Question 1: Now that Scot McCloughan is gone, who's calling the shots?
This is an easy one – Mike Singletary. There was never really any doubt. If you don't think so, take a moment to visualize a novice like Trent Baalke, who out of nowhere was thrust into the job of pseudo-General Manager, staring into Samurai Mike's pupils and telling him who the 49ers are going to draft with their first pick. Before you could say "Pants-gate" Singletary would've given him one of those crazy-eyed killer looks he terrorized opposing quarterbacks with and Baalke would've been peeing down his own leg.
Heading into April 22nd the team answered their return game issues by trading for Miami's Ted Ginn Jr. for a fifth round pick. With that acquisition it became clear that the 49ers draft day focus would be on offensive linemen and defense. As anticipated, the team used their two first round picks on offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, their second round pick on safety Taylor Mays, and a third rounder on linebacker Navorro Bowman.
Although the positions of the players drafted weren't a surprise, what points to Singletary's influence is that three of the four draft picks had major red flags. Scouts said Davis was lackadaisical, with little passion for the sport. Mays, even though he's an athletic wunderkind, dropped way down the board because he has absolutely no football instincts at all. Worst of all is Bowman, a problem child who's had numerous run-ins with the law.
Drafting any one of these guys would've been a huge gamble, but to take all three speaks to an ego of astronomical proportions. Singletary is a master motivator and a fatherly figure to his players – it's likely that he saw enough promise in these young men that he decided to look past their shortcomings, believing his inspirational magic will turn them into productive players.
He'll have his work cut out for him.
Question 2: Is Alex Smith still the quarterback of the future?
At this point, it would be a fool's bet to go against him. No matter how dismal he looks the previous season, the guy keeps coming back like Freddy Kreuger, salivating at the chance to haunt our dreams with nightmarish performances and terrifying turnovers. The 49ers had their chance to bring in an established quarterback such as Donovan McNabb or even could have taken a flier on someone like Jason Campbell, but decided that they would go into the coming season with their fortunes firmly in the hands of their former number one overall pick.
Heading into draft day there was speculation that the team would grab a passer such as Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen or Texas' Colt McCoy; that they could groom into a future starter, but that never materialized. Now we'll have to wait at least another year for them to come to their senses and discover that Smith is not a franchise QB. Another year waiting for them to draft somebody who can play, and lord knows how many for that guy to develop.
Question 3: How is Jed York handling being team president?
Following the dismissal of McCloughan, York's intentions were a mystery. Although he denied that he wanted more authority, there've been questions about whether he'd sit back and let the football people do their jobs or angle for Jerry Jones-type control. It's frankly been quite easy to picture him with a maniacal smile on the face pulling the strings on the personnel department like they're a bunch of marionettes.
However, gauging by the one guy the 49ers didn't draft – Clausen, who like York is a Notre Dame alum – you have to grudgingly give York the benefit of the doubt about keeping his promise to not meddle. Even though many of the so-called draft experts had Clausen going to the Niners, they passed up two chances to draft him in the first round and didn't effort to trade up in the second round for him either.
Heck, they didn't even go after receiver Golden Tate. Maybe if he had a rap sheet...
Question 4: What can we expect from the 49ers next season?
They're very happy with the form the team is taking – that they didn't make any major moves in the off-season is an enormous testament to this fact. Although the players they chose in the first three rounds have issues, in the grand scheme of things they're mostly just tweaks to an improving roster.
They don't want to do anything groundbreaking, obviously. They want to be a no-nonsense, smash-mouth team that controls the clock, passes only when they're forced to (which with Smith at the helm isn't the worst strategy), and plays excellent defense. In other words, they want to be the New York Jets, but with a more photogenic figurehead.
The Montana-to-Rice days are long gone. Even Garcia-to-T.O. seems like ancient history. Now the 49ers are all about not making mistakes and grinding down the clock. Their style (or lack thereof) won't win many admirers, but it should be enough to win a watered-down NFC West.
For a fan base that's had to endure years of underachieving and mediocrity under Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan, perhaps that will be enough.