Maybe Jim Harbaugh and company are just biding their time. Maybe the coach of the San Francisco 49ers is waiting, building a barely-talented-enough roster, hoping to eventually end up with former "padawan" Andrew Luck under center in 2012, ready after an additional year in college to elevate a once-great franchise to heights above .500.
Maybe this disaster of an offseason is part of a greater master plan, one that my armchair quarterbacking brain can’t even fathom.
Or maybe the 49ers really think that what they have right now is good enough. In which case, we are all screwed.
The end of the NFL lockout was supposed to signal the beginning of a new era in San Francisco. Instead it is looking like more of the same. To put it mildly the same, simply is not good enough—even in football’s worst division.
For several years, the 49ers have been a team in need of difference makers. They need quality players on both sides of the line, in the secondary and, most notably, under center. The mad dash/free-for-all that was 2011 free agency could have been a chance to really make a splash and improve the team.
Instead it was just another series of wasted opportunities.
Instead of making a move for a new quarterback, or at least showing an honest attempt at acquiring Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton or even Kevin Kolb, Harbaugh and the 49ers opted (again) for Alex Smith.
I won’t spend much time beating up on Smith—his on-field play speaks louder than any reporter or online columnist could—but 49ers fans have been down this road before. San Francisco fans have already had to undergo years of making excuses for their former number one overall pick, trying to unsuccessfully argue that this will be the year that he puts it all together.
It never is, and it never will be.
While the 49ers may not have yet reconciled the epic mistake they made in choosing Smith six years ago, at least they recognized the error they made with Nate Clements’ record-breaking contract, finally cutting ties with the inept cornerback early in the preseason.
While cutting Clements may have been the right move, it could very well hurt the team in 2011. Clements has not been good since coming to San Francisco, but let’s be honest—neither has anyone in San Francisco’s secondary.
Cornerback and safety have been positions of weakness for the 49ers for many years now, and although Clements has been bad, he has legitimately been one of the team’s better defenders in the secondary. At the very least, you can’t argue that he has hurt the team, given the talent that was waiting to replace him on the bench. The fact that he was not cut much earlier in his contract truly signals how barren the San Francisco defense has been.
However, the guy was making a ton of money and no one can blame the organization for releasing him. However in doing so, an already weak secondary got even weaker. You think the 49ers had problems stopping athletic receivers last year like Mike Williams. Well wait until you see the debacle that is a defense featuring Shawntae Spencer and Carlos Rodgers as starting cornerbacks.
If you want to argue that Carlos Rogers is slightly better than Clements I guess you could. You'd be wrong, but you could make the argument. However, even in that scenario does he really improve the defense in any appreciable way?
Now, we move to Braylon Edwards. In Edwards, the 49ers acquired one of the only players in the NFL who can make Josh Morgan look sure-handed and Michael Crabtree seem absolutely grounded.
There are, I suppose, many ways to defend the Edwards deal. He’s affordable. He is a deep threat and with Michael Crabtree perpetually struggling to stay healthy, he provides a semi legitimate number one option for Alex Smith.
But these reasons are all merely attempts to rationalize what is, in reality, a terrible signing that ultimately does not improve the 49ers. Let’s look at this point-by-point.
Edwards is a deep threat
True. However he is now part of an offense led by one of the NFL’s weakest arms, which has no viable way of consistently or accurately getting him the ball downfield.
Again, correct. But affordability is not what the 49ers need. They need talent and talent costs money. The best players in any sport make the most money, and in order to get talent you’re going to have to spend. On a team that is as short on talent as San Francisco, saving money should not be priority number one.
He finally gives the 49ers receiving corps some legitimacy
Does he? Between Edwards, Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree, the 49ers now have a young base of receivers, all of whom have trouble hanging onto the ball. For years San Francisco receivers have been a group that was barely held together by athleticism and speed. Morgan and Crabtree are fast, but have trouble dropping balls and/or staying healthy. Now they have added Edwards, who has the exact same problems.
Well not exactly the same. Edwards has a problem staying out of jail, not off the injury report. Still, making Crabtree look positively un-diva-like is a hard feat to accomplish. Edwards makes it look easy.
On the plus side the 49ers added Antwan Applewhite! Which would be a somewhat decent move if the linebacker position was not already the strength of the team. In a way, the Applewhite acquisition is a perfect summary of the 49ers moves. They are treading water, looking for help in all the wrong places.
During the lockout, I had hope for this team. I believed that they were a few key pieces away from contending in division that should be up for grabs once again.
Since then the Cardinals have gotten better by adding Kevin Kolb.
The Seahawks have gotten better. Or, depending on the amount of faith you have in Tavaris Jackson, at least added more offensive firepower.
In response to these moves, the 49ers have done nothing. They are not better than they were last year. You can’t say that they will definitely be worse, but they are not better.
All the hopes that I had during the lockout have been crushed swiftly and completely by an organization that refuses to improve itself. We all know that Alex Smith is not the answer. But neither is Michael Crabtree or Braylon Edwards .
On a team full of question marks, the 49ers have refused to acquire players who will provide answers.
San Francisco’s lack of bold or even mid-level moves signifies a troubling continuation of an unproductive organizational mindset. For some reason, this team always thinks that what they have will be good enough, even though it never is. They refuse to improve from the outside because hey, Crabtree and Smith are bound to break out at some point, right? Wrong!
The 2011-2012 San Francisco 49ers season is a disaster in the making. Most frustratingly, it is the same disaster that 49ers fans have seen over and over again for years.
But on the bright side, there’s no way that Alex Smith will be starting at QB next season, right? Right…?