49ers must fire Baalke if they want to win again

Next man up, Mr. York.

It’s time — it’s been time — to fire Trent Baalke and promote Tom Gamble, who’s been in the wings since early on in the offseason. Because Baalke has driven the 49ers into the ground.

Six drafts, five of which were really bad. Six seasons, and only the ones with Jim Harbaugh were positive. And the teams that won were built by Scot McCloughan.

It seems like 49ers faithful forgot about McCloughan, and maybe it’s partly related to his quiet departure amid a major battle with alcoholism. He’s the guy who drafted Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Delanie Walker, Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson, Michael Crabtree, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, and NaVorro Bowman.

Nine pro bowlers in just a few seasons with the 49ers, and more importantly, nine key pieces to the success San Francisco enjoyed for a few years that now feel like a different century.

Baalke drafted a few in 2011, but so did every team, including the Browns, and hasn’t drafted a single player that has enjoyed constant success since entering the league. He’s quite simply the worst general manager in professional football, and the list is without a close second.

Jerry Reese of the Giants is a runner-up, but he’s still got some claims to fame, not to mention two Super Bowl rings.

And McCloughan, who was cast away following rumors of him showing up to the office reeking of booze, has returned to a sober life and is building another very tough to beat team.

He inherited a few key pieces, such as quarterback Kirk Cousins, but as soon as he arrived in Washington, the team began a major turnaround. Though it seems like Baalke was a major reason for the 49ers resurgence from 2011 to 2014, in reality, he’s been the reason they never won a Super Bowl in those years.

They should have. A muffed punt return was all that stood between the 49ers and championship glory in 2011. Baalke had a shot to sign receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace during the following offseason, but chose to draft A.J. Jenkins instead.

Because he has clearly outperformed Alshon Jeffery, taken 15 picks later.

To cloud the future of the 49ers potential in free agency, Baalke has earned a negative reputation with both players and agents, where stars retire twice in just over a year and visits aren’t even considered unless the options are thin.

Which is one reason the 49ers have a stockpile of cash leftover, $50 million according to the NFLPA, to add to the $40 million they’ll have this offseason. And that could become a total of $130 million if they release Colin Kaepernick, Ahmad Brooks, Torrey Smith, Antoine Bethea, Zane Beadles and Tramaine Brock.

All of whom make sense to let walk. Especially if Kirk Cousins is available on the free agent market, and the 49ers did in fact roll over the $50 million in excess cash they had after sitting on their hands this March.

The problem as long as Baalke is in town, though, is not many star players would entertain playing under Baalke. Not if the buzz about Baalke’s reputation in accurate, and one agent has confirmed to SFBay that it is.

That would be more than enough to bring in Alshon Jeffery, Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Cameron and Martellus Bennett, Dontari Poe and Domata Peko. The Niners would have more than enough to sign Jarvis Jones and Chandler Jones, Trumaine Johnson and Prince Amukamara and Stephon Gilmore, along with Eric Berry and D.J. Swearinger.

All of the aforementioned names that hit free agency on the day of reckoning could be had by the 49ers, and in one fell swoop, they could be relevant again.

Not if Baalke is the general manager, though, will those players come. Even if the 49ers offer real money, it’s become crystal clear that not many guys will play for him.

The Yorks, for some totally insane reason, have held onto Baalke despite being one their fourth coach in seven seasons and going from Super Bowl favorites to the league’s laughingstock, mired in inconsistency and underwhelming draft performance.

That’s not likely to change as long as they keep their man.

The good news for Niners fans is that the Yorks brought in Gamble, giving him the official title of “assistant general manager,” which loosely translates to “general manager in the wings.”

Gamble is a friend of Chip Kelly, and the pair should be able to manage a fruitful relationship, something Baalke has some apparent trouble with, no matter the second party, save for the York family.

And that might also be due to the fondness each of them have for player the numbers instead of doing what winning teams do, going out to find talent and betting on fewer with hopes of large returns.

The method, at least with Baalke making the final decision, has not worked well. And he must go because of it.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.