"What is it going to take to fix this, in your opinion"
Like everyone else in my generation I spend an unhealthy amount of my time on social media and because of the love I have for the 49ers the majority of that time is spent discussing every aspect of the organization. Among the many positives of joining the 49ers Hub team the one that stands out the most is the fact that I have come into contact with so many different 49er fans that I never knew existed and with that comes a variety of perspectives. Of course there is a portion of fans that are ignorant and shape their viewpoint on what others tell them, whether that’s the team itself or it’s the group of media members that have crafted a narrative about the team that they continue to sell to the public. It has been an easy, lazy narrative to sell given the on field product the last few seasons and the mistakes that have been made by the organization in the same time frame. With that being said there is one thing that I believe everyone can agree on is that it is going to take time to get this organization back on track to being a competitive team.
Now if you are reading this article I hope you are an intelligent individual, one that can come to your conclusions about the players in this tragic comedy and the current course that this organization is on. Several days ago I was on Twitter conversing with a follower of one of the other members of the 49ers Hub team, Evan, or 9ers E V as he is affectionately known by the rest of the team. The follower posed an interesting question, ‘What’s it gonna take to fix? In your opinion?”. I gave my response to his question and he answered back with his, we left it at that and have not spoken since but the question has stuck with me since that day. What will it take to fix the team, the roster, the organization? What will it take to get back to being a team that legitimately competing for division titles and eventually championships on a consistent basis. It is not a simple answer of course, so much is involved in the process of getting this team back to where the fans, players and organization want to be. I will use this article to lay out what I believe is the course the 49ers need to take.
The 1st step that needs to be taken by the organization is that as a collective group, one that is comprised of all the major players in the organization need sit down and focus on charting the course of this franchise for the next several years. I believe that it is clear to all that this organization has no clear direction, or at least they do not have one singular direction. In my opinion that starts with Dr. John and Denise York, while their son Jed is running the day-to-day operations of the franchise they need to take on more of a significant role with the team. Now I am not arguing that they need to become Jerry Jones but I do believe they need to be the ones that set the right tone for the organization, one that reverberates throughout the entire fan base. Together they need to make it clear to everyone, employees and the fan base that the mistakes of the past are just that, in the past. They need to promote a sense of professionalism and accountability, one that holds every employee responsible for their actions. Their son Jed may be the C.E.O of the team but they are the owners of the franchise, they have been hiding in the dark for far too long. They have allowed the organization to fall off of the right track, they can no longer sit idly by, they can no longer be enamored by the profits of the last few years, they need to get off their asses if there is to be any hope of the organization turning it around. When you set the right tone for an organization, the correct singular direction will follow.
The 2nd step in the plan is the public acknowledgement that this team is in fact going through a rebuild. I understand that pride and ego are significant factors and the admission of the rebuild inherently means admitting failure but the swallowing of pride and ego is pivotal to the resetting the course of the organization. Admitting that this is in fact a rebuild is much more for their own benefit than it is for the fans or media. They need to hear themselves admit it, they need to field questions from the media where they can explain their thought process and what steps they need to take from a roster construction perspective to get this team to achieve its ultimate goal. This is an organization that has been accused of being paranoid and petty, only leaking information when they believe it serves their purpose. That needs to stop, they need to be willing to be more honest with the fans, they need to be willing to appeal to them. Organizational rebuilds take time, they take patience and they take some love but they cannot succeed if the fan base rejects the plans of an organization. The fans need to be on board with the rebuild plans so that the organization can be patient with the rebuild and not force or rush their plans.
Now that the direction has been set for the organization and they have publicly acknowledged that they are truly going through a rebuild the 3rd and final step can begin, which revolves around constructing the roster. Trent Baalke and Scot McCloughan are huge proponents of the draft and develop philosophy of roster construction. I am not here to argue against that philosophy as I am a firm believer in it, but I am here to argue that a team cannot simply live and succeed only using the draft and develop system. This is a franchise under the ownership of the York family that has been fearful of handing out “big money” contracts but that mentality needs to stop. In the past 8 years the biggest contract that they have handed out to a free agent was the deal they gave wide receiver Torrey Smith. I am not arguing that they need to go on a spending spree or that they need to buy their way back into being a contender. What I do contend is that they need to come to grips with the fact that this roster needs an injection of veteran (hopefully still young) impact talent.
They need to realize that they simply cannot solve all of their issues in the draft, they need to explore all avenues in their attempt to return to relevancy. The process will be slow and painful, free agents will generally shy away from a rebuilding team like the 49ers but they cannot be dissuaded. They need to target two or three major free agents at positions of need, positions that will be difficult to address in the draft. Positions such as Left Guard, Nose Tackle and Kicker are needs that are not given the same weight as Quarterback, Wide Receiver and Inside Linebacker but given the struggles of the team this year and the current long term prospects of those respective positions they are needs that seriously need to be addressed this offseason. As it stands they would have to depend on players such as Zane Beadles and Mike Purcell to fill the Left Guard and Nose Tackle positions going into the 2017 season. Due to Phil Dawson being a Free Agent at Season’s end and that he will be 42 years old going into the 2017 season the Kicker position is really unsettled. They could go with draft picks at those positions or with lower tier free agents but given that they will have 80 plus million dollars of cap space to work with it why not infuse two or three positions of need with significant and long term upgrades. Upgrades that would allow them to set focus on positions that they can address in the draft.
When it comes to the draft I have always lived by the motto, “find your Quarterback, protect your Quarterback, enhance your Quarterback and get after the opposing Quarterback’. For the most part the 49ers have failed at each, now they have pieces here and there but they do not have the complete package in order to succeed in today’s NFL. I argue that after they have addressed certain needs in free agency they need to do all they can to fulfill the motto I have laid out. Now of course it is difficult to say that they will find the Quarterback of the future in this draft but they can take significant steps in order to surround that QB with the pieces they need to thrive. Players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, John Ross, Mike Williams, Jake Butt, Evan Engram, O.J Howard, Bucky Hodges and Christian McCaffery would seriously enhance any QB that they chose to build around. This draft can also be used to strengthen the defense with the mindset of getting after the QB, prospects such as Myles Garrett, Tim Williams, Derek Barrett, Carl Lawson and Jonathan Allen would seriously infuse the team with pass rushing talent. Much like the realities of free agency for a team like the 49ers one single draft will not solve all of their issues but they can kick start this rebuild if they focus on the positions that are the focal points of the league as we know it today.
Singular direction, rebuilding the trust of the fan base, and comprehensive roster building are the 3 core tenants of what the 49ers will need in order to get back to being a playoff and hopefully championship contending team. Every major player in the franchise needs to come together to form a singular direction that creates an organizational environment that promotes professionalism and accountability. They need to rebuild the trust that they have lost with the entire fan base by being honest and straightforward with them. That trust will be key in being afforded the necessary time for the rebuild to take its natural course, one that is not rushed by having to win consistently before they are ready to do so. Finally, they need to take a comprehensive approach to building the roster, they cannot stick to one avenue to improve the talent level of this team. They have to be willing to explore all options, draft, free agency and even trades should all be on the table in terms of improving this team. Then and only then do I believe the 49ers will have the ability to fix what has gone horribly wrong and can begin to be great again.