Anyone who thinks Trent Baalke has been chastened by the 49ers’ stumble over the past two seasons and, as a result, will alter his drafting habits this week hasn’t been paying attention.
Everything the 49ers general manager has done so far this offseason has been vintage Baalke, from refusing to pay top dollar for his own free agents to looking disdainfully at other team’s free agents to avoiding the media whenever possible.
And he doesn’t think his previous drafts are that bad. Early-round picks who haven’t played or produced, such as Tank Carradine, Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas, just need more time, Baalke said last week.
“I think Bill Walsh said it a long time ago – two years. Give them two full years,” Baalke said. “Well now I don’t think it’s two years. I think it’s three years when you look at the majority of players. How many first-round picks come into the NFL now and make an immediate impact? How many second-round picks, league-wide?”
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A leopard doesn’t change its spots and neither does Trent Baalke.
That suggests he’ll stick to his draft routine:
▪ He’ll probably take defensive players early; in the past three drafts, he’s gone defense five times in the first or second round. Running back Carlos Hyde is the only offensive player he’s taken in the first two round in that span.
▪ He’ll probably go light at quarterback; just two of his 58 previous picks have been quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick (second round, 2011) and B.J. Daniels (seventh round, 2013).
▪ He’ll probably avoid a wide receiver before the fourth round; he’s taken three wideouts in that round since missing on A.J. Jenkins in the first round in 2012.
▪ And he’ll probably make several trades over the next three days, picking up extra selections in 2017.
A leopard doesn’t change its spots and neither does Baalke.
No trade for Kap – yet
When you tune in to draft coverage on ESPN and NFL Network over the next three days, you’re bound to hear a lot about the 49ers trading Kaepernick.
While Baalke said it still is possible, it’s not likely during the draft because the two teams most likely to acquire him, the Broncos and Jets, don’t have enough salary-cap space to take on his contract.
Before he can be moved to, say, Denver, the Broncos would have to either clear more space or he would have to agree to a restructured contact. And so far, Kaepernick and the Broncos are far apart. The 49ers could agree to take on a portion of Kaepernick’s contract to facilitate a trade. But even that would require Kaepernick signing off, and there is no evidence of such discussions in the run-up to the draft.
One possibility: Day 2 of the draft doesn’t begin until Friday at 4 p.m. If the Broncos don’t land a quarterback on Day 1 and the 49ers do, perhaps that’s enough time to get a deal done. But don’t bet on it.
What about Connor Cook?
Asked last week about the possibility of drafting a quarterback in the first two rounds, Baalke said only: “I wouldn’t want to put a percentage on it. We’re certainly not out of the market – if that helps.”
When a team takes a quarterback in the first two rounds, it believes that player can become a starter and, by extension, the face of the franchise. That kind of high-stakes pick typically is preceded by either a workout with the coach (See: Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh in 2011) or a visit to the team facility or both (See: Alex Smith in 2005). A franchise must do exhaustive homework on a quarterback they think might one day take over the team.
When a team takes a quarterback in the first two rounds, it believes that player can become a starter and, by extension, the face of the franchise.
This year, only four draft-eligible quarterbacks were reported to have visited Santa Clara: Cal’s Jared Goff, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and San Jose State’s Joe Gray.
The Rams are expected to take Goff with the first pick, Hogan is considered a midround selection and Gray probably won’t get drafted. That leaves Cook as the only top-round passer the 49ers are known to have studied.
And if Cook gets snapped up by another squad? (The Browns, for example, have a lot of picks to trade and are said to like him, too.) It’s hard to see the 49ers using a high pick on a quarterback – Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg or Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott – they haven’t researched as thoroughly.