Matthew Barrows: 49ers have proven strategy for adding talent

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 - 8:16 am

SANTA CLARA – "Bye Nnamdi! Sorry you couldn't play for food stamps! Our origination is so cheap it's unbelievable!!"

"He's not signing here, 49ers too cheap .. Craig Dahl terrible sign if a starter, white guys don't do well as DB's this isn't 1950"

"I am assuming both Baalke & Pope Harbaugh are aware that free agency period started already! Craig Dahl???"

Trent Baalke sure has been taking it on the chin the last few days, as the preceding comments – just a smattering from that mangler of the English language, Twitter – indicate. The last time this many 49ers fans thought their general manager was an idiot was 2011.

The circumstances were similar to the current free-agency period. A few days in, the 49ers had lost several of their own players, including center David Baas. While other teams reeled in prized free agents, showing them off at news conferences and getting kudos on ESPN, the 49ers' only signing was kicker David Akers.

Most infuriating to fans, the 49ers had shown interest in the biggest, most seductive catch of all, can't-miss cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but backed off the hunt, and the Philadelphia Eagles signed him to a massive five-year deal.

This year, the 49ers lost safety Dashon Goldson, tight end Delanie Walker, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois in free agency. In return, the team has added defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, special teamer Dan Skuta and safety Craig Dahl.

Most fans probably hadn't heard of the last two; neither was even drafted.

In fairness, the 49ers also traded for a big-name player, wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Two years ago, Baalke and the 49ers waited until free agency died down, then made a few quiet moves. They acquired cornerback Carlos Rogers and center Jonathan Goodwin and re-signed Goldson. Not every signing was a stroke of genius – Braylon Edwards comes to mind – but that's not the point.

The 49ers never intended to emphasize free agency. Instead, they wanted to emphasize the draft, where that year Baalke found Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller.

By the end of the 2011 season, it looked like a gold-star draft for the 49ers, and Baalke was named the NFL Executive of the Year just five months after fans were certain he was one of the worst. And that draft looks even more impressive after Kaepernick established himself at quarterback.

This year, Baalke again is betting on the draft, and he has a huge advantage. The 49ers have 14 selections, including three compensatory picks they were awarded Monday. That's enough firepower to target a few select players.

Baalke and the 49ers seem to be carving out specific roles for the incoming class. And the success of the 2011 draft also points to a positive outcome.

The fact Baalke has abstained during the fast-and-furious opening days of free agency bodes well, too.

No other player encapsulates the absurdity of free agency like Asomugha. He played terribly in Philadelphia, his contract became an albatross, and the Eagles had to cut him. He embodies the free-agency cautionary tale.

And yet the thought of Asomugha getting away again – he visited the New Orleans Saints on Sunday – is causing fans to hyperventilate and call Baalke a fool.

The last time the general manager took this much abuse was 2011. He probably ought to start clearing some space in his trophy case.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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