Built for the Future?: Thinking a few thoughts before NFL draft day.

The way they were is the way they will be.

The way they were is the way they will be.

Sometimes I blog about things that are important to a lot of people and sometimes I blog about things that are only important to me.

This entry falls in the latter category.

It’s not easy being the fan of a West Coast sports franchise in the land-locked Midwest.  This is my cross to bear as a San Francisco 49ers fan.

In the 90’s the 49ers were the gold standard for NFL teams.  They had superstars on the field (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice), on the sidelines (Bill Walsh and a string of assistants that became head coaches)  in the office (Carmen Policy) and a owner who would do what it takes to make the team successful (Eddie DeBartolo).

The Niners won five Super Bowls with the last coming in 1994 as Young finally got to get out from under Montana’s long shadow.

But that was 15 years ago.

My Niners have fallen upon lean times since then.   They haven’t had a winning season since 2002 and finished 7-9 in 2008.  The only hopeful sign came in the firing of the hopelessly over his head Mike Nolan and the promotion of Mike Singletary as the interim coach.  Singletary did well enough to have the “interim” removed from the head coach title.   This Saturday, Singletary will preside over his first NFL draft.

Mock drafts have the Niners taking a offensive tackle or pass-rushing lineman.  Earlier drafts speculated the team might go after USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, but I found that unlikely.   Sanchez only started one season for the Trojans.  He’s not ready to come in to a team as talent-deprived as the Niners are and start winning immediately.   When the team threw former Number One pick Alex Smith in before he was ready he was putrid and never established himself as a NFL starting quarterback.

The way they are.

The way they are.

While it’s true that any team starting Shaun Hill as it’s qb isn’t seriously challenging for a championship, the 49ers aren’t a Super Bowl contender.   First they need to win more games than they lose.   Only then can they start thinking about returning to the playoffs.

The cupboard isn’t entirely empty for Singletary.  He has Patrick Willis as his starting middle linebacker and the kid is a tackling machine.   Like Singletary, Willis hits everything that moves and is the type of stud you can build around.   There are some other players on the defensive side of  the ball brimming with potential and Singletary is the type of coach who can bring that potential to fruition.

With the exception of running back Frank Gore,  there isn’t as much good news on offense.  It won’t excite the fan base if the Niners take a offensive tackle in the first round, but in football you have to build the offensive and defensive lines before you go after the sexy picks (wide receivers, quarterbacks and running backs).

I try to be optimistic but always realistic.  This is not a team that is going to make a sudden turnaround the way the Falcons and Dolphins did last season.   The problem the Niners have had for years is a front office brain trust that has too often made brain dead decisions.   There are no quick fixes in the NFL, but no situation is so dire it can’t be rectified.

Well, maybe the Detroit Lions.  They’re pretty hopeless.

But just like the Lions, there have been more dumb moves made than smart moves.    There have been too many free agents who made little to no impact.  There have been too many rookies such as Vernon Davis,  Alex Smith or Manny Lawson that haven’t panned out or busted out.   There have been too many coaches who were bad fits such as Dennis Erickson or were overrated ( Nolan, Steve Mariucci).

Waiting (and waiting) for Number Six.

Waiting (and waiting) for Number Six.

The draft is held during the spring for a reason.  It signals the infusion of fresh young talent and hopefully generates new hope for downtrodden teams such as the 49ers.

It’s not going to take a miracle to return the 49ers to the gold standard franchise they once were, but they do have to be smart and not shy away from making bold moves.

There’s always next season, right?