SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have fired general manager Trent Baalke.
CEO Jed York informed Baalke on Friday that he would not be retained as general manager, sources told CSNBayArea.com on Sunday morning. The club is expected to announce the move shortly after Sunday's season finale against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium.
York is scheduled to meet with coach Chip Kelly after Sunday's game, according to sources. Although no final decision has been made, sources expect Kelly to also be fired in order to bring in a new general manager and new head coach at the same time.
Under Baalke’s leadership of the organization’s player personnel department, the 49ers rose to three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game with Jim Harbaugh as coach.
But the 49ers’ roster withered in recent seasons with unsuccessful or slow-developing draft picks, few quality free-agent pickups, unexpected retirements, veteran departures and off-field issues leading to the releases of three starters.
In mid-November, Baalke accepted the blame for the 49ers’ troubles and said the York ownership had given him all the financial resources he needed to build the roster. The 49ers are currently $39 million under the league’s salary cap.
“The bottom line is, the ownership gives us everything we need to be successful – everything we need,” Baalke said just prior to the 49ers’ Nov. 13 loss at Arizona, which would be the team’s eighth straight loss on the way to a franchise-worst 13-game skid.
“There’s nothing financial holding us back from being successful. And they’re extremely supportive. They let us make football decisions. They support them wholeheartedly. And they give us every resource necessary to do it. So that’s what’s frustrating. If people want to push blame, find it, look right here, because I’m given everything I need to be successful in the job I’m doing. Period.”
York and Paraag Marathe, the 49ers' chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations, will immediately begin the process of finding Baalke’s replacement. The 49ers are expected to interview approximately six candidates for the position.
The club's assistant general manager, Tom Gamble, is not expected to be a candidate for the opening, according to sources.
In addition to being in charge of the 49ers’ drafts and free agency, Baalke was also entrusted with the responsibility of hiring the team’s head coaches during his time at general manager.
Baalke hired Harbaugh in 2011. Following Harbaugh’s “mutual parting” with the 49ers at the end of an 8-8 season in 2014, Baalke promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who lasted just one season. Baalke chose Tomsula over Adam Gase, who is among the favorites to be NFL Coach of the Year for his work this season with the Miami Dolphins.
The 49ers went 5-11 in Tomsula’s only season, which led to his firing and the hiring of Chip Kelly.
Under Kelly, and with a young and largely unproven roster, the 49ers fell to new depths. After an opening-game victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers lost 13 consecutive games. The 49ers snapped their losing streak on Christmas Eve with a 22-21 win over the Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But, by then, it was clear Baalke’s fate was sealed.
Baalke served as the 49ers’ general manager since January 2011 after one season working in that role as vice president of player personnel following Scot McCloughan’s departure from the organization prior to the 2010 draft.
Baalke was named the 2011 NFL Executive of the Year for his role in helping the 49ers turn from a 6-10 team under Mike Singletary to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship game under Harbaugh.
The 49ers came 4 yards shy of the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title in February 2013 in New Orleans. The 49ers’ late rally fell short with a 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in XLVII.
Harbaugh’s relationship with the 49ers’ ownership and management became fractured over the course of his four seasons with the organization. Jed York and Harbaugh were unable to work out a contract extension and things became increasingly acrimonious.
The 49ers and Harbaugh parted ways in a move that was announced just minutes after the conclusion of the 2014 season. Harbaugh ended up at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, which he immediately turned into a national power.
In Baalke’s five years as general manager, the organization signed just one high-priced player on the first day of free agency. Two years ago, the 49ers lured wide receiver Torrey Smith with a five-year, $40 million contract. Smith has had two disappointing seasons with the 49ers, totaling just 53 catches for 930 yards and seven touchdowns in 28 games.
During the 2016 offseason, when the 49ers had needs at quarterback, wide receiver and pass-rusher, the only free agent Baalke signed to be a starter was veteran guard Zane Beadles.
In explaining the 49ers’ lack of activity during the free-agent signing period during the owners meetings in March, Baalke told CSNBayArea.com, “We’re a draft-and-develop team.”
The 49ers decided to stick with quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert during the offseason. Baalke did not draft a quarterback until he chose Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel in the sixth round. Driskel was among the 49ers’ final cuts, as the team went with Christian Ponder on the 53-man roster. The Cincinnati Bengals claimed Driskel off waivers.
After trading up to select Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft, Baalke never drafted another quarterback who stuck on the team’s 53-man roster. Driskel and B.J. Daniels, a seventh-round selection in 2013, were the only quarterbacks the 49ers drafted after 2011.
Baalke’s best draft was his first under the title of general manager. And while those players paid short-term dividends, none became a building block for the future.
Baalke chose outside linebacker Aldon Smith with the No. 7 overall pick in 2011. Kaepernick was the second-round selection. After getting off to a better start than any pass-rusher in NFL history, Smith had five run-ins with the law over three years and was released. He is currently under contract to the Raiders and serving an indefinite NFL suspension that began in November 2015.
Kaepernick helped the 49ers get to the Super Bowl, but his production incrementally declined. Now, one of the top priorities of the next general manager will be to shore up the 49ers’ quarterback picture.
The 2010 draft, when Baalke was the decision-maker after McCloughan’s abrupt departure from the organization, was solid for the 49ers. But even that draft class was marked by incomplete grades. Guard Mike Iupati signed as a free agent the Arizona Cardinals in 2015; tackle Anthony Davis retired after five seasons; and NaVorro Bowman sustained two devastating injuries that have derailed his career.
One year after being named NFL Executive of the Year, Baalke was at the controls of perhaps the worst draft in club history, selecting wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James in the first two rounds. The 49ers gave up on Jenkins after just one season, during which he appeared in three games and never caught a pass.
The 49ers’ roster was also damaged by unexpected events, such as the retirements of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Justin Smith and Anthony Davis. Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald and Bruce Miller were released due to multiple run-ins with the law.
Baalke invested an inordinate number of draft picks in players whose college careers were cut short due to knee ligament tears, and those gambles did not pay off.
Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore, Brandon Thomas, Keith Reaser, Trey Millard, DeAndre Smelter and Will Redmond were not able to get on the field as rookies while rehabbing from significant knee injuries.
Carradine, who was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft for his pass-rush skills, has been a flop. He was a healthy scratch from the 49ers’ active game-day roster late in the season after the 49ers signed him to a one-year contract extension in September.
Lattimore, chosen in the fourth round of the 2013 draft despite sustaining a grisly knee injury that ended his college career, could never get healthy and retired without ever playing in a preseason or regular-season game.
Thomas and Millard are no longer with the organization. Redmond did not play a down as a rookie. And Smelter was a late-season call-up from the practice squad and has yet to make a contribution.