The 49ers were running a distant fifth in the Takeo Spikes sweepstakes all day long, and in the end they lost the veteran linebacker to the San Diego Chargers and their former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Spikes, 34, had agreed to terms on a deal. Free agents like Spikes can't sign new contracts until Friday afternoon at the earliest.
In a text message Tuesday afternoon, Spikes wrote that he had gotten interest from four teams: the Chargers, the Seahawks, the Rams and the Titans. He indicated that the 49ers also had called, but that their interest was decidedly lower than that of the other teams. Asked at the time if he thought he was finished in San Francisco, Spikes wrote: "Yes. Didn't have a choice."
Last year was Spikes' third -- and perhaps his best -- as a 49er. He started all 16 games, ranked second on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Early in the season, the 49ers took Spikes, 34, off the field on third downs to give promising youngster NaVorro Bowman more playing time. But Spikes proved more reliable and was better on passing downs than expected, and Bowman's playing time decreased as the year went on.
Early in the offseason, Spikes said he wanted to return to San Francisco where he has built a strong rapport with teammate Patrick Willis, and he said that the 49ers had told him they wanted him back. But he indicated today that their interest turned out to be only lukewarm. Spikes has been the team's most powerful voice in the locker room in recent seasons, and he was the team's players' representative during the recent lockout.
Spikes' departure breaks up a three-year partnership on the inside of the defense with Willis. Late last season when the 49ers were still in the playoff hunt, Willis said he was motivated by the fact that Spikes, whose locker was next to Willis', had never made the postseason in 12 previous seasons. After the year ended, Willis lobbied to bring Spikes back.
"Takeo is like the better half of me,'' Willis said at the time. "He's a guy I watch day in and day out and that, honestly, raises my level of play. You look at the film and you're like, 'He's been in the league for 13 years?' "It's amazing he didn't make the Pro Bowl, at least as a first-team alternate."
The 49ers apparently will go with a youth movement at Spikes' position. In addition to Bowman, a third-round pick in 2010, Scott McKillop, a fifth-round pick in 2009, also plays inside linebacker. McKillop suffered a season-ending knee injury last training camp that included a torn ACL, but he is expected to make a full recovery this year. Also on the roster are Alex Joseph and Keaton Kristick, an undrafted free agent last season who should be familiar to Jim Harbaugh and his staff after playing at Oregon State.
ESPN is reporting that quarterback Alex Smith has agreed to terms one a one-year contract worth $5 million. In actuality, Smith agreed to those terms months ago, as has been reported by The Bee and other local outlets. Smith said Monday that he would sign his contract at the first opportunity.
-- Matt Barrows