Trent Baalke, the general manager for the 49ers, has been decidedly less effusive about quarterback Alex Smith than his head coach, Jim Harbaugh. "Right now we're treating him as we do every other free-agent quarterback," Baalke said today at the scouting combine.
Smith, however, is not a free agent quite yet. There is still a one-week window in which the 49ers could extend Smith or any of the 49ers pending free agents. Some quarterbacks from other teams, notably Josh Freeman of the Buccaneers, have said that they plan to organize informal team practices this offseason in the event there is a lockout that wipes away the traditional offseason.
I asked Baalke whether it behooves the 49ers to get Smith under contract for 2011 so that he could organize similar events.
"I think obviously if you have a quarterback under contract and they're working with your players, it helps," he said. "It certainly helps. Is it a necessity? No, because there's other teams that are going to be in similar situations. But it certainly does help."
The 49ers may end up making a formal overture to Smith in the next week, but neither he nor any of the team's upcoming free agents are likely to sign anything before the league year ends on March 3.
The 49ers have one quarterback, David Carr, under contract for the 2011 season and Baalke mentioned him as someone who could help create continuity in a bumpy offseason. However, it's doubtful that Harbaugh sees Carr as a starter. While an assistant with the Raiders in 2002, Harbaugh was asked to evaluate the quarterback's in the draft class.
He not only broke from conventional thinking that year, he turned out to be very accurate, according to a source with knowledge of the report. Harbaugh, for instance, gave Tony Romo - he went undrafted that year -- and David Garrard good grades, but had low grades for Joey Harrington, the third overall pick, and Carr, who was picked first overall. Harbaugh assessed Carr as a sixth-round pick.
Baalke reiterated that the team would use every avenue available -- draft, free agency, trades -- as far as restocking the QB position.
Other Baalke notes:
• He declined to discuss player contracts with the media, but it's apparent that the team will not use the franchise tag like it did last season on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. A year ago, the franchise figure for a nose tackle was a little more than $7 million. This year that number is expected to be nearly $12.5 million.
• Baalke said the team would "supplement" the running back position either through free agency, the draft or trades. Unprompted, he mentioned Anthony Dixon as someone who would help Frank Gore carry the load in 2011. Asked specifically about Brian Westbrook, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, Baalke said: "That's always a possibility. We're going to look at every option whether it's re-signing a guy that's been there or whether it's going out and getting a free agent, whether it's trading for someone or whether it's drafting someone. But we're definitely not closing the door on any option."
• Baalke acknowledged that the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks all have question marks at quarterback. "I think whoever does the better job of answering that question and solidifying that position on their team is at a better advantage. So I think it's going to come down to, who can do that and who can surround him with the best talent and personnel?"
Harbaugh is scheduled to speak here at 9:45 a.m. (PST), so stay tuned for another blog ...
-- Matt Barrows