The first morning of the 2016 NFL season featured bold predictions and hot takes aplenty from the spectrum of Sunday pregame shows. Perhaps the most notable and controversial of those was Trent Dilfer’s criticism of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem, which inspired a handful of other players around the league to do the same on Sunday.
Dilfer blasted Kaepernick’s public stance on a number of fronts, generally saying:
– People aren’t watching football because of social issues.
– Kaepernick is putting himself above the team and not being a “championship teammate.”
– As a backup quarterback, Kaepernick’s job is to “be quiet.”
– Kaepernick’s actions are “tearing at the fabric of the team.”
Dilfer is entitled to his opinion, just as Kaepernick is entitled to making his public stance. But there were some specifics in Dilfer’s screed that led some to believe that he wasn’t just speaking for himself alone, but for people in the 49ers organization that may be dissatisfied with Kaepernick – particularly general manager Trent Baalke.
San Francisco Chronicle writer Ann Killion called Dilfer Baalke’s “mouthpiece” in a tweet after the segment aired:
Trent (Dilfer) is Trent (Baalke's) mouthpiece. And @Kaepernick7 knows that. Happy times!
— Ann Killion (@annkillion) September 11, 2016
Tim Kawakami went one step further in an article at the Mercury News, calling Dilfer Baalke’s “unofficial spokesman” and “spin-meister” and lifting the veil on the relationship between the two:
Trent Dilfer is a very good friend of 49ers GM Trent Baalke, and Dilfer now appears on ESPN’s “NFL Countdown” every Sunday morning, which means one key thing:
We get to hear what the very sheltered and media-shy Baalke is really thinking.
Because that’s what Dilfer is going to give us on any and all 49ers topics, and he did not fail his buddy on Sunday–in fact, let’s go ahead and anoint Dilfer as Baalke’s unofficial spokesman and spin-meister.
What’s Dilfer’s point here? I think it’s very, very obvious: He’s carrying Baalke’s water, and Baalke is increasingly alone in that franchise, so maybe Baalke’s people are getting more desperate.
This Dilfer rant wasn’t really a normal 49ers’ leak–the way the 49ers front-office leaked like a sieve in order to undermine Jim Harbaugh in 2014 and Kaepernick (hey, just a coincidence I’m sure!) last season.
This was Baalke’s buddy–they’ve gone to at least one Sharks game together, they’ve been friends for years–on a national platform, deciding to take shots at a player Baalke dislikes, and probably using some of the exact words Baalke has used in private.
Kawakami also writes that Kaepernick has support from 49ers owner Jed York and that Dilfer’s comment about “tearing at the fabric of the team” is something that is coming from left field… or the general manager’s office.
One doesn’t have to dig too deep to see evidence of a relationship between Dilfer and Baalke beyond Sunday morning’s segment. Dilfer has gone on record before as being a huge fan of Baalke and the two have previously been linked publicly as being close friends. In fact, before he re-signed this offseason with ESPN, there were rumors that Dilfer might even join the 49ers either as a coach or in the front office and work with Baalke. Dilfer ended his career with the 49ers, retiring from the NFL in 2007.
It’s one thing to be critical of Dilfer’s belief that players shouldn’t use platforms given to them about social issues or his belief that backup quarterbacks aren’t allowed to speak up at all. It’s another to question Dilfer’s ability to be a straight-shooter as an analyst and to accuse him of acting as a mouthpiece or spin-meister for an NFL general manager. And when not one but two respected writers covering the 49ers come out and point-blank say that it is indeed the case that Dilfer is speaking for Baalke, then it’s worth taking note. (It’s also worth taking note the irony of Dilfer theoretically using his national television platform for Baalke when he criticizes Kaepernick for using his NFL quarterbacking job as a national platform.)
And in the bigger picture, if Dilfer’s analysis and his Kaepernick take are indeed influenced by his relationship with Baalke, it should lead viewers to question what else he has to say about the team or the goings-on in the league as a whole moving forward.