Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is running a $1.25M fantasy football league on Sunday. First place wins $100,000. Join now!
Each week we like to pick the brains of writers from our opponents, and this week we smoked cigars and chatted with David Fucillo from Niners Nation to learn a little more about what's going on in San Francisco. You can see their version of this post right HERE.
When chatting with 'Fooch', it almost appeared that the 49ers are currently at that next level of front office dysfunction, and served as a good reminder of what can happen when the Family is more involved in the football operation than they should be. For all the rifts that we've witnessed with the McCaskeys and the city, former coaches, and staffers, one thing is for sure: It never got so out of hand that it completely fell apart. They've always been smart enough to have outsiders significantly involved in the operation, despite what some of the McCaskeys would have liked.
Here's the chat with Fucillo:
1- The Niners are in a bit of a tail-spin. After a season-opening win over the Vikings, they lost four in a row, and now have lost four of their last five. This seems to all be tied directly to Jed York and the front office... What needs to happen to stabilize this situation, and is there any chance they can get it figured out in the next couple seasons?
Fooch: The 49ers are in a lot of a tailspin. In some ways I am not really sure what will stabilize this situation. Nobody will actually come out and say who is responsible for what, so we are left speculating who is responsible for this mess. If we go with where the buck should stop, it would be CEO Jed York. He is not going anywhere. Some are suggesting his parents should replace him, but given that he helped drive the stadium building process, and the family's pockets are getting lined with stadium revenue, I don't know that we see York out anytime soon.
GM Trent Baalke has struggled the last couple years in hitting on draft picks. I don't think he is as awful as some would say, but he has had some very high profile misses, including the entire 2012 draft. His classes are starting to look a little bit better, but the 49ers are not getting the kind of high impact players they need from high picks. At this point, we're just left waiting to see what the team can do with a high draft pick and a ton of cap space this offseason. Part of the de-stabilization came with the significant roster turnover happening at the same time as the new coaching staff. Maybe settling some of the players in will stabilize it a bit, but even that does not seem like a strong likelihood. I really have no idea what to make of the direction of this franchise right now.
2- With the injury bug hitting San Francisco pretty hard, who are some under-the-radar players that could significantly contribute this weekend?
Fooch: The 49ers are without running back Carlos Hyde, so Shaun Draughn will start again in his place. Draughn is not spectacular by any means, but he is a fairly capable running back. He played every offensive snap last week against the Arizona Cardinals.
Tight end Garrett Celek will not play either due to a high ankle sprain, so Vance McDonald and rookie Blake Bell will get the bulk of the work. McDonald looked like a bust, but the last couple games he has connected well with Blaine Gabbert.
On defense, with DT Glenn Dorsey out for the year, look for Mike Purcell and rookie Arik Armstead to get time on the line. Armstead was a first round pick this year, but a shoulder injury limited him last week. Purcell, a former UDFA, got the start and looked solid, getting a lot of penetration. He's a guy to watch.
3- Will the 49ers be able to trade Colin Kaepernick, or do you think they will just part ways with him? Also, what about Jim Tomsula's fate after the season?
Fooch: My guess is they end up releasing him. Kap tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, and had surgery at the end of November. The recovery time is 4-6 months, which means between April 1 and June 1. His 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1, so it seems difficult to get a deal done given the injury question. They will try and deal him, but in the end I see an injury settlement and release.
Unless the team loses every remaining game by 30 points, Tomsula will be back in 2016. Whether he survives next season remains to be seen, but he'll get a chance. Jed York invested a lot of capital in removing Jim Harbaugh as head coach, so he won't fire him after only one season.
4- How have the last couple of Drafts gone for San Francisco... Who are some rookies and second-year players that are making an impact for you guys?
Fooch: The drafts have been all over the place. The 2015 first round pick was Arik Armstead, who is getting work primarily in passing downs and short yardage situations. Safety Jaquiski Tartt is in the starting lineup at strong safety due to Antoine Bethea being out for the year. OLB Eli Harold is getting snaps in the pass rush, but primarily at the back end of the rotation. Bradley Pinion is the starting punter. Blake Bell is getting work as the second tight end with Celek sidelined with an ankle injury.
2014: 1st round pick Jimmie Ward is the team's starting nickel back. He does not make a lot of flashy plays, but he is solid enough. Running back Carlos Hyde is out with a stress fracture in his foot, but was the starter before that. Marcus Martin is currently PFF's worst graded center, and seems better suited at guard once Daniel Kilgore returns from injury. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington is the primary return man, and Dontae Johnson is working primarily as a dime back. Fifth round pick Aaron Lynch is the best player out of this class right now, leading the team in sacks, and among the NFL's leaders in QB hurries.
5- What positions are locked down really well for the 49ers, and which ones need the most attention after this season?
Fooch: Players in solid spots: OLB Aaron Lynch, FS Eric Reid, WR Torrey Smith, LT Joe Staley, DT Quinton Dial, RB Carlos Hyde once he gets healthy
Beyond that, there are players that will clearly be back next season, but are not necessarily "really good" options. You could make arguments for improvements at numerous positions. They have guys like Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward that are clearly locked in, but their specific future roles are not entirely figured out yet, thus the reason they are not included above.
5a- How can the Niners beat the Bears, and what do you think the final score will be?
Fooch: If the defense actually shows up, I think this is a very winnable game. The Bears defense has its share of problems, and the 49ers offense is showing some signs of life the last three weeks. The biggest question is how the defense does. It has been atrocious on the road, so I am not overly confident. But if they can force a turnover or two, and bring the heat against Cutler, this is a winnable game. If that happens, I see the 49ers winning something like 24-20. If the defense struggles, I could see something like 27-13.