Sunday, August 9, 2015

The 49ers Are In Free Fall, And Deserve It

Empty and Far, Far Away
These past few days, San Francisco (well, more Santa Clara) added a few more leaky bags of manure to a stink of an off-season that is hard to imagine. With the sudden but not terribly surprising release of LB Aldon Smith for reasons of him being, well, Aldon Smith, what was a borderline dynasty in the NFC West is now poised to be a chic pick for fourth and beyond, and while they aren't as bad as all that, picking this division to be in while losing talent hand over fist is a poor life choice.

Start with the coaching situation, where the franchise decided that Jim Harbaugh was getting too much credit for the team's turnaround, and Had To Go. Add in the usual faceplant in home field advantage that always happens when a team moves into a new stadium -- seriously, America, stop tolerating this -- and the middling weapons provided, and you can see why this team is going nowhere fast. But the issues go beyond the people you've heard about, or the myriad number of retirements and dismissals on the defensive side of the ball.

Rather, what really is going on here is that the club decided it could live without Scott McCloughan, the player personnel man most responsible for the team's turnaround in drafting acumen. While McCloughan's last two drafts were not as ridiculously good as the ones that got them a half dozen Pro Bowlers, he's a damn sight better than trusting young trustafarian owner Jed York. The club's drafts since 2012 are as bad as when the club went belly-up in the time between Steve Young and Harbaugh. In case you've forgotten who the Niners took back then, the Niners probably have as well -- AJ Jenkins, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore, limp on down! -- and McCloughan is now with (drumroll!), Seattle.

The point, really, is that the Niners never really built the kind of organization that was going to sustain long-term success. They just caught lightning in a bottle with McCloughan and Harbaugh, thought that it was their doing for the upswing, and will now be rudely corrected by the universe. New coaches get to work with new starters (Eric Mangini? Good luck with that), as Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Anthony Davis will join Smith in not playing for the definitely more pliable Niner defense. Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree are also gone, and while neither man is a flat-out stud, both were better than what was on the bench, and the offense wasn't good enough before the drop. This is a team that's going to lose 10+ games next year, in a stadium that's very expensive and far away from the actual fan base.

So the Niners are going to be bad again; so what. But what interests me in all of this is to see what happens to the Bay Area fanbase, who have been made very spoiled by the recent Giants and Warrior wins. As always in any multi-sport town, the NFL matters most, and whenever there's a team in Oakland for San Francisco fan to look down their noses on, they do with speed... but the Raiders appear to be getting better, are ten miles away instead of fifty, and do not play in a division where they will get their heads caved in by fire-breathing defenses.

It's stretching the point to think that the Raiders will get to be a threat in the region. They are threatening to leave, after all, and have been the NFL's laughingstock for a decade. No one goes into the Black Hole without a little bit of trepidaiton, even though security issues are wildly overplayed, and the cosplayers are easily evaded by just getting seats that don't suck.

Final point: before Harbaugh, the Niners were nearly as embarrassing as Al's Final Days in Oakland -- hard to do. On some level, getting good and then blowing it up with your own idiocy might be more infuriating than just being bad. Keep an eye on this, if for no other reason than wishing ill on a team that changes stadiums always puts you on the side of the angels.

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