The 49ers’ offseason started in rocky fashion, as the tension between coach Jim Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke bubbled over. The drama became obvious even before the season ended, via the reporting of Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.
As Harbaugh moves toward the fourth of five years of his contract with the team, he hasn’t received a new deal. Recent turmoil unrelated to the coach but directly arising from several of the team’s players could help Harbaugh get what he wants, for several reasons.
First, the 49ers desperately need some good news right now. Securing Harbaugh for the long haul would accomplish that.
Of course, that could be bad news for the folks in the front office who reportedly have a hard time getting along with the ultra-competitive Harbaugh. To the extent that reports of friction between Harbaugh and G.M. Trent Baalke are true, giving Harbaugh the long-term deal he wants could also mean replacing Baalke.
Second, someone bears the blame for draft picks that have been devoted to guys who have gotten into trouble or who have ended up being busts. Each of the first three men picked by Baalke — linebacker Aldon Smith, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and cornerback Chris Culliver — have found themselves in awkward situations, to say the least. (Kaepernick has not yet been arrested or charged for whatever it was that happened earlier this month in Miami, and he may never be.)
The first two players selected in 2012 haven’t done anything wrong. But they also haven’t done anything good. First-round receiver A.J. Jenkins is long gone, and second-round running back LaMichael James has landed on the trading block.
It’s not publicly known whether Harbaugh supported or opposed any of those selections. He could bear some of the same blame as Baalke. Harbaugh likewise could be basking in vindication as to one or more of the players that Baalke wanted but Harbaugh perhaps didn’t.
Regardless, Baalke had the final say, which means that Baalke gets the bulk of the blame. Which makes Harbaugh look better in comparison and could nudge the organization between giving him the money he wants and hiring a G.M. who will work in conjunction with Harbaugh to find players who will produce at a high level and stay out of trouble.