Harbaugh touts Justin Smith as MVP candidate


Harbaugh touts Justin Smith as MVP candidate

SAN FRANCISCO -- Defensive end Justin Smith has turned into the 49ers' closer.Smith batted down Eli Manning's fourth-down pass from the 49ers 10-yard line with 34 seconds remaining Sunday to preserve a 27-20 victory over the New York Giants at Candlestick Park.And 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made a case for Smith as a candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player.

"He's a great player," Harbaugh said of Smith, who has earned back-to-back trips to the Pro Bowl. "He's having a great year. He should be in the MVP category, conversation. He's having that kind of a year for us."He's got a huge heart. That guy is just a big, strong, mighty man and we had a lot of them today."Smith and teammate Patrick Willis are legitimate candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as the 49ers have forged an 8-1 record with seven games remaining.Smith has 4.5 sacks to go along with his two game-clinching plays this season. In Week 4, he wrapped up a 24-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles when he chased down speedy wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and forced a fumble that ended the Eagles' final threat.On Sunday, Smith rushed against Giants left guard David Diehl on the final play after playing every defensive snap in the game. He knocked down Manning's fourth-down pass with his right arm."No. 1, I was tired," Smith said. "No. 2, they (the coaches) were telling us to get our hands up. They were throwing pretty quick on rhythm. I just put my hand there. Luckily, it was where the ball went. It was just blind luck."Said Willis, "Justin's a consummate team player. I told him on the sidelines, series after series, how much I respect him. I think he'll be one of the best players I'll have ever played with in my life and it's been a pleasure playing with him."Week-in and week-out he comes to play. He practices hard in practice and goes hard on Sundays. He's a tremendous player."Willis isn't too shabby, either.Smith finished with six tackles in the game. NaVorro Bowman led the 49ers with 14 tackles, but Willis has also placed himself into the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Willis recorded 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses.The 49ers hold a five-game lead in the NFC West. The victory over the Giants might have been their most impressive all-around performance of the season."They're a heck of a team," Justin Smith said. "We were talking about them with our coaches. The schemes they run and the way they attack had me guessing out there. Hats off to them. Keeping an offense of that quality out of the end zone bodes well for us."The 49ers own a two-game lead for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The top two seed earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. But this victory also sent a message, Willis said."It's a big statement across the board, however you look at it," he said. "There was a bunch of people that doubted us this week, have been doubting us the whole season and will still doubt us.
"They have so many excuses as to why the Giants didn't win this game, whether it'll be, 'Eli wasn't having his day,' or whether it was the receiver wasn't this or the line wasn't this.' They're going to have something to say to try and take away from us winning this game, but at the end of the day we let them say what they want to say. We let the record speak for itself. For us, we're humble but we're still hungry."

Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts


Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts

The 49ers recently re-signed eight of the 10 players who finished the season on the team’s practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who was not among the first wave of 49ers signings to 2018 contracts, signed Wednesday with the Indianapolis Colts, ending his three-season association with the organization.

Smelter was one of general manager Trent Baalke’s redshirt draft picks. The team selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft despite a torn ACL that ended his final season at Georgia Tech.

Smelter spent his first season on an injured list. He was waived at the beginning of the past two seasons, finishing both years on the 49ers’ practice squad. Smelter appeared in two games in 2016 and caught one pass for 23 yards.

Last season, the 49ers signed wide receivers Louis Murphy and Max McCaffrey to spots on the 53-man roster instead of Smelter, who remained on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Carter, who also spent the entire season on the practice squad, was signed recently to the team’s 90-man roster.

Others who finished the season on the 49ers practice squad to remain on the team’s offseason roster are: quarterback Nick Mullens, tight end Cole Wick, offensive linemen Andrew Lauderdale and Pace Murphy, linebacker Boseko Lokombo, and defensive backs Trovon Reed and Channing Stribling.

The 49ers also signed fullback Malcolm Johnson, who spent last season on injured reserve with the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson appeared in 19 games over the 2015 and ’16 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He was a sixth-round draft pick in ’15.

Offensive linemen Cameron Hunt, who finished the season on the 49ers’ practice squad, remains unsigned. Guard JP Flynn is also unsigned. He sustained a torn patellar tendon in November and underwent surgery that was expected to keep him out up to nine months.

An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations


An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations

If the 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are unable to reach a multi-year contract extension by March 6, the 49ers have no other choice but to designate him as their franchise player.

The estimated one-year salary for the franchise tag would be $23.307 million, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry, whose work now appears at CBS Sports. (That is assuming a 2018 league-wide salary cap of $178.1 million per team.)

There is a lot to consider for both sides as they look to enter into a long-term contract. Corry said if a deal is struck, he would expect it to be in the neighborhood of Derek Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason.

“And then there’s the other dynamic, which I would not undersell or I think may not be appreciated as much as it should be,” Corry said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “(Garoppolo’s agent) Don Yee has a reputation – no fault of his own – of doing team-friendly deals.”

Yee also represents New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose average of $20.5 million annual pay ranks 15th among NFL quarterbacks. Brady is underpaid by design, Corry said, because one of the great quarterbacks of all-time realizes it helps the Patriots to maintain a strong supporting cast.

“That’s because Tom Brady dictates, ‘I want to do something good for the team, take less money so we can improve the roster to win Super Bowls.’ That’s not Don Yee who wants to do that,” Corry said.

“The agent works for the player, so he’s executing Tom Brady’s wishes. But he gets that held against him in recruiting. So this is his opportunity to erase that perception if Garoppolo allows him to do his job and gives him latitude to strike the deal that he feels is appropriate.”

For more on the potential negotiating strategies of both sides, listen here to the 49ers Insider Podcast.