Somehow, it all makes total, ridiculous sense. The 49ers, the smug franchise with the new stadium and cashed seat-license checks, are dawdling in free agency while having the gall to demand a high-round draft choice for Colin Kaepernick, who stinks in part because they’ve screwed with his head. As for the Raiders, the renegade team with the Commitment to Homelessness that is owned by a haircut-challenged toad whom the NFL is trying to squeeze out?
They’re the serious ones, committing $139 million — or enough to pay for one deck of a new building — to three hungry free agents in what seems a legitimate push to win a division title next season, just before the franchise leaves for Los Angeles. The best of the trio, elite cover cornerback Sean Smith, didn’t need long to select the Raiders over another team he was considering.
The, um, 49ers.
“They have a bunch of young talent who are ready to take that next step,” Smith said. “You couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff. I just felt like with a few more pieces, this team is ready to contend for real.”
If Mark Davis had even a smidgen of his late father’s astounding arrogance, he would parlay the rise of the Raiders into the funding of an East Bay palace. Then, with a compelling core of defensive terror Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper, he’d develop a powerhouse that would contend for Super Bowls, reduce the 49ers to peonage and finally justify the Pride and Poise mantra. But with every month that passes in what’s doomed to remain a dead stadium issue, a likelihood grows that the Raiders simply are waiting to see if the Chargers cut a deal stay in San Diego. If so, much as the league’s owners don’t want any part of Davis or his team in their L.A. entertainment castle, commissioner Roger Goodell is on record — rather foolishly — as saying the Raiders would be invited to join the Rams in Inglewood if the Chargers say no.
So whatever general manager Reggie McKenzie is building, it’s for another town’s long-term eyeballs. How sad that local Raiders fans who’ve waited 14 years for a winning team might finally get one … as the Silver and Black leave Oakland. And McKenzie might not be done — three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, a late-career Raider if there ever was one, might be next as the team spends, spends and spends its available cap money. Please notice how all of this coincides with the sudden demise of the Super Bowl champ Denver Broncos, now among those checking in on a shockingly in-demand Kaepernick after the would-be heir apparent to Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, fled to Houston as part of an exodus including defensive end Malik Jackson, running back C.J. Anderson and linebacker Danny Trevathan.
“I’ve never really seen a fan base like this that’s responded in such a big way to welcoming their new players,” said new Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, who signed a five-year deal worth up to $60 million. “Yes, we’ve definitely closed [the gap]. The [Broncos] have lost some pieces and we’ve gained a lot. We definitely have more than enough talent to get the job done. There can’t be any more excuses about there being a gap. We just have to execute on Sundays.”
The Raiders can’t wait to get started. Kaepernick can’t wait to get out of town.
Continuing to embarrass a franchise that extended an olive branch last month in asking him to stay, Kap loathes York and the front office so much that he’s reportedly begging for a trade to Cleveland. That’s beyond desperation — try insanity — but I say “reportedly” because York seems to be at it again in spreading his familiar leakage to national reporters. Quite anxious to squeeze as much as possible out of a Kaepernick trade, York and Trent Baalke — who else would be engaging in these media games, Al Guido or Bob Lange? — are pitting Denver, Cleveland and the New York Jets against each other in a would-be poker game, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter is eating it up. While it’s true Kaepernick might enjoy the chance to play for new Browns coach Hue Jackson, an offensive strategist who always has liked Kap, the team also is expected to choose Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
Does Kaepernick really want to be a short-term sacrificial lamb, on a team with no offensive line? As for the Jets, their standout receiver, Brandon Marshall, says he wants no part of Kaepernick, and the team spent Friday with Robert Griffin III, another former quarterbacking supernova gone bad. That leaves Denver, where John Elway signed Mark Sanchez as a backup and probably is waiting to pounce on the most efficient and sensible starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, even if he wants ungodly amounts in what has become a sickeningly healthy economy for mediocre-to-pathetic QBs.
Not that we should feel sorry for Chip Kelly, who will make $24 million for four years to deal with Jed and Trent, but does he now realize what he got himself into? When free agency began last week, the 49ers had $50 million in cap room to spend. All they’ve done is sign someone named Thad Lewis, a journeyman QB who last played in an NFL game in 2013, to a one-year contract. What York is doing with that money, only he knows, but an already angry fan base is about to become riotous. The “plan” apparently is to let Baalke, a dubious drafter of late, to restock the team with 12 selections in next month’s draft. It wasn’t long ago, 2012, when an entire Baalke draft class went bust. I suppose Cleveland should sound better for Kaepernick.
If and when he leaves, the 49ers will need a quarterback whose name isn’t Blaine Gabbert, Thad Lewis or Dylan Thompson. Again, I’m thinking it will be Cal’s Jared Goff, who should be available in the No. 7 hole in the first round. Baalke will kick the tires on Griffin, as will Elway, but after dealing with the steady regression of Kaepernick, who wants to deal with the steady regression of Griffin? Once GQ cover subjects, both could be out of the league in a year or two. RG3 sounds like a project for another team, not one teetering on irrelevance.
There is one major NFL story in the Bay Area, and no longer is it colored red and gold. Imagine if the Raiders won the AFC West, went to the Super Bowl and then called the moving vans.
Al Davis, wherever he is, would laugh.
The rest of us would mourn a sporting tragedy — stuck with Jed as a compelling team went Hollywood.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
adam scheftereric weddleFree agencyJay MariottiJed Yorkkeleche osmelemalik jacksonMark Davisnfl free agencyOaklandOakland RaidersReggie McKenzieRobert Griffin IIISan FranciscoSan Francisco 49ersSanta Clara