Well, I am officially declaring the end of an era. This is it, the San Francisco Forty-Niners as we have known them for the past 25 years are no more. The team's last significant ties to the Bill Walsh era have been severed. It began when SF released the last remaining player from the 1994 Super Bowl team. I wrote a few months ago that these days if a player is to spend his entire career with one team he needs to be good enough to start, but not so good that he starts to make too much money. I pegged Derrick Deese as just such a player, but now he's gone.
The disassociation with Walsh continued Tuesday with the release of Jeff Garcia. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It was always hard to believe that Garcia was as good as his numbers. After all, he played in a good offense, and had very good receivers for most of his tenure. Still, Garcia is a guy who defied the odds and made himself into a three time pro-bowl player. I'll also offer this: Garcia represents the last QB that Bill Walsh will ever bring to the organization. Walsh built his reputation on working with QBs and ended up picking three in a row, almost out of nowhere. In 1979 he picked Joe Cool in the third round, sat him behind Steve DeBerg for two years and then helped him become the best ever (yes, better than Unitas, and Otto, and Elway, and Marino, and anyone else). When Montana began to show signs of wear Walsh brought in an athletic but erratic Steve Young. Montana went on to win two Super Bowls after Young came in. The only thing that kept Young from being better than Montana was that he only won one title as a starter. He may have won more if not for the 49ers poor defense in '92 and '93 and lack of a running game in '96 and '97. Though many of his other numbers surpassed Montana's Young never got the credit, in part because he always looked like a maniac compared to the unflappable Montana, but mostly because he followed Joe. Garcia, for whatever his faults are was the third in a line of incredibly talented SF QBs. He led the Niners back from the dead. Again, following two Hall of Fame Super Bowl MVPs is tough, but Garcia handled it well. Of course he never had the pressure of playing on a team that was actually expected to win it all. Still, Garcia engineered the second greatest comeback in playoff history and led a couple of teams to the playoffs that probably shouldn't have been there.
The stamp of Bill Walsh is truly fading. The man who shaped the franchise for over two decades has finally left the building and this time he ain't coming back. As a 49er fan I've always enjoyed a great deal of stability in terms of ownership, winning, and knowing what the team was likely to do both on and off the field. Now it's a whole new era and its hard not to feel a disassociation with the team I loved as a kid. After all, all the players, coaches, front office personnel and even the owner are gone from the team that captured my young imagination.
Other SF Ramblings:
The interesting thing about Garcia's release is that for the first time in recent memory there doesn't seem to be a huge market for quarterbacks. It is a very small market for Garcia that is further depressed by the availability of Drew Henson. Here's a quick run down of teams that have QB questions:
-San Diego: Needs a QB now that they've clearly given up on Drew Breese, but they will likely take Eli Manning with the first pick so how much are they willing to give Garcia to tutor Manning for one year? Also, they'd have to do something with Breese.
-Oakland: Similar situation to SD, they don't need a QB right now, and they may take a QB in the draft. Besides Darth Raider isn't a fan of guys who can't chuck it 60 yards down field.
-Arizona: One of the few teams that might take a look. Still, they have Josh McCown and may want to go with him.
-Cleveland: Might be sick of both Couch and Holcombe.
-New Orleans: Aaron Brooks still hasn't lived up to what he showed his first two seasons as a starter. Still I don't think he's out of chances yet.
-Miami: Seems desperate for a QB.
-Dallas: Garcia doesn't seem like the kind of guy the Tuna usually goes for.
-San Francisco: I've never seen it happen before so I don't think he'll come back.
Is Tim Rattay really ready to lead the team? Who's going to keep Tim Rattay off his back? SF released Deese and Ron Stone. Can Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier get it done? Who's going to play corner if both starters Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster leave as free agents? Are Brandon Lloyd Cedrick Wilson, and Arnaz Battle ready to start? Who's Kevin Barlow's back up? Anyone think this team is going to the playoffs?