As significant player movement began at the start of NFL free agency, the good news is that the 49ers have general manager Trent Baalke, who knows what’s happening around the league, and an owner in Jed York who knows the importance of having that kind of man in charge.
Baalke’s expertise was evident when he was able to snatch wide receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, giving up only a sixth-round draft pick, because he knew the Ravens had serious salary cap issues.
Similarly, when nose guard Isaac Sopoaga signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Baalke was prepared, immediately signing free agent Glenn Dorsey, who was the fifth pick in the 2008 draft. Dorsey has sometimes been labeled a bust because the Chiefs didn’t use him properly. He’s much more suited to the role of nose tackle in the 3-4 defense the 49ers use. It’s not a glamor position because his job is mainly to plug up the middle and occupy blockers. Sopoaga did that well and Dorsey should, too.
And Baalke also found exactly the right spot for quarterback Alex Smith. Smith was coveted by the Arizona Cardinals, but Baalke did not want to trade him to a divisional rival. When Andy Reid was named coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he and Baalke immediately started talking — because Baalke knew Reid was a longtime admirer of Smith’s. Before long, they agreed on a deal which was best for Smith and both teams, with Kansas City yielding their second-round pick, the second overall in that round, and a pick in next year’s draft as well.
These astute moves are in sharp contrast to what was happening 10 to 12 years ago, when John York was in charge and Terry Donahue was the general manager. The front office at that time was heavy on computer geeks, light on long time NFL people. Donahue wasn’t spending much time on the job and bad decisions were being made on coaches and players.
That started to change when Jed York took command. First, Scot McCloughan and then Baalke made good drafts, a fact obscured by the hiring of bad coaches, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, otherwise known as terrible and worse.
When Jed fired Singletary, he and Baalke focused on one candidate to replace him: Jim Harbaugh. Once Harbaugh was in place, bringing along Stanford assistants Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, the pattern for success was complete.
In the NFL these days, nothing is forever. There was no way the 49ers could keep everybody this year and they’ve also lost free safety Dashon Goldson. As Goldson was signing with Tampa Bay, Baalke was already interviewing Charles Woodson, a friend of Harbaugh’s and a fellow alumnus of Michigan. At 36, Woodson would not be a long-term fix, but Baalke will have at least 14 draft picks to work with this year in a draft that lacks the super quarterbacks of last year’s but is considered to be very deep in quality players.
The 49ers team that takes the field in September will be different but, thanks to York and Baalke, it will still be very good.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36 @gmail.com.