Last summer, when the 49ers were taking heat for not being overly aggressive in the free-agent market, General Manager Trent Baalke told everyone not to worry.
He had a plan and he was sticking to it.
He then signed place-kicker David Akers, cornerback Carlos Rogers, safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson and center Jonathan Goodwin. The plan, obviously, worked, as the late-summer moves helped the 49ers win the NFC West and get within one win of the Super Bowl.
Now, with free agency approaching and NFL scouts, coaches and executives gathered in Indianapolis for the annual Combine workouts and evaluations, Baalke – speaking to the media for the first time since the 49ers lost in the NFC Championship Game – says the team has a detailed game plan for this offseason, too.
Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, in Indianapolis to cover the Combine, reports Baalke has been in 17 straight days of draft meetings with team scouts.
Baalke, coach Jim Harbaugh – also in Indianapolis – and other team reps have been in constant discussions about their own free agents, players who might be available in free agency and the talent coming out of college in the draft.
“We choose not to be reactionary,” Baalke told McDonald and other reporters in Indianapolis. “We do have plans in mind at every position. There’s no guarantees in free agency, whther they’re your own, whether they’re other guys that are available on the market. … You have to be prepared to make decisions on the fly.”
Baalke acknowledged the key unrestricted free agents on his own roster – such as quarterback Alex Smith, Goldson and Rogers – and said the team believes it’s important to bring them back if possible.
“We want to keep our guys in place,” he told McDonald. “The locker room is very important.”
When asked if wide receiver is a priority position for the team this offseason, Baalke acknowledged it’s an area that needs to be strengthened because, “You only have two guys under contract for next year.”
Baalke said offseason work to strengthen the team’s roster is “a marathon, not a sprint.”
“We’re going to look at every option available to us,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, referring to the free-agent period, which begins March 13. “Whether they’re players on our team or not on our team. Just like we do in the draft. It’s going to be a methodical process.”
Apparently, as the 49ers evaluate both their own players and other free agents and rookies, they’ll take into account chemistry as much as biology – players who make an impact in the locker room and with teammates as much as what they do on the field.
“The one thing that I can’t overstate enough is the locker room and those guys in it,” Baalke told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “That’s what gets you to 13-3. It’s the coaching staff and the players coming together and believing in one another. … So the more we can keep together, the better we’re going to be moving forward.”