Kelly was brought in to whip into shape a 49ers offense that hasn’t finished with a top 10 ranking since 2003. Baalke’s task will be filling the defense with so much depth that it will be able to endure the warp-speed pace of Kelly’s offense, something his Philadelphia defenses did not do well.
Baalke has been a far, far better drafter of defense (See: NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, Aaron Lynch) than he has of offense (See: A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Vance McDonald) since he began running the draft in 2010.
Does that relationship sound pie-in-the-sky ideal? Like setting up Leona Helmsley and Simon Cowell on a date and hoping they’ll hit it off? You betcha. But that’s how the team feels Kelly and Baalke will coexist and how the 49ers will flourish – with Baalke stockpiling good defensive players and Kelly giving him very specific instructions of what he’s looking for on offense.
The 49ers head into the offseason expecting 12 draft picks and with approximately $50 million in salary-cap space. Baalke-Kelly has a lot of work to do.
Better suited QBs
Kelly arrives in San Francisco with a seemingly better – or at least better-suited – stable of quarterbacks than he had in Philadelphia.
Consider the quarterbacks with which he was so successful at Oregon: Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota. All of them were dual-threat players. In the four years Kelly was head coach at Oregon, the starting quarterbacks rushed for a combined 2,112 yards and 26 touchdowns.
In Philadelphia, Kelly worked with Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford. Last year, Bradford rushed for 39 yards and no touchdowns.
Colin Kaepernick has the same athleticism as Kelly’s Oregon crew, and his name has been prominent since the hire was announced Thursday morning. But Gabbert is no slouch, and he’s infinitely more nimble than the Eagles’ group. Last season Kaepernick averaged 5.7 yards a run; Gabbert averaged 5.8.
Good news for Kaepernick?
During the past week, information trickled out that Kelly was interested in trading for Kaepernick last year. The Eagles, of course, didn’t land Kaepernick but rather another NFC West quarterback, Bradford.
The tidbit about Kaepernick has and will be used to say, “Look, Kelly has been a big fan all along!” But really it’s a double-edge sword. How deep did those trade conversations get? Was it a brief, one-time inquiry or did they last throughout the year?
If it was more involved – and, remember, there have been plenty of reports and rumors about a Kaepernick trade – it signals that, yes, Kelly was interested in Kaepernick but also, yes, the front office considered getting rid of him. Remember who liked Kaepernick the most in 2011 – Jim Harbaugh.
Kaepernick’s current beef is not with any 49ers coaches, past or present. It’s with a front office he feels let him down. Which is to say, the chances that Kaepernick is playing for the 49ers in 2016 improved with the hiring of Kelly, but he’s still very much in limbo.
Kelly’s offense taxes defense
After the Eagles’ season ended, one of their defensive players, Connor Barwin, said he felt bad for defensive coordinator Billy Davis because it was as if his squad played two or three extra games than everyone else.
It’s not an exaggeration. The Eagles defense played 1,213 snaps last season. A middle-of-the-pack defense – say, Atlanta’s – played 1,049 snaps. If an average defensive game is 65 snaps, that’s a difference of two and a half games.
One of the culprits in Philadelphia was Kelly’s offense, which either scored very quickly or punted very quickly. Which sent the defense back onto the field very quickly. The system is the polar opposite of the lumbering, purposeful, might-is-right offenses under Harbaugh and Greg Roman that didn’t score a lot of points but ensured the defense was fresh.
San Francisco ranked in the top five defensively all four years under Harbaugh. Philadelphia ranked 28th, 29th and 30th under Kelly.
So who wants to come to San Francisco and run the defense? Every head coach hired so far has an offensive background, and there are far more defensive coordinators out there than available jobs.
Some names: Davis, Eric Mangini, Tim Lewis, Lovie Smith, Mike Nolan, Greg Manusky, Mike Pettine, Jim Schwartz. The list goes on and on.
$6 million coach
ESPN reported that Kelly’s contract in San Francisco is $24 million over four years. He becomes the seventh NFL head coach to earn at least $6 million a year.