The changed dynamic at the top of the organization was evident Thursday as the 49ers held their usual pre-draft media luncheon at Santa Clara and the effects of it will probably last all season.
In the previous two years, coach Mike Nolan had spoken first at the luncheon before turning the microphone over to Scot McCloughan, then the personnel director. Now, McCloughan is the general manager and Thursday he was the only one to speak, though Nolan later chatted with writers and broadcasters while eating lunch.
Predictably, McCloughan said their changed relationship wouldn’t affect draft-day decision-making. The previous two years, he said, they often butted heads in early discussions.
"That can be a good thing," he said. "If the other guy says something in support of the player he wants, you might say, ‘I didn’t see that,’ so you go back and look at the video of the player again."
After those discussions, though, he said he and Nolan always came to a consensus.
But it will change this weekend because now it is McCloughan, not Nolan, who has the primary voice. Traditionally, coaches and general managers approach the draft differently. The coach wants players who can help him win immediately. The general manager is more interested in building a team that can be a consistent winner, which may mean drafting players who will be slower-developing.
Asked if this could be a problem, Nolan insisted it hadn’t been, but then admitted, "It could be."
Their respective contracts could exacerbate the situation. McCloughan is on a long-term contract. Nolan is essentially on a one-year contract. He is in the fourth year of a five-year contract, but he was almost fired after last season — and should have been. If he doesn’t win this year, he’ll be out.
And because the 49ers don’t select until the 29th pick in the first round, this could be a draft where they concentrate on adding depth at positions, not instant starters, though McCloughan did hold out hope they might draft a starter in the first round. He said the deepest player poll in the draft is offensive tackle, a position of need for the Niners.
The GM said he thought there might be five or six tackles who would be starters as a rookie. The 49ers are set at left tackle with Joe Staley. Jonas Jennings, who is injury-prone and hasn’t played well even when healthy, is scheduled to move to right tackle. There are no other experienced tackles on the roster. Adam Snyder can play there, but the 49ers prefer to keep him at guard, another thin position; David Baas, projected as a starter, has torn a pectoral muscle and will require surgery, which is expected to sideline him for part of training camp, perhaps until the regular season.
Noting that Staley was taken with the 28th pick last year, McCloughan said it was possible the needed tackle could fall to the 49ers at No. 29. He gave no names, but two players named in mock drafts are Gosder Cherilus (Boston College) and Sam Baker (Southern Cal).
The 49ers will take at least two offensive linemen during the course of the draft. Unless they trade up — McCloughan thought it more likely they’d trade down, if anything — there won’t be any big names falling their way. That may not be to Nolan’s liking, but he’s no longer in charge.