Soon-to-be-busy Baalke addresses 49ers' hot topics


Soon-to-be-busy Baalke addresses 49ers' hot topics

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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com

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.
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.

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium


Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

SANTA CLARA -- Dwight Clark and Joe Montana are scheduled to address the crowd Sunday at Levi’s Stadium at halftime of the 49ers’ game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It should be an emotional day, as 36 members from the team that defeated Dallas in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title are expected to attend.

Montana is scheduled to be surrounded by his former teammates and speak from the field at halftime. Clark is likely to be situated in a suite, where he is expected to make some remarks. Clark, 60, announced in March he was diagnosed with ALS.

Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, appearing on the 49ers Insider Podcast, said he is looking forward to seeing so many of his teammates from the squad that served as a springboard for five Super Bowl titles under the ownership of Hall of Famer Eddie DeBartolo.

“I can’t wait to see (Clark),” Cross said. “I can’t wait to see Eddie. I can’t wait to see Joe. There is a core group of guys I’ve gotten to see a few times a year since we all went our separate ways. There are guys I’ll get a chance to see, in some cases, (for the first time) since almost around the time we parted ways in the early-‘80s.”

The NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, is best-remembered for “The Catch” – Clark’s leaping, finger-tip grab of a Montana pass for a 6-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

The 49ers defeated the Cowboys 28-27 at Candlestick Park. Coach Bill Walsh’s team went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

“For those of us who played on the Niners charity basketball team with both Joe and Dwight, and knowing their hoop skills and the way they could jump, we weren’t terribly surprised at: A, how high he threw it; and, B, how high Dwight got,” said Cross, who was blocking from his right guard position near the sideline and had an unobstructed view of the play.

“If Dwight got his fingers on it, it was going to be a catch. That was the thing about D.C., you won’t find too many instances in which he had a ball on him or near him that he dropped. There wasn’t much doubt.”

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Kyle Shanahan is, self admittedly, not a patient person. As he watched quarterback C.J. Beathard run the scout team over the last couple of weeks -- how he visualized an unfamiliar play, went through his progressions and handled the defensive coverages -- the head coach saw rapid improvement every day. But he suppressed any urge to play the rookie before he was ready.

“I tried to wait for the right time for him and the right time for the team,” Shanahan explained.

Down 14-0 to Washington halfway through the second quarter with starter Brian Hoyer struggling, Shanahan knew Beathard’s time had come.

“I felt the team needed it right then,” Shanahan said. “It also made me more confident to do it because I thought he was ready for it, also.”

Moments after the game was over, Shanahan named Beathard the starter. Watching the game tape on the flight home only bolstered his decision.

“By no means was he perfect, missed a couple of things, but that always happens,” Shanahan said. “I thought he came in there, didn’t hesitate, competed. The moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm, made a few off schedule plays and was a big reason we got back in that game.”

Beathard led the 49ers on two scoring drives and finished 19-of-36 with 245 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, though it came on fourth-and-20 on his final pass attempt of the game. On his 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, Beathard extended the play when the fifth year receiver wasn’t where he expected him to be.

“He was supposed to go to the post for a certain coverage, and they had a busted coverage, so he just hung out there which is why C.J. didn’t see it right away,” Shanahan explained. “We had enough protection where he could take a couple more hitches. He drove the pocket and saw where Aldrick was, and he didn’t hesitate. Made that throw with that arm strength.”

Shanahan smirked at his not-so-subtle dig at those who questioned Beathard’s arm strength during the draft process. He sees a quarterback who can make all the throws, and make them from the pocket, and scramble when he needs to. All he needs now, Shanahan contends, is experience.

“It’s about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He’s going to see a lot of things he hasn’t seen before, and that will change each week. It will probably change each quarter.”

Helping Beathard continue to grow through those experiences will require patience, but in this situation, it’s the kind the head coach can handle.

“You’re never going to get a quick answer. You see over time, but he’s got the ability to do it. He’s got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays.”