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin combined for only 1.5 sacks.
Franklin may not be back next season and the 49ers could replace him with Oakland's Richard Seymour or Minnesota's Pat Williams, either of whom would be an instant upgrade. At defensive end, there's the Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka and Minnesota's Ray Edwards, both capable of being elite pass rushers.
If the price is too high, then San Francisco needs to spend a draft pick or two on a lineman or linebacker. Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal and Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard will both be available in the second round. If the 49ers don't like any of the quarterbacks with first-round grades, then North Carolina's Robert Quinn, Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers and Alabama's Marcell Dareus should all be available at No. 7.