COMMENTARY | At 6-2 and just one game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the best record in the NFC, it's hard to blame the San Francisco 49ers for standing pat at the trade deadline. After all, they're in the midst of a five-game winning streak and have reinforcements coming back on the roster.
Rookie second-round pick Cornellius Carradine was activated from the injury list, while the likes of Mario Manningham and Eric Wright seem destined to join him on San Francisco's active roster within the next few days. In addition, star wide receiver Michael Crabtree seems to be prepared to join the team before the end of November.
That's four players that the 49ers are going to add to the 53-man roster who didn't contribute a single snap in the first half of the season. That's also four players who were/are on the roster that San Francisco needs to send packing. It already waived linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and wide receiver Marlon Moore. It will have to make a decision on two or three more players before its all said and done.
That brings me to my first point.
It goes without saying that we have no idea what's going on internally when it comes to trade discussions. To just indicate that San Francisco needed to part ways with someone like Anthony Dixon is fine and dandy. There are many more variables that come into play than meets the eye. First, was there any interest in the backup running back? Second, what value did he provide to potential trade partners? Third, was San Francisco intent on trading him for a scrap of day-old meat? Without answers to these specific questions, it's only possible to use conjecture when drawing a conclusion. This is what I plan to do below.
As one of the most talented teams in the NFL, it's impossible to come to the conclusion that some lesser teams out there didn't show interest in players the 49ers may no longer have use for. Dixon, who might have been on the block to make room for LaMichael James on the active game-day roster, could have possibly netted a late-round pick in either 2014 or 2015. As a special teams and short-yardage stalwart, he did have some value. Now that Dixon remains on the roster, this complicates things as it relates to getting James on the field on a consistent basis.
With the imminent returns of Manningham and Crabtree, there doesn't seem to be a place for struggling wide receiver Kyle Williams, who was actually replaced by Dixon as San Francisco's return specialist last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could the 49ers have gotten anything for a player that doesn't figure into their plans both short term and long term?
More so than subtracting from one of the most talented rosters in the league, San Francisco was in prime position to add even more talent. By virtue of the Kansas City Chiefs eighth win of the season last week, the 49ers are now going to receive a second-round pick in the Alex Smith trade. This coupled with a few other trades and expected compensatory selections gives general manager Trent Baalke a ton of early-mid-round draft picks next May. Basic math indicates the 49ers are going to have two second-round picks and three third-round picks in addition to their first-round selection.
With names like Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt and Josh Gordon supposedly on the trade block, San Francisco had the ability to acquire a starter-caliber receiver prior to Tuesday's deadline. Without being able to get into specifics as it relates to whether these players were really available, it does appear that the 49ers could have offered the best combination of picks to acquire one. Instead, it is going to have to rely on two receivers, who are coming off serious injuries, to make instant impacts upon their returns. That's not necessarily the best possible outcome for the defending conference champions.
In addition to having those six picks in the first three rounds, San Francisco will likely acquire another compensatory mid-round selection due to 2013 free-agent losses and already has four seventh-round picks. At this point, that means that one of the most talented rosters in the league will have between 14 and 15 picks next May. Does anyone honestly expect the 49ers to be able to keep anywhere near that many rookies on their roster next season? Of course that plethora of picks enables Baalke to move up and down the board at will, but is also leaves some question marks when the draft is done.
Take the 2013 NFL draft as an example. Where San Francisco was able to find value up and down the draft, the strength of its roster ended up burning it when all was said and done. Rookie seventh-round pick Marcus Cooper didn't show a whole heck of a lot in the preseason and was waived prior to the start of the regular season with the hope that he would stick on the practice squad. Unfortunately for San Francisco, the Kansas City Chiefs claimed him.
The Rutgers product has played an important role in Kansas City's turnaround, starting three games and seeing regular action in all eight outings. In fact, Pro Football Focus grades Cooper out as the fourth-best cover cornerback in the NFL through eight weeks. Interestingly enough, common logic seems to suggest that the 49ers will look to address that position early next may.
Another rookie, quarterback B.J. Daniels, played extremely well during the preseason. He did enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster when camp broke in early September. Once head coach Jim Harbaugh came to the conclusion that San Francisco needed more experience behind Colin Kaepernick and Colt McCoy, Daniels was the odd-man out. In the end, Seattle claimed Daniels off waivers.
What is the moral of the story here? A team as talented as the 49ers are have the opportunity to play chess with their draft picks, some of whom will not end up making the roster when all is said and done. They can go out there and target specific positions by finding value in every round, something that average teams simply cannot do. They also have the ability to take chances when it comes to trades. Unfortunately for those of us who were looking at some sort of action prior to the deadline, much like the rest of the NFL, Baalke and Co. decided to stand pat. The idea I am working under here is that San Francisco may once again find itself in a position to have to release quality rookies because there simply isn't enough room on the roster. Why not go out there and get immediate help, even in the form of a rental, instead of holding on to picks that might be less valuable down the road?
As it is, San Francisco will get four key players back at some point in the not-so-distant future. Looking at it logically, these reinforcements are pretty much like trades in the grand scheme of things. The 49ers will also have a ton of picks to move up and down the board come next May. I guess it's more about wondering aloud how someone like Hakeem Nicks would have looked in a 49ers uniform for the remainder of the season. Without knowing whether Nicks was even on the block and understanding that Baalke has been a mad genius as the general manager of the 49ers, I will go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt.Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Niners Nation and was a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. His work has been published on CNN, Pro Football Focus and BR, among other sites.
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