49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs

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49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers had nine players selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday. Interestingly, the contingent included four pairs with a first-time invitee joining a player who already has Pro Bowl experience.

Right outside linebacker Aldon Smith joins right defensive end Justin Smith.

Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman will make his first Pro Bowl trip, along with inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was selected for the sixth time in six seasons.

Strong safety Donte Whitner, a Pro Bowl alternate twice in the past, joins free safety Dashon Goldson, a two-time invitee.

Left guard Mike Iupati made it for the first time. Left tackle Joe Staley, who lines up next to Iupati, will go for the second time in two seasons.

And then there's running back Frank Gore, who benefitted from Iupati, Staley and the rest of the 49ers' offensive linemen, each of whom was selected as an alternate.

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who lines up on the right side next to defensive tackle Justin Smith, is going to his first Pro Bowl after not making the team a year ago despite recording 14 regular-season sacks.

Aldon Smith said there's an adjustment to playing without Justin Smith, whose status is in question due to an undisclosed left arm/elbow injury that has kept him out of the lineup the past six quarters. Aldon Smith, who ranks second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks, has not tossed a quarterback for a loss since Justin Smith left the lineup. He said his mind will not be on the Michael Strahan's sack record of 22.5 on Sunday when the 49ers finish the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.

When asked if he likes his chances of getting the record, Aldon Smith answered, "I like our chances of getting a win."

Will he be thinking about getting the record?

"I'm going to be thinking about getting a win," he said.

--Bowman was selected as a first-team All-Pro last season, along with Willis. In other words, he and Willis were chosen by a panel of national media as the two best inside linebackers in the entire NFL. Yet, Bowman was not named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

This time, Bowman and Willis are scheduled to go to Hawaii together.

"We know we play similar, we do some of the same things, so we don't have to switch positions or assignments too much," Bowman said. "That's benefitted us as a team.

"It's a great thing having so many guys from the same team in the Pro Bowl. That recognizes how great your team was. It's my first time. I'm just going to tag along and I'm looking forward to it."

--As Whitner pointed out, both he and Goldson were twisting in the wind when the lockout concluded in the summer of 2011. Whitner knew he would not return to play for the Buffalo Bills. And when Whitner signed with the 49ers, Goldson thought his career with the 49ers was over.

Eventually, they ended up together and made a pact to become the best safety tandem in the NFL. Whitner and Goldson were named Pro Bowl starters -- the first time teammates have started in the all-star game since 2005, when Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis were honored.

"He makes my job a lot easier and I'm sure I make his job easier, too," said Whitner, who entered the NFL as the No. 8 overall pick of the Bills in 2006.

He also credited secondary coach George Catavolos, coach Dick Jauren and executive Marv Levy from his days in Buffalo, along with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.

"When you make it to the Pro Bowl, you have to recognize that you don't make it by yourself," Whitner said.

--Iupati was equally grateful for those who contributed to his improvement since he came to the 49ers as a raw but talented small-college player from Idaho.

"I'm very grateful, and very blessed," Iupati said. "It's a credit to my teammates, especially the front line, their sacrifice, too. Credit to our coaching staff, coach (Mike) Solari, coach (Paul) Wulff and coach (Tim) Drevno for preparing us every day to go out and execute our plays."

Iupati benefitted from playing next to Staley, who was already entrenched on the left side when Iupati came along.

"He's such a great player, great teammate to play next to," Iupati said. "We work well together. It's a good thing."

49ers extend one-year qualifying offers to Purcell, Bradford

49ers extend one-year qualifying offers to Purcell, Bradford

The 49ers on Monday extended one-year qualifying offers to nose tackle Mike Purcell and linebacker Carl Bradford as exclusive-rights free agents.

Purcell appeared in 15 games last season. He started the first five games of the season at nose tackle and was a reserve for the remainder of the season. Originally signed in 2013 as an undrafted rookie from Wyoming, Purcell has appeared in 25 games over the past three seasons.

The 49ers claimed Bradford off waivers in December from the Green Bay Packers. He appeared in the final two games of the season with the 49ers and was credited with two tackles.

Bradford entered the NFL out of Arizona State as a fourth-round pick of the Packers in 2014. After being inactive for every game as a rookie, Bradford was among Green Bay’s final cuts in 2015. He spent the season on the practice squad.

He appeared in four games for the Packers last year. The 49ers claimed him after he was waived in December.

Exclusive rights free agents are player who have fewer than three years of NFL service who have no outside negotiating power if a team extends a qualifying offer.

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

The 49ers’ new regime heads to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week with the first major wave of offseason activity set to kick off.

Already, the 49ers have made roster improvements. And there figure to be plenty of activity ahead in the coming weeks.

Here are some questions submitted by readers on Facebook for this edition of 49ers Mailbag:

Do you see the 49ers cutting ties with larger contracts like Bethea, Torrey Smith and Ahmad Brooks?‬ (Blair Wilkins)
The 49ers have approximately $75 million in space under the salary cap – and that’s before any adjustment of Colin Kaepernick’s contract. So it’s not as if the organization needs to create cap room.

Any decision made to part ways with veteran players will be made solely on how that player fits into what the 49ers envision on the field.

And that’s what general manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff are doing now. They are studying the video from last season to determine which players fit their ideals.

Safety Antoine Bethea is scheduled to earn $5.75 million. Bethea, 32, enters the final year of his contract. There is no question he is everything the 49ers want in a player off the field. If one of the younger guys is not better than Bethea, there is no reason to get rid of him.

Brooks is on the books to earn $5.3 million in 2017. That’s not a huge amount for a starting outside linebacker or defensive end – whichever spot he might fit best. The 49ers must look to upgrade their pass rush. Brooks turns 33 next month. He’s good for six sacks a season. Again, it’s not as if the 49ers can’t afford him. And, as of now, it’s not as if the 49ers have anyone better.

Smith is scheduled to earn $8 million. He has been vastly underutilized in his two seasons since signing with the 49ers. He’s the most interesting case of the high-priced veterans.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on using the running game to set up the play-action shot down the field. Smith is limited. He’s not a possession receiver. He’s not going to make plays over the middle. He is an outside receiver whose contributions come in the vertical passing game. But that’s what Shanahan wants.

If Smith is paired with a strong tight end, a running back who catch the ball out of the backfield, a slot receiver with short-area quickness to get open underneath, a very good receiver on the other side and an accurate quarterback who can throw the deep ball, there should be a role for Smith in the 49ers’ offense.

Will the 49ers continue to be aggressive pursuing free agents this offseason? If so, what positions?‬ (Bradley Lodge)
The 49ers have zeroed in on two veteran free agents and they signed them both.

The organization has already spent more money than it did all of last offseason on veteran free agency with the four-year, $16 million deal to sign defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, whom the Miami Dolphins recently released.

Nickel back K’Waun Williams has a history with 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. The 49ers did not have to make much of a financial investment to sign him.

The 49ers will definitely go after a veteran quarterback or two in free agency or via trade. Pass rusher, inside linebacker and wide receiver are other positions the 49ers can be expected to look during free agency.

The opening of the new league year – when free-agent signings and trades can occur – is March 9. The draft is seven weeks later.

The 49ers must fill as many of their needs with smart deals that fit into the long-term plan with veteran acquisitions. Then, the draft is about taking the best players on their board when it’s time to select. Teams that reach for need generally strike out.

What are the chances of drafting a QB with first pick and playing them behind a Kap / Cousins until they're ready to become starter?‬ (Hillory Broussard)
If Colin Kaepernick returns, it will not be as a no-questions-asked starter. Just read what Lynch said on KNBR this week about the team’s needs:

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely. And we’re committed to doing that.”

That statement can easily be interpreted that Lynch does not believe the 49ers had a starting-caliber quarterback on the roster last season.

But if the 49ers were to go out and swing a trade for Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s going to take a big commitment – in terms of draft picks and a suitable new contract. Then, the 49ers would have that player.

Cousins or Garoppolo would unquestionably fill the 49ers’ need at quarterback for 2017 and beyond -- at least in the minds of the 49ers' new decision-makers. There would be no reason for the 49ers to then draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick – if the 49ers even had the No. 2 overall pick at that point.