****UPDATE**** The 49ers reportedly made a late push for DeSean Jackson, but he ultimately signed a three-year deal with the Redskins.
Trent Baalke last week adamantly denied contacting the Eagles about wide receiver DeSean Jackson. But he never denied having an interest in Jackson, who is now a free agent. Instead the 49ers general manager chose his words carefully: "As of this moment, there's been no discussions between us and the Philadelphia Eagles whatsoever," Baalke said at the owners' meeting in Orlando.
Now it seems as if reports linking the 49ers and Jackson, the former Cal star, have been accurate all along. Both NBC news in Washington, D.C. and ESPN's Adam Schefter report the 49ers are one of the teams interested in Jackson, who recently wrapped up a two-day visit with the Redskins. Other teams with interest include the Raiders, who can perhaps offer him more money than any other squad, the Browns and the Bills.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to Jackson and San Francisco is the 49ers' strategy when it comes to free agents. If they have a high grade on a player, they'll typically show interest early only to back off later if the price tag does not fit their parameters. For example, they were one of the teams that inquired early about then-Vikings free agent Jared Allen but quickly fell out of the running when Allen made it known he wanted a top-dollar contract.
Their message seems to be: 'If you want to play for a winning team, this would be a great spot. But we're not going to break the bank for you.' In that way, the 49ers could offer Jackson a better chance at making it to a Super Bowl than his other suitors. But the other teams -- especially the Raiders and Browns -- could offer more money and realistically offer him more playing time.
It's also worth noting that one 49ers' starting receiver, Anquan Boldin, will earn $6 million this season while the other, Michael Crabtree, will earn $4.7 million. Jackson, meanwhile, was due to earn $12.5 million in Philadelphia and reportedly was angling for a better deal last season. The 49ers have a very strict salary-cap structure, and Baalke said it was unlikely they'd alter that for an outside player.
"Never say never, but history usually repeats itself, right?" Baalke said. "So historically the answer to that would be no. But we always reserve the right to do what's in the best interest of the 49ers."
The 49ers also reportedly have contacted the Los Angeles Police Department in light of a NJ.com story about Jackson's gang affiliations in that city. Jackson's reputed gang ties were a concern to the 49ers when he was coming out in the 2008 draft. The 49ers ended up taking defensive end Kentwan Balmer in the first round; Jackson was drafted in the second.
"There's a lot of thought that goes into every decision," Baalke said last week. "One key thing we focus on is, 'What is this decision going to do to our locker room?' That's a big part of the decision-making process. We spend a lot of time looking at that, talking through it, thinking about it and making sure that the move we make isn't counter productive to winning. Because that's the ultimate goal - is to win."
- Matt Barrows