Dilfer-Kaepernick war of words not a good look for Trent Baalke


Dilfer-Kaepernick war of words not a good look for Trent Baalke

The absurdist Kremlinology of the San Francisco 49ers is the kind of thing that provides amusement in difficult times, but it is not typically meant for happy moments like Monday.

Yet it re-revealed itself in the aftermath of the 49ers’ 28-0 boa constrictage of the Los Angeles Rams, and best of all, it revolved around the team’s backup quarterback, one of the few people in the NFL to have a quarterback rating lower than Case Keenum’s.

[RATTO: Small sample shows Kelly's 49ers can be Year 1 of Harbaugh]

Yes. Colin Kaepernick. The Face O’ The Franchise.

Kaepernick caught a bit of grief and a bit of support at the start of Monday night’s game, and put in three difficult handoffs at the end of it. He took the anthemic knee that has become his de rigueur statement on police brutality, some players supported him physically, most took a neutral stand, and the nation endured as it always has.

But sometimes the devil is in the sidebar.

Kaepernick highlighted his postgame press conference by effusively (for him) praising club president/owner Jed York for being supportive of him and his stance both in word and check, an exchange of peacemaking gestures on both their parts that might have ushered in the era of mutually beneficial post-Kaepernickia.

But ESPN’s Trent Dilfer, who has long been presumed to be the designated media conduit of fellow York employee and team general manager Trent Baalke, had taken a few moments of Monday’s pregame to carve Kaepernick a new one for all the old reasons – for being a distraction, for being an attention whore, for being a backup and therefore unqualified to speak on weighty matters, and blah-blah-blahity-blah-blah.

The last of those being the most coherent argument.

[MAIOCCO: Dilfer: Kaepernick's protest 'has caused friction' with 49ers]

But it isn’t the quality of Dilfer’s arguments that is at issue here, but his role as Baalke’s principal (and almost only) defender and presumably the conduit for Baalke’s own opinions, that made Kaepernick’s dismissive postgame response an event that fell well north of interesting and just short of actual newsworthiness.

The episode speaks to Baalke’s view of Kaepernick at the same time that their mutual boss is giving Kaepernick a seven-figure olive branch. It dovetails with the growing assumption that Baalke will be the designated scapegoat of this season ends as most people believe it will, and a perceived frostening of the relationship between the two men.

It is, in short, not a good look for Baalke, at a time when he could actually use one. And why does this speculation happen? Because neither York nor Baalke ever tried to create relationships with the local beat writers or selected other medioids (no, not me; I wouldn't wish that on anyone) that might help them explain themselves, their relationship and their positions in a meaningful and helpful (for them) way. They let the narrative run away from them, as they usually do, using national media types as their unconvincing leak-ees, and now their first win of the Chip Kelly Era is being used to reveal cracks in the organizational facade.

Does this matter in the longer run? Of course not. None of it matters, if truth be told. The Kaepernick protest is losing national steam (though not the cause for which he speaks), and rather than enjoy the peace and quiet of that, it is now a new referendum on the front office and its inner dysfunctions.

Which, as we know, is exactly the play they were going for, he said sarcastically.

York has never quite understood that the only way his media strategy works is if he talks to nobody at all, ever. Baalke doesn’t even get that benefit, because part of his job, whether he thinks so or not, is to gently convince potential team critics not to be so critical. His mentor, Bill Parcells, could be witheringly dismissive early in a game week but religiously spent Friday cultivating the beat writers, winning their undying loyalty along the way.

If the 49ers go 11-5, this matters not at all. But if they go 5-11, as most people suspect, this ruins one of the few good weekends York and Baalke . . . well, okay, Baalke . . . will have this year. That’s simply unsound tactical thinking, repeated again and again and making the criticism they hate so much so easy to distribute.

But maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be with this team – no moment too good to be impervious to potential ruin. And maybe it is precisely what Trent Baalke deserves for being so aggressively tone-deaf to the requirements of media relations in better times. At some point, you see, he will need another job (because general managers always get fired eventually), and owners are more interested in media opinions on job openings than they let on.

So the 49ers win, and the prime next-day takeaway is the relationship between the general manager and the backup quarterback. Sometimes you wonder how they can get their shoes tied for all the knots.

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”