July 15, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEO
With a new labor agreement looming on the horizon, it will not be long before 49ers general manager Trent Baalke's plan for the 2011 season is put into action.Baalke shared some of his thoughts on free agency and other matters Thursday with Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News columnist and frequent guest on CSN Bay Area's Chronicle Live.RELATED: Trent Baalke's interview with Tim Kawakami
Here are Baalke's most salient comments from the lengthy interview: FREE AGENT SPENDING
"We're not going to be major players. From a philosophical standpoint, we're not going to be major players in free agency. Does that mean we will never go out and pursue a high-end free agent? No. But philosophically, we're going to build this team through the draft. And when the right time arises and the right player's available, that we feel sets us up for a different level of play, we'll be in a position hopefully to make that move."Reading between the lines: Does a starting cornerback set the 49ers up to produce their first winning record and playoff appearance since 2002? The 49ers have had plenty of time to consider that question. This certainly does not rule out the possibility the 49ers will pursue a top-level free agent. It's always wise to under-promise and over-deliver. THE CLEMENTS QUESTIONWhen asked whether Baalke considers Nate Clements a cornerback or a safety, Baalke answered, "I'm quite confident in the thought process that Nate's a corner. Is he a guy that can lock down on the perimeter or move inside? The thing that's always been a strength of Nate's is his versatility. Could he play safety? Could someone envision him playing safety at some point? Certainly. He's smart enough, he's certainly physical enough, and he has the skills to play back there. But that's not what we're looking at him as."Kawakami points out that Clements would be a "pretty expensive safety." Baalke responds, "Right."MAIOCCO: Exploring the Clements-to-safety question
When asked if Clements is a player whose salary the club might want to "ratchet down," Baalke answered, "I've said this a long time ago, I'm not in a position or would I want to discuss the details of contracts with the media relative to any player on our roster."Reading between the lines: If the 49ers plan for Clements to return at his scheduled salary, Baalke would've said something much different to that last question. "Nate Clements will be on this team," he could've said. Instead, he left Clements' future with the 49ers in doubt. The 49ers view Clements as a cornerback. In their budget, it seems apparent that they'd like to reduce his salary and put that money into re-signing one of their own players. KEEPING THE TEAM TOGETHEROn re-signing as many of the 49ers' 15 free agents as possible, Baalke said: "I'm a guy that likes to believe that you're far better off dealing with the known than the unknown, right? You know your guys the best and if they are guys that you think are 49ers and 49ers moving forward, you're going to try to everything you can to keep them, realizing it's still a business and you can't keep everybody. You can't make everybody happy."I think it's always important to keep good football players and we're doing to do everything we can to keep as many of them as we can. But the fact remains, it's a business. And you can't keep them all, you can't pay them all, you can't make everybody happy.MAIOCCO: Uncertainty abounds on 49ers' defense
"So we're going to do the best we can within the budget that we have, within the cap space that we have, and that's all any team can do. You just can't keep them all together. We wish we could. But we can't," Baalke concluded.Reading between the lines: Outside linebacker Manny Lawson and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin will get some free-agent attention around the league. The 49ers drafted Lawson's replacement, Aldon Smith, with the No. 7 overall pick. And the 49ers have contingency plans to place a priority on re-signing defensive end Ray McDonald, starting him at left defensive end, and shifting Isaac Sopoaga to nose tackle to replace Franklin. GOLDSON TOP PRIORITYKawakami asked Baalke, ". . . would (Dashon) Goldson be maybe the highest priority because of his age, his experience, and his key position in the middle of the secondary?"I think that's fair to say," Baalke said.Reading between the lines: The most money the 49ers are going to spend to re-sign a defensive player will be on Goldson. He is their best defensive back and, not surprisingly, he's their top priority on defense to re-sign. VETERAN COMPETITION FOR SMITHQuarterback Alex Smith is coming back, but would the 49ers also bring in another veteran quarterback who has started in the NFL?"We've got scenarios that will address it in different fashions," Baalke said. "The goal has always been to bring in the best possible players we possibly can. It's going to be an open competition, whether it's the quarterback position or the linebacker position."Because of a new staff and because of all the changes that have taken place, nobody's guaranteed the right to start. They're going to have to come in here and earn their jobs. Now granted some have a better chance of doing that than others, we all know that."Reading between the lines: The 49ers aren't going to get into bidding wars to add another quarterback to their roster. But if a veteran that fits becomes available and the right price, the 49ers would not hesitate to bring him to training camp.
49ERS 'ABSOLUTELY' WANT BAAS
The team's stance on re-signing center David Baas, a pending unrestricted free agent . . . "He's the type of individual that you want," Baalke said. "He's got the intangibles, the characteristics you want. And he's a good football player. You don't want to lose good football players. And once again, you can't keep 'em all. Those are things that have to play out. Would we like to keep him? Absolutely. Will we be able to keep him? I hope we can."Reading between the lines: He was a top priority for a contract extension during last season, and his value to the team has only increased with veteran Eric Heitmann
out for the season following recent neck surgery. The 49ers drafted two centerguard prospects, but neither is expected to be ready to be a starting center this season.