SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers have yet to announce their team awards. But when they do, it will come as no surprise when defensive lineman Justin Smith is named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the team's most valuable player.Coach Jim Harbaugh has made that declaration several times in recent weeks, emphasizing Smith's significant contributions to the 49ers defense.Smith was his usual impressive self on Saturday in the 49ers' 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC divisional-round game.And the player who has done everything for the 49ers defense, did a little for the offense, too.In addition to playing all 80 defensive snaps in the game, Smith also entered as an extra blocker for three offensive snaps. Smith delivered a block on left defensive end Cameron Jordan to help running back Frank Gore pick up 5 yards and a first down on the second play of the game.But Smith was more than just a bit player on defense.He recorded a sack of quarterback Drew Brees and, at times, manhandled Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who surrendered just three sacks in 16 regular-season games. Smith kept constant pressure on Brees with five quarterback hurries."That'd be a tall statement to say it was his most complete game," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "But, obviously, he came up big. He was ready. You could just sense it him all week. Particularly as the game got closer. This game meant a lot to him. He was going to bring it and he did."Smith was a first-team All-Pro selection at defensive tackle. He was a second-team All-Pro selection at defensive end. He was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl. And Smith is also a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.Smith did not make a Pro Bowl while with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he spent his first seven NFL seasons. He also never experienced a playoff victory, going 0-1 when the Bengals made the playoffs in 2005."In training camp this year, on the cover of our notebook was a picture of him and I had on there 0-1," Fangio said. "He had only played in one playoff game in his career and he was 0-1. Our main goal from the first day of training camp was to get him back in the playoffs and get that goose egg off the board. And we did that."
Michael Wilhoite has spent his whole five-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers.
But now the free agent inside linebacker is reportedly switching sides in the NFC West rivalry. Wilhoite is set to sign with the Seattle Seahawks, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Terms of the deal are unknown at this time.
Wilhoite, 30, played in all 16 games last season for the 49ers, starting in only six. In 2016 he recorded 55 tackles, 30 less than 2015 in four less games, and forced one fumble.
After earning a promotion from the 49ers' practice squad in 2012, Wilhoite's career in the Bay Area comes to an end with 268 tackles and three interceptions in 65 games.
NEW YORK -- NFL owners will consider proposals next week to cut regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10; eliminate players leaping over the line on kick plays; and expansion of coaches' challenges and what can be reviewed by officials.
In what promises to be a busy annual meeting next week in Phoenix that will include discussing the Raiders' potential relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, the 32 owners also will vote on changing the mechanics on replay reviews and other items intended to reduce downtime during games.
The Eagles proposed four rules changes, including abolishing the leaping techniques that league football operations director Troy Vincent said Thursday "don't belong in the game."
Seattle and Buffalo co-authored a proposal allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, whether a foul is called or not.
"That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated next week," NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said.
Another major change would be the reduction of overtime in-season; the extra period in the playoffs would remain at 15 minutes. The powerful competition committee, of which Vincent and Blandino are members, believed it's a player safety issue, noting that number of snaps for games going to OT - especially deep into the overtime - is excessive. Especially if a team has a quick turnaround.
"We don't know where a team is going to be playing the next week, it could be four days later," said committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We felt we should put an end to it. We don't think it will lead to more ties. Could it? It could, but we are not concerned with that."
As for changing the format of overtime to ensure both teams always get a possession - a popular topic after how the Super Bowl ended - Blandino said the league's wants to keep the element of sudden death in the extra period.
The "leaper rule" has taken some priority among competition committee members, the players' union and coaches. Vincent said coaches have begun scheming how to defense it, which can "create a real safety issue."
"It is really in the best interest of the game" to outlaw leaping on kicks," Vincent added.
McKay noted that the NCAA is in the process of passing a similar ban on the technique.
During the meetings that run from Sunday to Wednesday, the teams will be shown plays the competition committee believes should result in suspensions or ejections. Game officials already have had the leeway to eject players, but it rarely has happened; there were three in 2016.
"They don't happen very often, let's give the players credit," McKay said. "We have 40,000 plays in a year. We'll show a tape that will have four or five plays that would warrant suspension. This is not a widespread situation."
Added Vincent, a former NFL defensive back: "When you see the plays, they are catastrophic. We had two players who did not return for the season. They are high-impact plays that belong out of the game. It will be a real point of emphasis this season."