Over the five years that Trent Baalke has been the general manager of the 49ers, a strange thing has happened.
The team went from super competitive, scratching at a Lombardi trophy and with the makings of a long-term fixture, to irrelevant. Trashy. A big loser.
It’s likely that this weekend, as the football community focuses on the draft in Chicago, Baalke will continue to subtract by addition. A concept that only he could master. If anything, Baalke is completely opposite of his predecessor.
It’s fitting that the man who built the team that succeeded in 2011, 2012 and 2013, just landed Josh Norman, too. Irony at it’s best — and while the 49ers were supposedly in pursuit.
Scot McCloughan, former 49ers front office extraordinaire and current Washington general manager, was asked to walk after some low points while fighting a tough battle with alcoholism.
He went on to the Seahawks as a senior personnel executive, curating the scouting report that got Russell Wilson drafted by Seattle in the third round, and McCloughan played a large part in building the powerhouse of the pacific northwest.
Onto Washington, the man has taken a perennial loser and made them a force, with division rivals blowing their Christmas money in free agency to keep up.
He’s taken one of the best rosters in the league, and set it on fire. By most accounts, he’s difficult to work with. He doesn’t understand some of the essential nuances of maintaining good relationships with players.
Oh, and he can’t draft worth a damn.
From 2011 to 2014, Baalke’s regime has drafted 50 players. Only 18 remain on the roster. None of the 18 were selected to the 2015 pro bowl.
Baalke drafted two receivers currently on the roster, Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington. Both were taken in the fourth round, and they’ve combined for 52 games, 55 receptions, 609 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The five pass rushers that came during draft weekend, under Baalke, still on the roster, have combined for 127 games and 22 sacks.
The five defensive backs selected during Baalke’s reign — and remain 49ers — have played 131 games and intercepted just 12 passes.
And the only starting quarterback he’s drafted has been on the trade block for some time now.
Now, though, we get to my favorite Baalke factoid: during the 2005 draft, when the 49ers picked Alex Smith first overall out of Utah, Baalke was the top western area scout. That made the Utes his territory.
But there was another quarterback in his region, one U.C. Berkeley signal caller named Aaron Rodgers, taken 24th overall by the Packers.
And here’s why that particular bit matters, the reason it’s not just picking on the rich guy: if a man can’t see possibly the best quarterback of the modern era of football, how can he evaluate scouts?
Because a front office executive is only as good as the information he receives. If the scouts the 49ers employ aren’t doing a good job, it needs to be recognized.
While Baalke is hard-headed and arrogant, some of the 49ers failings during the draft process does fall onto the information-gatherers. The problem there, though, is that Baalke wasn’t the best scout in the first place. So he can’t recognize a good or bad scout.
Ertz, in some more irony, was drafted 34th overall that year by the Chip Kelly Eagles after the 49ers traded away that same pick, of which they acquired by moving Smith to Kansas City.
Both Philadelphia and the Chiefs made the postseason that year. Both returned. The 49ers, though, have not.
So why is Baalke still the general manager, despite obvious incompetence and clear delusions of grandeur, if not total insanity?
That’s the million dollar question. And the answer is elusive. Especially when Baalke addresses the media for his annual pre-draft presser and says things like:
“We can’t predict what the other teams are going to do. All we can do is worry about our board.”
Or when Baalke spoke to reporters following the 2015 regular season and said:
“The draft is a crap shoot. We all know that.”
His first quotable is baseless at best — a primary facet of his job is exactly that. Predicting what other teams are going to do. And his second one is actually pretty fair.
Except he must be horrible with long weapons, because he’s yet to blast a clay pigeon yet. And by saying that, he’s acknowledging what we’ve all learned about Baalke.
He just isn’t very good at his job. He’s right that projecting how college athletes will perform in the NFL is tough. That’s why there are only 32 NFL general managers in the world. Even less when considering how Cleveland’s uniquely structured front office is set up.
His job is to make sure the draft isn’t a crap shoot, and to build the best mock draft on the planet. He just hasn’t figured that out yet, apparently.
Here are Baalke’s draftees who remain on the roster at the time of this writing:
2012 draft: Nobody.
2013 draft: safety Eric Reid (1st round), defensive end Tank Carradine (2nd round), tight end Vance McDonald (2nd round), linebacker Corey Lemonier (3rd round), wide receiver Quinton Patton (4th round), defensive lineman Quinton Dial (5th round).
2014 draft: defensive back Jimmie Ward (1st round), running back Carlos Hyde (2nd round), center Marcus Martin (3rd round), guard Brandon Thomas (3rd round), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (4th round), defensive back Dontae Johnson (4th round), linebacker Aaron Lynch (5th round), defensive back Keith Reaser (5th round), defensive back Kenneth Acker (6th round), defensive end Kaleb Ramsey (7th round).