Shortly after San Francisco 49ers President and CEO Jed York consummated his very public "bromance" with Jim Harbaugh by signing the former Stanford head coach as the 18th head coach of the long-struggling 49ers, I went on record about how this constituted a major opportunity for the 49ers in the near term.
Just hours later, news broke that should provide the first chance for the 49ers to capitalize on this opportunity.
The 49ers have been out of the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons and the opinions as to why are as various as those who hold them.
Many would blame the quarterback(s).
Many would blame the coaches.
Some would blame the game plan.
Some would blame the owners.
Still others would claim the consistent lack of a pass rush is the No. 1 problem.
Certainly all these issues have contributed in concert to varying degrees to persistently extend the frustrating drought. But from where I sit, the secondary has to stand as the No. 1 problem facing the 49ers in 2011 and beyond.
The 49ers chose to largely ignore the secondary problems they faced entering the 2010 NFL Draft, choosing instead to use their top picks to solidify the future of the offensive line, and snag up developmental safety Taylor Mays.
In doing so, they were hoping cornerback Nate Clements—who signed an eight-year, $80 million contract as a free agent in 2007—would finally validate the promise that had lured the Yorks to open the generally frugal purse strings and sign him to such a deal.
Clements did not. His high-risk, meager-reward style of play cost the 49ers dearly in many situations last season, and his careless posture in returning what should have been a game-ending interception unquestionably cost the team what should have been only the second-ever win against a Matt Ryan-led Atlanta Falcons team at the Georgia Dome.
The secondary problems have largely contributed to and exacerbated the issues with the pass rush. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has not been able to blitz or employ aggressive pass rush schemes as much as he ought to, because the secondary has been suspect. In order to get strong and consistent pressure on the opposing QB, you must be confident in your secondary's ability to cover one-on-one.
Upgrading pass rush personnel can help to a point, but not nearly as much as being able to change your scheme.
Enter Oakland Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha. Early Sunday, news broke that the Raider standout's contract had been voided and he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2011 without the Raiders having the opportunity to franchise tag him.
Asomugha is a proven veteran stud who would increase the solidity of the 49ers secondary by his mere presence. Asomugha has such a fearsome reputation that, largely, teams refuse to pass to his side of the field.
He would not come cheap, but with Harbaugh in the fold and the chance to stay in the Bay Area, the 49ers may be able to lure him at an affordable price.
Doing so would allow them to rid themselves of the scourge that Clements has become, but it would not completely solve the problem.
Many would assume a primary motivation behind signing Asomugha would be that it would allow the 49ers to target an elite franchise QB with the No. 7 pick. But what if they took Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara instead?
There are a plethora of reasons not to take a top QB in April. These include the fact that the temptation to start the rookie would be tremendous without the concurrent addition of a costly proven veteran and the added cost associated with a first-round franchise QB contract.
Singing Asomugha and drafting Amukamara could prove an incredible tandem. Asomugha could lock down one side of the field while Amukamara could learn behind a tandem of Shawntae Spencer, Tarell Brown and Phillip Adams. Before long, the 49ers could have an impressive young core in the secondary, with Asomugha and Amukamara manning the corners and Mays and Dashon Goldson at safety.
The one snag in this "Double-A Defense" plan (besides the potential cost and interest of Asomugha, and availability of Amukamara) could be Jim Harbaugh. Widely touted as an offensive-minded coach—being a former NFL QB who coached a Stanford team noted for offensive stars like Toby Gerhardt and Andrew Luck—why would Harbaugh choose to make his first big splash with a tandem of such defensive investment?
Harbaugh may be associated with the offensive side of the ball, but he should have a strong appreciation for the power of reliable defense. Stanford did not achieve its fullest success until Vic Fangio solidified their defense in 2010, helping the team rise from a fringe Top 25-rated Sun Bowl competitor to a No. 4-ranked Orange Bowl champion.
These moves could turn one of the glaring weaknesses on the 49ers into one of their biggest strengths in very short order. Furthermore, given the players available, it may give the 49ers the best bang for Jed York's buck.
Plenty of other, potentially better options would still exist at QB. The 49ers could retain Troy Smith, promote Nate Davis, pursue veterans like Donovan McNabb, Matt Leinart or Kyle Orton, draft a mid-round QB like Greg McElroy or Pat Devlin, or any combination thereof.
The "Double-A Defense" plan could almost immediately fix the most glaring issue on the 49ers roster. It would be a serious investment, but the potential return demands consideration. If nothing else the 49ers should snag up both Asomugha and Amukamara to listen to the bumbling Ted Robinson stumble through his calls whenever the 49ers are on defense.
Go back to tennis, Ted. Leave the real sports to the big boys. As far as the "Double-A Defense," it makes too much sense not to at least consider.
Keep the Faith!