SANTA CLARA – The 49ers have made one big-money, first-day splash in free agency under embattled general manager Trent Baalke.
That came in March of 2015, when the team signed wide receiver Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract.
The 49ers brought Smith to the organization because of his character and production as a much-needed deep threat in the passing game. Smith has lived up to his promise off the field. This week he was named the 49ers’ nominee for the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
But the 49ers have gone 6-22 during that time. In the 27 games in which he has appeared, Smith has 53 receptions for 930 and seven touchdowns. He spoke on the 49ers Insider Podcast about the frustration and disappointment he has experienced since coming to the organization.
“There are times when I’ve handled it well and there are times I’ve been horrible,” Smith said. “As bad as things may have been, I just got to look at the light on the other side of the tunnel. I’m trying to be more positive. I was just talking to my wife about it. I feel like it’s a professional test for me.
“That’s why they signed me to come here. And I haven’t been doing that, for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s myself. Sometimes it’s opportunity. And sometimes we flat-out miss. The combination of those drives you crazy, but there’s only one thing I can control, and I haven’t been doing a good job of controlling that.”
Smith and safety Antoine Bethea are the only players on the 49ers who have won championships. Smith, whose Super Bowl win came as a member of the Baltimore Ravens against the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, said he trusts that coach Chip Kelly has the team heading in the right direction – despite the 1-11 record and the franchise-worst 11-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.
“We played at a very high level for three of my four years there (with the Ravens), and you know what it looks like when it’s right,” Smith said. “It’s a feel you get. It’s the way things are operating. It’s the way leadership is. I can’t really describe it, but you know what it looks like. It’s like a well-oiled machine.
“I feel like we have that, but we’re just not performing. There are mistakes involved in that. There’s a youth issue, as well. We’re not getting it done. But I think in terms of the way you’re taught, the way you prepare – which is how you can judge a coach – I don’t feel like we ever go into anything where we weren’t prepared.”
With Baalke’s future with the organization in a tenuous position, the 49ers will have a lot of offseason decisions. One is whether to bring back Smith at his $8 million annual price tag. Smith said he realizes his future is uncertain, but he said he believes the 49ers will eventually turn things around.
“People think Jed (York) and these guys just don’t care or whatever, like they’re trying to tank or blow this thing up,” Smith said. “That’s not the case. Guys are trying to prepare from the top to the bottom to win. Everyone here is working their tails off. We’re just aren’t performing well. When that happens, there’s a lot of criticism that comes from a lot of different directions – as it should. Everyone gets paid to do a job.
“But I feel like when we get it right -- and I can say we, and I’m not even guaranteed to be here next year. You know how the business works. Anything can happen. But I feel like it’s going to be right. I don’t know how long that’s going to take. But it’s not that far away. I’m just going keep saying that. It’s just a few pieces there that we got to get together and be more consistent.”