Old Friends: Catching Up With Trent Baalke

Come with me as we check-in on what that cuddly bear Trent Baalke has been up to.
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This is the update that 49ers fans and readers of everything football related have been clamoring for. People on the streets of San Francisco have been walking around aimlessly and praying to the stars, hoping to finally receive an answer to the question on everyone’s mind: ‘Where is Trent Baalke and how is he doing now?’ Well take a seat, grab a drink, and calm your anxiety, because it’s time to finally check in on our old chum and comrade, Trader Trent.

From drafting several collegiate players with ACL tears including Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore, Brandon Thomas, Keith Reaser, Trey Millard, DeAndre Smelter, and Will Redmond, to being the chief suspect in an endless avalanche of leaks coming from within the 49ers organization, and to maneuvering his way into the good graces of Jed York, dodging the axe that was instead placed on the neck of one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, reflecting on Trent Baalke’s tenure with San Francisco creates lots of feelings and emotions, none of which are nostalgic or sentimental in nature.

If the Game of Thrones series hadn’t been created before Baalke’s time with the 49ers, I would have ventured to guess that George R. R. Martin had created the plotting, sneaky character Littlefinger in Trent’s likeness. For those of you unfamiliar with the world of Game of Thrones, Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, was a manipulative, backstabbing individual who set in motion several acts of chaos for the sake of ambition and creating favor with those who he felt could help him rise to power. So what exactly has Trent Baelish Baalke been up to since we last saw him?

I foolishly believed that after Baalke’s rocky tenure as general manager of the 49ers, we’d never hear from the man again; no NFL team could possibly be that desperate to hire someone as divisive as Trent. Well, I never did complete my soothsaying undergraduate degree from De Anza College, so please don’t listen to me when it comes to predicting the future. After serving as a football operations consultant (whatever that means) for the NFL from 2017-2019, Baalke resurfaced when the Jacksonville Jaguars hired him in February of 2020 to serve as their director of player personnel, because when the Jaguars had to think of a person that they’d want having a large say in the signing, drafting, and trading of players for their team, they must of figured who better than Trent Baalke? What I’d give to be a fly on the wall during that decision making process.

At the time of Trent’s signing to the Jaguars organization, general manager Dave Caldwell was quoted as saying that Baalke “had a lot of success during his time in San Francisco and has proven that he has a great eye for talent and constructing a team... We expect him to get involved immediately as we make decisions on our current roster and approach free agency.” Well unfortunately for poor Dave, Trent not only got involved immediately, but also ended up with the man’s job less than 12 months later. Better luck next time, Dave.

Baalke’s promotion to general manager came about a week after the Jaguars signed controversial college figure Urban Meyer to be their head coach. The last time Trent was paired with a fiery, eccentric, polarizing college coach making his transition to the NFL, it ended well enough, so why not try it out again?

Meyer was a very successful coach at the collegiate level, with his teams winning more than 85 percent of their games and three national championships, but also comes to Jacksonville with lots of baggage, including allegations of covering up racially charged altercations between his coaches and players, ignoring accusations of domestic abuse surrounding one of his coaches, and running a program which saw itself accumulate a laundry list of arrested players. That’s all in the past though, and I’m sure he won’t be repeating prior mistakes again… Well, except for that coach he hired and immediately fired in February due to accusations of racism and bullying.

With this newly formed enchanting partnership between Urban and Trent, Baalke’s first order of business was to delve deep into the free agency pool with the luxury of an estimated $70 million in salary cap space to work with. And Trent did not disappoint with the free agency signings as he enticed ex-49ers standouts, Carlos Hyde and C.J. Beathard to join the rebuilding organization. Dave Caldwell really wasn’t kidding us when he said that Trent has a great eye for talent!

The rumblings from social media this week also indicated that the Jaguars were nearing an agreement to sign Tim Tebow to play as a backup tight end. The level of innovation required to sign an ex-quarterback who has been out of the league for almost 10 years to play the tight end position is really what put Baalke on the map in the first place. Former rugby league footballer Jared Hayne and British track and field star Lawrence Okoye ring any bells, 49ers fans? We’ll see what happens with this, but early indications and leaks are suggesting that the Jaguars brass is already at odds over potentially signing Tebow. Leaks and a Trent Baalke led front office at odds? This is the type of unexpected turn of events that can really catch you off guard.

Although one might assume that signing the likes of Beathard, Hyde, and Tebow would complete an offseason for most teams, the Jaguars did also have to prepare for the draft in which they had nine picks to work with. Of course, Trent decided to play a parody of himself and openly snub his nose at what 49ers followers have been mocking him about for years by selecting Andrew Cisco, a DB from Syracuse who sustained an ACL tear in September and Walker Little, an OT from Stanford who sustained an ACL tear in the first game of 2019 and opted out of the 2020 season. These two particular individuals were taken within the first 65 picks of the day. In fairness and amazingly enough, Trent opted against selecting any other ACL projects after that. I think the guy is really learning from his prior mistakes by showing such restraint. Good on you, Trent.

There was also a bit of controversy with Trent’s second pick at No. 25 when he decided to select running back Travis Etienne when the team had a seemingly solid running back in James Robinson already on the roster. Hard to nitpick Trent here as he did justify the pick by saying that his job “is to take the best football players available” regardless of what your current roster looks like. A shame he didn’t instill the same philosophy when selecting A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, and Trent Robinson with the first five picks for the 49ers in 2012.

The Jaguars biggest prize of the draft was obviously their No. 1 pick, Trevor Lawrence, and Baalke’s future in any NFL front office most likely hinges on the failure or success of this 21-year-old quarterback, but you can’t help but wonder what drama and politicking will occur in the meanwhile; Baalke and Urban Meyer are both magnets for this kind of controversial stuff. I’m a follower of the 49ers organization first and foremost, but I can’t help but keep a wandering eye to see what happens in Jacksonville. We shared so many good times and formed so many fond memories with Trent Baalke, it’s hard not to want to see how this potential disaster will unfold. 

I love a good train wreck, so please don’t let me down, old friend.