The Trent Baalke School of Trading is open. Still.
Now that we see the final product of what the Niners gave away and received in the Alex Smith trade from 14 months ago, we can judge one thing about San Francisco GM Trent Baalke: He is calculating, he is fast, and he knows how to set up his team for the future.
The result, first, of the 2013 trade of Smith to Kansas City for a pair of second-round draft picks. The two second-round picks, or their tributaries, were traded a total of five times over the past two drafts, and here’s how it shook out after this year’s draft.
QB Alex Smith
DL Tank Carradine (second round, 2013)
LB Corey Lemonier (third round, 2013)
LB Chris Borland (third round, 2014)
RB Carlos Hyde (second round, 2014)
WR Stevie Johnson (acquired for 2015 fourth-rounder)
* Lemonier was acquired in part with a tributary pick stemming from the Smith trade, and Johnson was acquired from Buffalo on Friday for a fourth-round conditional pick in 2015. That’s included here because San Francisco obtained a fourth-round pick in 2015 from Denver for the second-round pick that originally belonged to Kansas City—so the two picks, arguably, will end up canceling each other out.
Now the story. In the span of 22 minutes Friday, Baalke consummated three trades. One: He traded the 56th pick in the second round (the second Kansas City second-rounder) to Denver for the 63rd and 171st this year, and the Broncos’ fourth-round pick next year. Two: Baalke traded the 63rd and 171st picks just acquired from Denver to Miami for the 57th pick in the draft; Baalke got the player he would have picked at 56, Carlos Hyde, at 57 … while adding the fourth-rounder next year that replaced the pick used to get Stevie Johnson. Three: He traded his own second-round pick, 61st overall, to Jacksonville for the 70th and 150th picks.
Baalke explained that he and COO Paraag Marathe work the phone and line up prospective trades, and it was hectic because there were a couple of other teams calling in that 22-minute span trying to get one or more of the Niners’ picks at 56 and 61. “That span you talked about was a little bit of a grind,” Baalke said late Saturday night. “A lot of action, a lot of things to consider. Paraag’s the best in the business at lining things up, and then we make the decision. After we made the trade with Denver, I thought we might be able to get Carlos at 61, but then we called [Miami] at 57 and figured we could use what we got from Denver in this year’s draft and keep next year’s pick and move up to make sure we got him. And it allowed us basically to get our four back, which we used to trade for Stevie.”
This isn’t a case of San Francisco fleecing Denver. But it is an example of Baalke doing the smart thing and waiting until a needy team is either on the clock or frothing after a certain player. That was Denver with wide receiver Cody Latimer, whom the Broncos project to replace Eric Decker (who signed with the Jets as a free agent) right away. If he works out the way John Elway thinks, surrendering the four next year will be nothing.
Time will tell if Baalke made the haul worth it. The five pieces the Smith deal yielded:
- Carradine will get on the field healthy for the first time as a Niner this month. He missed all of last season with an ACL tear. He’ll be the third man in the 3-4 defensive end rotation with the aging Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, and move inside on some four-lineman snaps. He’s being groomed to start in the 3-4 scheme when Smith or McDonald are gone.
- Lemonier played 284 snaps, mostly subbing for the idle Aldon Smith last year, and will be in the outside-linebacker rotation with Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody, competing for time.
- Borland is an accomplished college player and produced an amazing 27 turnovers in his Wisconsin career. But he’s only 5-11½, and he could be a first-down player only (against the run). “It’ll be interesting to see if his game translates to the NFL,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. However, with NaVorro Bowman expected to be sidelined until at least November rehabbing a severe knee injury, there’s a spot on the Niners’ D at inside ’backer waiting to be won, and Borland will get a solid crack at it. “I’ve heard people talk about his size, and his short arms,” said Baalke. “But he’s a guy with instincts. All those short arms did somehow was rack up over 400 tackles in the Big Ten.”
- Hyde should be able to make the move from the Big 10 to the NFL much easier. He’s the heir to Frank Gore, a 230-pound bruiser with enough moves to be an every-down back. That is, if Gore ever slows down.
- Johnson is still only 27, but he had a down year last year with the Bills. He’s not the speedster the Niners sought this offseason to help de-pressurize Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, but he should be a good third receiver and an adequate piece to San Francisco’s underachieving receiver group.
I asked Baalke about his feelings on the trade now that the chips are known. “Mixed emotions,” he said. “I have so much respect for Alex Smith and his family, and great regard for him as a player. He’s the epitome of a good man and teammate and a good player. I know the Kansas City Chiefs staff, and they are thrilled to have him. We’ll see how it works out for us. It’s still early.”
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How to keep a draft secret: Make the knowledge circle very small.
One reason the TV ratings were so high (round one of the draft on ESPN and NFL Network, 8.7 rating; the LeBron playoff game and Bruins-Montreal hockey playoff games, combined, 3.8 rating) was the suspense. The first pick was cloudy until the end, and America was clueless about the third (Jacksonville) and fourth (Cleveland) picks. Could Johnny Manziel land at any of those places? Could he slide way down the board. Of course. So I made this point to Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell on Saturday: You don’t like the May draft at all because it takes needed prep time from your rookies. But you, by keeping a secret so well, helped inflate the ratings. Caldwell chuckled at that. But it’s true.
Caldwell has known for some time—months, really—that he wanted to take Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the Jags’ first pick in the draft. But he told only coach Gus Bradley his thoughts, and as the team went through draft meetings, he’d go through the ratings with the coaches and scouts and never tip his hand about who he thought should be the pick. Last week, they pondered all the scenarios. He’d say, “How would we feel with Khalil Mack and Stephon Tuitt for our first two picks?” Or, “What about Jake Matthews and Teddy Bridgewater?”
I found it surprising that Caldwell and his former boss and mentor, Thomas Dimitroff, were discussing a trade of first-round picks. They had many discussions about swapping the third and sixth picks in the draft, with Atlanta handing Jacksonville a third-round pick to make the move. “I thoughtWednesday night we were going to get it done,” said Dimitroff. “But Thursday Dave called me and said, ‘We’re going to stay put and pick our guy.'” Whoever “our guy” was. Dimitroff never knew who Caldwell wanted until it was announced by Roger Goodell on stage at Radio City.
Ironically, Atlanta would have picked Jake Matthews at three; the Falcons got him at six. And Bortles would have been Jacksonville’s pick at three or six.
“All along Gus knew, and late in the process, we clued in [owner] Shad [Khan],” said Caldwell. “But there was just too much at stake to risk anyone finding out and possibly jumping us. I’m quiet by nature, so it wasn’t hard for me. I wasn’t saying a word. I love Thomas. I’d say 99 percent of the time when we talk, I tell him everything and bounce things off him. But not this time.”
Bad for us in the media. Good for the ratings, and insurance-good for getting Bortles.
“The reason I didn’t take the trade is there were so many teams that wanted quarterbacks—at one, four, five, seven and eight, and they were all within striking distance of us,” Caldwell said. “I just kept thinking, ‘One of those teams has to see what we were seeing in Bortles.’ So let’s say we move back and make a deal. What are we going to take in the third? A guard? [Jacksonville did use a third-round pick on guard Brandon Linder of Miami.] You can find guards. You can’t find the quarterback you think fits your team best. So in the end it wasn’t a hard decision for us.”
Bill Polian and Dimitroff trained Caldwell well. It may take until 2016 before we know for sure if Caldwell’s quarterback decision is right, because the Jags may redshirt Bortles for the entire 2014 season.
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War room visitor of the week.
The son of St. Louis GM Les Snead, Logan Snead, is a buddy of Max Blank (son of Falcons owner Arthur Blank) in seventh grade in Atlanta. So Logan got invited to spend draft night in the Falcons’ draft room with Max on Thursday, and he wore tan slacks and a sharp blue shirt—Rams colors—for the evening.
Interesting: The son of the Rams’ GM inside another team’s draft room. Snead, of course, used to work for Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, and the two are good friends.
“Hey Logan,” Dimitroff said to the boy at one point, “you kidding me with the gold and blue clothes?”
“I’m quietly repping the Rams,” Logan said.
Writer’s note: I spent time with the Falcons during the draft. My report on what Atlanta did, and how it is adjusting things in the wake of its 4-12 debacle last season, will appear on this site later this week.