If Chip Kelly is indeed the head coach of the 49ers in 2017, snapping this 13-game losing streak will be much more important to his tenure than whether or not San Francisco selects first or second in the NFL Draft.
The obvious column to write after the 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16, is that the team shot itself in the foot by winning it’s first game since Week 1.
Besides hurting your draft stock, what is the point of a meaningless win in December?
The problem with that logic is that the San Francisco 49ers are not football machines. They are actual human beings — as evidence by their jubilant celebration after the win — and many of these players will still be a part of this organization moving forward.
Last week Colin Kaepernick said the 49ers need to change the culture, and the only real way to do that is by winning football games. A win right now might feel trivial, but it takes a humongous monkey off of Kelly’s back heading into next season — and not just him, the players, Jed York, even 49ers fans to a degree.
A 13-game losing streak is surely a poop stain on your resume, but now it won’t be a lingering storyline the team has to deal with the entire offseason. There are 10 incredible examples of teams going from worst to first in the NFL. Now that the losing streak is finally over and a new GM is likely on the way, nothing is impossible.
But the stronger point to make about why the 49ers should fend off angst that they actually won their second game of the season, is that this year’s NFL Draft has no clearcut No. 1 overall pick.
By beating the Rams, the 49ers are not losing out on a slam-dunk franchise quarterback like Cam Newton, Jameis Winston or Andrew Luck. Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett are the consensus two best players in the draft — the latter of which the 49ers could really, really use.
While I’m personally a big fan of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, there are some credible mock drafters like Todd McShay who have him lasting until the second round. The Jets, Browns, Bears and Cardinals will be in the market for a young quarterback — and possibly more teams after seeing the success of Dak Prescott in 2016. Oh and by the way, the quarterback the Rams mortgaged their future on — Jared Goff — appears years away from helping turn around the franchise.
What was frustrating about the Christmas Eve win is that, again, Kaepernick is jerking the 49ers around with his play. He’ll perform poorly for three weeks, and then play brilliantly in the fourth. He’s clearly no longer a franchise quarterback, but the 49ers could theoretically get worse at the position if he decides to opt out of his contract.
The quarterback conundrum can be answered another day. Saturday was about closing the book on the most miserable three month stretch in franchise history.
It will never be forgotten, and even if Kelly does get to coach in 2017, the hot seat watch is already on. One win is not absolving him of the many sins he’s committed so far coaching the 49ers — laissez faire culture about losing, hiring a flawed defensive coordinator, starting the season with Blaine Gabbert instead of Kaepernick etc.
But there is a reason NFL insiders such as Jay Glazer and Ian Rapoport continue to report Kelly’s future is safe. Greg Cosell has said on KNBR multiple times this season Kelly has been scheming players to get open in 2016, but the players cannot execute his offense with any type of consistency. The record is partly his fault, but nowhere near mostly.
Regardless of GM Trent Baalke’s failures, it was going to be a tough sell for York to keep Kelly with a 1-15 record. Even Jim Tomsula was able to accomplish 5-11 in 2015.
Is 2-14 really all that different from 1-15? Obviously not. Beating the Rams — who have already fired their head coach and are starting a rookie quarterback — should be the expectation.
But the 49ers will have a much easier time turing the page in 2017 now that the futility has subsided. And that will matter more to eventual success under Kelly than which blue chip prospect the team drafts in April.