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March 5, 2013
Whither Walker? Depends on whether he's viewed as a starter

delanie1.jpg

Who better to comment on the upcoming free-agent market than a long-time general manager? Former Colts personnel man Bill Polian - he drafted some guy named 'Manning' way back when - is now an analyst for ESPN. Polian held a conference call today, and I asked him how much attention a couple of pending 49ers free agents, safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker might get.

Goldson, a pro bowler and all-pro this past season, has received by far more attention than Walker, who is the No. 2 tight end to Vernon Davis. So I thought it was interesting that Polian spoke first and at length about Walker. Here's what he said:

"I think both will command a fair amount of attention. There's always a buzz, if you will, about the players who played well in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl, and both did.

"In Delanie Walker, you have a really, really interesting guy. Age is a bit of a concern with him - minor - but, you know, he's not 25 any longer. But he's very, very versatile. He can play fullback. He can play tight end. He can play in the slot. He's very productive and he's a tough guy. He's a really good blocker and a willing blocker. So I think he'll get some activity. The question is, how much and what's the fit? And that's always the question and that's the over-arching question in free agency.

"This is a good safety year in the draft and to some degree in free agency. But nonetheless, I think they're both good players and they will both command attention. To me, the question is, at what price? And only the market will tell us that going forward."

Walker is 28 and he turns 29 in August. He was an important part of the 49ers' offense this season for all the reasons Polian pointed out, and he played 57 percent of the team's offensive snaps this year. As long as Davis is on the squad, the 49ers won't want to pay Walker like a No. 1 tight end. (I've heard they want to pay him about $3.5 million a year; he made $1.05 million in base salary last year). The question is whether another team sees Walker as a No. 1 tight end.

It's a good free-agent class for tight ends with Jared Cook and Fred Davis among the other players who promise to be available. The 49ers seem to be betting A.) That free agency will be flat in general and that B.) teams looking for a starting tight end will turn elsewhere. In Walker's favor: There are several teams that need tight ends, including the division rival Rams (it would be a double whammy (double rammy?) if they stole Walker from the 49ers) and the Chiefs, where Walker would be reunited with Alex Smith.

What's my personal opinion? Thanks for asking. I think that Walker would be an upgrade for two-thirds of the league when it comes to their No. 1 tight end. He's become an excellent blocker. And while he had too many drops this year, when he first arrived with the 49ers in 2006, he had the best hands on the team. I think it was a situation in which he spent all of his energy learning how to block - he was a wide receiver in college - and simply didn't keep up with pass catching enough. That is, he has the natural ability to be reliable target.

Top FA tight ends

1. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons 
2. Jared Cook, Titans
3. Fred Davis, Redskins
4. Dustin Keller, Jets
5. Brandon Myers, Raiders

- 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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