Patience holds little value in the blog world, but it is a major contributor to assembling a good team. This past year, we saw Tarell Brown emerge as a solid CB, Dashon Goldson go to the Pro Bowl, Adam Snyder step up as a solution at RG, Isaac Sopoaga become a top tier NT, and Ray McDonald settle in as a high level LDE. Not to mention the flourishing year Alex Smith put together.
All of these guys, except Sopoaga, were drafted in the first three years of the Rebuilding Era that began in 2005. And all of them were considered disappointments to more or less degree until this past year.
Now they represent core team players. And all of them have at least five good years, maybe more, to perform at a high level.
Patience can operate much more off the grid going forward. When the team was bad, fans needed instant production from everybody and were often displeased. Now that the team is good, the next wave of core players can be developed in backup roles without the pressure to be inserted as starters before they are ready.
During the Walshian Era, we saw this happen many times. Jeff Fuller spent three or four years as a situational player before joining Ronnie Lott as one of the most fearsome safety combinations in NFL history. Jesse Sapolu anchored the middle of the line for many years, but battled injuries for five years before arriving. Steve Young chafed on the bench for three or four years before getting his chance to shine. Derrick Deese bounced around on the O-line before settling in as a vastly underrated LT. It took Guy McIntyre three or four years to become a starter.
Of course, Walsh operated in the pre-cap years, and the pre-FA years. You could keep core guys around as long as you wanted them. And their developmental backups. That is harder to do now. Patience has a shorter shelf life. Players get good, their contracts run out, they want more money, and teams have to choose who to keep and who to let go. It’s much more difficult to keep a core team intact.
The 49ers have a few tough choices this offseason, but nothing like it will be in the next few years. Losing teams don’t have players that are in demand, but winning teams inflate the value and league wide visibility of each member of the team. Egos get bigger. Money has a louder voice.
The 2011 49ers offcially and loudly ended the rebuilding era. From here on out, they are a contending team. But they will remain one only if they can patiently develop a continual stream of replacements ready to step in when a core member moves on. They did very well in that regard this past year, with NaVorro Bowman replacing Takeo Spikes. If Trent Baalke keeps supplying the team with Bowmans, this team will flourish for many years. He’s done extremely well in his first two drafts, but the challenge will be greater now as the team begins what will hopefully be a long run at the tail end of the draft, where being a bottom feeder is a very good thing.