49ers, Raiders Spinning Their Wheels
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 22, 2006

THE NFL’S second season, free agency, is upon us, and so far, it seems our two local teams are doing as well as they did in the regular season last fall.

The 49ers made one positive move when they signed wide receiver Antonio Bryant, but owner John York’s statement that they’d be active in the free agent market has otherwise proved to be as accurate as his promises that there will be a new stadium. . . some day.

In fact, the 49ers are now in the negative bracket with the signing of linebacker Julian Peterson by the Seattle Seahawks. That comes after the defection of defensive end/linebacker Andre Carter. The Bryant signing weighed against the trade of Brandon Lloyd gives them an upgrade at that position, but meanwhile, they’ve lost two defensive starters from last season.

Even before the agreement was reached to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement the 49ers were well under the salary cap. With the agreement, the salary cap was boosted roughly $15 million for next season, so the 49ers had a huge opportunity. So, what’s happening? Mostly nothing.

When Mike Nolan took over the 49ers last season, he noted that there was a reason the team had finished only 2-14 the previous season: The team didn’t have many good players.

Nolan and Scot McCloughan did a good job with the draft last spring, adding two offensive linemen, Adam Snyder and David Baas, who should be long-time starters, and running back Frank Gore, who should become a star. But, there were also defections during the season because of personality conflicts. Nolan traded linebacker Jamie Winborn because he didn’t think Winborn fit his system. One-time Pro Bowler fullback Fred Beasley had a season-long feud with running backs coach Bishop Harris, so he won’t return.

At best, you’d have to say that the 49ers are no more than equal physically to the squad Nolan inherited. That’s why it has been imperative for the 49ers to move swiftly in free agency to bolster the squad. Without those moves, they can’t get enough help in the draft to fill their many holes.

And, of course, they still don’t have that experienced NFL executive they need for their front office. Apparently, the prospect of working for York isn’t much of an enticement.

MEANWHILE, THE Raiders are also spinning their wheels in an attempt to get a veteran quarterback to replace Kerry Collins.

It’s been a busy offseason for veteran quarterbacks. Daunte Culpepper has been traded. Drew Brees, Brian Griese, Josh McCown and Jon Kitma have joined new teams as free agents. And the Raiders are talking with Aaron Brooks, who was released by the New Orleans Saints. You may remember that the Saints were even more dreadful than the Raiders last season.

Though Kitma might have been a good choice as an interim quarterback while the Raiders were grooming a younger one – as he was in Cincinnati before Carson Palmer became the starter – the one I really wish the Raiders had jumped for was Brees.

Brees is a Pro Bowl quarterback in the prime of his pro career. He’s coming off arm surgery, but the medical reports are good.

The Chargers released him because they don’t want to look like fools for their draft day moves of two years ago, when they wound up with Philip (Doc) Rivers instead of Eli Manning. Rivers has sat for two years behind Brees, and the Chargers want him to have his chance. Brees had too big a contract to sit on the bench.

That made Brees available, and he would have been a perfect fit for the Raiders. Instead, he went to New Orleans and now the Raiders are talking to Brooks, who seriously regressed last season and has apparently lost his confidence. Signing him could be a colossal error.

Since the Raiders are obsessively close-mouthed, nobody can be sure of what they’re doing, but there’s been considerable speculation that they’d like to draft a quarterback in the first round, even though Al Davis hasn’t thought long-term on a quarterback for many years.

The top three quarterbacks all come with question marks:

--Matt Leinart. He has operated out of a pro-type offense and won a Heisman Trophy a year ago, but he had a great offensive line and tremendous receivers and backs, including the latest Heisman winner and likely No. 1 pick, Reggie Bush. Going high in the draft guarantees he won’t be with a strong team. Can he duplicate his college success under trying circumstances?

--Jay Cutler. The Vanderbilt quarterback has good size and a strong arm, but the way he’s shot up in the quarterback rankings since the end of the season raises a red flag. Historically, that kind of rise usually comes because scouts like his physical attributes, not because of what he’s done on the football field.

--Vince Young. He was everybody’s darling after his great performance in the national championship game, but many doubts have surfaced since. He played in a spread offense which allowed him to either run or pass, and he had very few decisions to make. He did poorly on the Wonderlic test, though his second test score of 16 was as good as Dan Marino’s. He’s a great athlete, but there are NFL observers who think he’ll eventually be shifted to running back. Of course, there were many who felt that way about Steve Young, too.

Nobody knows yet how the draft will play out. The Saints no longer need a quarterback after the Brees signing but they might draft one and trade him to get extra picks. The Jets are unsure about the frequently-injured Chad Pennington, so they may draft a quarterback for the future. (Patrick Ramsey, who the Jets just obtained, is no more than a backup.) Even the 49ers may draft a quarterback to trade him for extra picks.

Can the Raiders make the moves they must to get the quarterback they want? I doubt it. Davis has to sign off on everything, and his decision making gets slower and slower. The inability to get a veteran quarterback is one sign of that. The decisions won’t come fast enough on draft day, either.

THE DRAFT has long been the way losing NFL teams could not only improve but retain the interest of their fans. Now, free agency adds another tool for those goals.

But the two Bay Area teams can’t capitalize on these means of improvement because their organizations are dysfunctional. The Raiders have good personnel people, but they’re hamstrung by Davis. The 49ers simply don’t have the right people in their front office. Either way, it comes down to the owner. It always does.


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