Unloading Smith, Staley would be 49ers’ smartest move

One of the worst teams in the NFL wants to trade away what few good players it has. And that’s likely the smartest move the 49ers can make.

In what’s starting to become an annual tradition for the 49ers, the national media has, yet again, begun to swirl with rumors of shakeups regarding the organization. This time, Pro Football Focus is reporting that both T Joe Staley and WR Torrey Smith are being shopped ahead of the November 1 trade deadline.

Head coach Chip Kelly refuted the Staley rumor during his press conference Monday, and CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco cited his source as saying that Smith is also not on the trading block.

But that’s how things always go with the 49ers. The rumors aren’t ever true. Right up until the moment when they are.

However, let’s just assume these rumors are true, and a 1-6 team wants to get rid of a Pro Bowl tackle and a No.1 receiver who signed a $40 million contract with the team just before the start of last season.

The move would take away veteran leadership from a young group, it would cost the 49ers a pillar of strength along a recently rebuilt offensive line, and it would leave the league’s worst offense with one fewer weapon than it previously had.

But it’s actually a really good idea, and the reason is simple.

The 49ers aren’t one Joe Staley away from being good. They aren’t one Torrey Smith away from being good. They are, however, a few incredibly important drafts away from having a shot at returning to contention.

The 49ers started the process of rebuilding through the draft in the unflashy yet incredibly important manner of solidifying the trenches this year with picks in DL DeForest Buckner and G Joshua Garnett. It was a needed move, but the 49ers must step out of their comfort zone and hit big with a number of skill positions in 2017.

With the team almost assuredly spending their highest pick on a quarterback, the 49ers will need to acquire as many additional picks as possible to acquire other top-tier talent — for a dynamic wide receiver, perhaps — or to have room to maneuver for better draft position.

And since Staley and Smith make up part of the small minority of players on the 49ers’ roster that could net a substantial return for San Francisco in terms of draft compensation, the road to a true rebuild in Santa Clara can begin with them being moved to a contender in need before November 1.

The fact that the 49ers are reportedly seeking a first-round pick for Staley represents a chance to gain another talent who will be young, cheap and malleable. Staley is an above-average player, but at 32 years old, his time in the NFL is waning, and the 49ers likely won’t be good again until what few years left of high production he has are wasted.

Smith is posting career lows in all categories since joining San Francisco, making his price point less lucrative.

In two seasons with the 49ers, Smith has amassed just 46 receptions for 862 yards. But other executives surely are aware taht the six-year veteran’s lack of production has more to do with his poor fit into San Francisco’s scheme than it is a measure of the speedster’s talent.

San Francisco would be lucky to get a fourth-round pick for Smith, but that fourth-round pick could be packaged with another of the 49ers’ pick to move up to grab someone the 49ers really like.

There are, of course, other caveats of using the draft to rebuild a franchise. One of the most important of which is a good general manager to spend the draft picks wisely.

The 49ers don’t currently have that with Trent Baalke, who has been historically bad with his draft choices. But the optimistic fan has to assume he won’t be around to squander any possible returns from Staley and Smith when the team is on the clock in late April.

Sending away beloved veterans like Staley in order to pursue a rebuild is just about the least sexy thing anyone can try to sell you on. But it’s the reality of what the 49ers have become, and what they need to do in order to regain their status in the NFL.

Baalke’s “reload” has jammed. It’s time for the 49ers to stockpile as many bullets as they can for the 2017 draft, and it begins by moving players like Smith and Staley while they still can.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.