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February 10, 2012
GM Baalke rewarded for a season of home runs

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Jed York and the 49ers announced today that they have signed Trent Baalke to a three-year extension that makes him the team's general manager through the 2016 season.

"Without question Trent has distinguished himself as the man to direct our football operations for years to come," York said in a statement. "Since taking over as general Manager last January, we have made great strides on the football field under Trent's leadership. It gives me great pleasure to watch Trent and Jim (Harbaugh) work arm-in-arm with the common goal of leading the 49ers to championships."

Indeed, Baalke not only worked well with Harbaugh this past season, he was integral in landing him. Harbaugh is not a man who values flash, and Baalke is certainly not flashy. Instead, he's a very no-nonsense type of personality who has kept out of the limelight and who has built a reputation as a very good evaluator of talent.

Harbaugh and Baalke hit it off in their first formal meeting in January of 2011, which was held in the pool house of a mutual friend. The two talked Xs and Os for hours. Harbaugh felt so at ease that he eventually removed his tie, took out a can of chewing tobacco and asked Baalke and York, "You guys mind if I dip?"

Baalke's 2011 draft class gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so. It begins with Aldon Smith, whose athleticism and inexperience was questioned before the draft but who Baalke knew would be an excellent fit on the powerful and blue-collar 49ers' defense. In all, four draft picks - Smith, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller - had significant roles this past season while another, Colin Jones, came on strong as a special teams player in the second half of the season.

Baalke's best moves, however, may have been during the abbreviated free agency period that followed the lockout. Early on, the biggest splash the 49ers made was signing kicker David Akers and re-signing one of their own free agents, Ray McDonald. This frustrated fans to no end as they watched other teams, such as the Eagles, take an aggressive approach to free agency and sign big-name players by the handful.

Baalke, however, wagered that with so many players on the market - and so little time to sign them all - the 49ers' patience would pay off. He was right. The team signed cornerback Carlos Rogers to a one-year deal after Rogers failed to land the long-term contract he was seeking. The 49ers did the same with safety Dashon Goldson, who thought he deserved a multi-year contract on par with the league's top safeties.

Both players finished the season with career highs in interceptions and made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Signing Akers - universally mocked as an insignificant, low-impact move - also seemed brilliant after the kicker set a single-season record for field goals. The signings of safety Donte Whitner and Jonathan Goodwin also are smart in hindsight.

Baalke's only misses came at receiver. The team drafted Ronald Johnson in the sixth round in part because he was a favorite of receivers coach John Morton, who coached Johnson at USC. Johnson, however, made no impact in training camp and was cut.

In free agency, Baalke and the 49ers again seemed to find a gem in the bargain bin. They signed Braylon Edwards to a low-cost, one-year deal with the expectation that he would be a big-play receiver opposite Michael Crabtree. It didn't work out that way. Edwards got hurt, didn't impress the coaching staff and was released late in the season.

When the team faced the Giants in the NFC Championship game, it was clear they didn't have enough firepower at wide receiver. (To be fair, two other receivers - Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn - were hurt). And now Baalke's biggest task this offseason is finding one. Or two. Or three.

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York also announced the promotion of minority owner Gideon Yu to team president. Yu, a Silicon Valley insider who has been CEO chief financial officer of Facebook and YouTube, was hired last year as the team's strategy officer. Yu bought a small stake in the team during the season and is now in charge of all business operations, which these days revolves around the construction and funding of the team's billion-dollar stadium.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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