Football followers and pundits alike speak candidly about Trent Baalke’s recently implemented draft strategy. More often than not, his strategy is raved about. Drafting talented, collegiate players that are overcoming injuries seems to be a great way to balance a stacked roster. It allows the San Francisco 49ers front office to analyze the salary cap and sort out the best way to extend high priority veteran players and allow others to walk.
As a veteran mainstay, Mike Iupati, is approaching the end of his contract. He’s been a starter at guard since the inception of his NFL career in 2010. And, he’s been a good one too. But within the confines of Trent Baalke’s drafting scheme, Iupati’s future with the team shows some doubt. The 49ers drafted guard/tackle Brandom Thomas out of Clemson in the 3rd round of the draft this year. He’s touted as a talented, versatile lineman that just so happened to tear his ACL in pre-draft workouts. He’ll have this season to rehab his injury while learning the 49ers offensive system. It sets up for a potential scenario where this could be Iupati’s last season with the 49ers. Out with the more expensive, talented veteran and in with the inexperienced, inexpensive younger player.
Now, I understand this is all hypothetical. And I’m skeptical in working in such a manner. But, what I do know is this. Working an NFL draft repeatedly in such manner can leave the 49ers roster thin at some important positions. Obviously, NFL rosters don’t carry collegiate numbers. An injury to Frank Gore last season would have left a three headed monster of Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon, and LaMichael James to shoulder the load. That wouldn’t have been a monster to instill fear in opposing defenses.
Just a couple days ago, 49ers cornerback Eric Wright retired from the NFL. The move leaves the greatest question mark within the 49ers roster, defensive back, even more shaky. It most certainly could not have been a move that was predicted. Eric Wright resigned with the team only three months ago with the intention of major playing time at the nickel back position. But, here we are. This, is no longer a “what if” scenario. Baalke and staff did draft four defensive backs in this past draft. One of those picks, Keith Reaser, is coming off a torn ACL injury last October and likely be on the PUP list this season.
It’s all irrelevant, well, until it becomes relevant. Relevance starts to show with injury or an unexpected retirement comes along. And if that relevance grows to the point where it can’t be ignored, Trent Baalke needs to rethink his draft strategy.