Frank Gore’s departure from San Francisco to Philadelphia demands a pointed answer to a simple question:
So how exactly does Trent Baalke define, “I think somewhere in there, he says we’re going to run the football”?
Gore’s decision to go to the defiantly pass-centric Eagles speaks volumes about his view of San Francisco’s future and the direction in which it is pointed toward that future. The 49ers gabbled on and on about how much of a priority it was for them to sign Gore when the question should have been. “How much of a priority is San Francisco to Gore?”
But now that he is gone, and Carlos Hyde is the new Gore in training, we can re-examine Baalke’s battle cry for new head coach Jim Tomsula as just one more of those pronouncements 49er executives like to emit that last only as long as it takes to change them.
You know, like the monumentally silly, nonsensical and utterly non-binding “Winning with class.”
Gore’s departure is not a crushing one in terms of shelf life, to be sure. He has been working overtime to maintain his place as one of the league’s best running backs, but at some point 31 will become an age that is simply too old to continue to do what Gore does the way he does it. We only stopped speculating about when he would finally lose his effectiveness because being persistently wrong gets tedious after the first half-decade.
But Baalke made it clear what he wanted to do with the stagnant 49ers offense and Gore, the main instrument toward that end, said with his signature, “Not with me you’re not.”
And suddenly the 49ers are trying to make Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith seem like the big off-season get (if they get him), and the last time anyone looked, he only runs the football after he catches it.
[MAIOCCO: Report: Torrey Smith to 49ers 'done deal']
So maybe the new marching orders for Jimmy The Stache have been morphed from “run the football” to “throw the football.” Sure it’s only one short verb for another, but it changes everything about the 49ers from a philosophically rigid and financially squeaky operation to a whatever-works-with-what-we-have-on-the-shelves and financially squeaky organization.
Hey, it would explain Jerome Simpson, too.
But that’s the beauty of the new 49ers. As a team that is no longer part of the league’s mighty nucleus, they are finding out that style comes after substance, not before. And the substance here is the roster.
Rosters tell you what you can and cannot do. It’s one of the ways in which the 49ers ran afoul last season, by trying to make a running team into a passing team without a full complement of personnel to do so. Colin Kaepernick couldn’t command the pocket, Anquan Boldin couldn’t catch every ball, Vernon Davis became the missing tight end, and in the final two games, reeking of desperation, the 49ers decided to say “screw it” and let Gore get them into the offseason.
Now Gore is gone, and the 49ers no longer have a signature running back, at least unless the free agent market puts one forward, or the draft haul is run-centric. This is a team whose offense is, at least for the moment, faceless, philosophically challenged and amoebically undefined.
So the question becomes what the 49ers want to be now that Frank Gore has decided not to be one of them. The trap would be to hold up Baalke’s words at Tomsula’s now iconic presser and say that they will be adhered to religiously, just as Jed York’s “Winning With Class” is, like every other NFL team’s claims to loftier principles, just a slogan of empty calories.
So don’t be stunned if the First Commandment of the Tomsula Era isn’t edited frantically come May. This team is so divorced from that Super Bowl season that it can almost claim to have a clean slate, unhinged from the Harbaugh Era in all meaningful as well as trivial ways. Baalke and Tomsula will have them do whatever the roster says, or they will die trying.
So unless we see Carlos Hyde become a dominant running back or the 49ers go out and get one of them to uphold what they currently say is their modus operandi, we can only think that this franchise may very well decide it needs to become one that believes in . . . wait for it . . .
Winning with pass.
Sorry. That hurt just typing it.