Smoke signals: Latest drama adds fuel to fire

As I’m sure you’re aware, Michael Lewis isn’t happy. (Click here and here).

This is the NFL’s natural order of things – the old and
slowing give way to the young and up-and coming. But Lewis is apparently in no
mood to assume the role of Yoda to Taylor Mays and Reggie Smith.

The biggest news to come out of today’s developments isn’t
what Lewis’ likely departure could mean to the Niners’ secondary. Rather, it’s
what it seems to be implying about the relationship between the Niners players
and coaches. (That Yahoo! story, on the heels of Mike Singletary’s impromptu
clear-the-air meeting after the loss in Seattle, described a “tepid trust.” In
retrospect, it sure seemed to be on target about Jimmy Raye).

Lewis, a 30-year-old safety with concussion issues, a
missing step or two and a recently restructured contract, couldn’t have been totally
shocked to discover he would be phased out of the starting lineup. Such a move at
least seemed plausible the moment the Niners drafted Mays in April. After all, the
restructuring of Lewis’ contract in the offseason ($2.4 million less in base
pay, bye-bye to the final two years of the deal) didn’t suggest his best days
were right around the corner.

But based on what Lewis’ agent, Rodney Williams, told
Matt Barrows and Matt Maiocco (he must not have recognized my number), the
veteran safety was most annoyed about the way his impending demotion was
handled.

On Monday, the NFL Network reported Lewis would be
benched. Then, according to Lewis’ agent, his client was told that report was
nonsense — his spot was safe. Then, he was told, well, on second thought …
your spot is kind of not so safe.

If Williams’ account is accurate, it’s easier to
understand why a respected leader like Lewis, after being jerked around, was in
no mood to play the good soldier.

Now, it’s possible Lewis’ get-me-out-of-here stance is a
calculated move by a proud veteran who simply wants the chance to start for
another team before the clock runs out.

And it’s also possible Glen Coffee’s heart no longer
being in football had nothing to do with the Niners and everything do with his
faith. And it’s possible Kentwan Balmer was a disgruntled and underperforming
first-round bust who was smartly shipped out for pennies on the dollar. And it’s
possible Singletary’s post-Seattle meeting was nothing more than a wise move by
a coach making sure everyone was on the same page. And it’s possible that “tepid
trust” thing was a mischaracterization.

But it’s also possible that something else is going on –
you know, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

And after a starting safety and team leader said see-ya two
days before an almost must-win game, it only added to the feeling that, at
0-3, the Niners’ prospects for a turnaround are increasingly hazy.

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