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Tucker: 49ers' payoff could come in 2012

The latest Football Today podcast from Ross Tucker and Matt Williamson considers which teams appear to be gunning more for 2012 than for the coming season.

Tucker pointed to the San Francisco 49ers, casting their first two draft choices -- outside linebacker Aldon Smith and quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- as players needing a year of seasoning. Williamson singled out the Jacksonville Jaguars because they drafted a quarterback early even though they already have a starter, and because they favored smaller-school developmental players.

The conversation begins at the 23:00 mark of the podcast.

"If there is any team that is saying, 'You know what, we want to win 2011, but we want to be in great shape in 2012, it's the Niners,' " Tucker said.

The longer the lockout lingers, the harder it could be for the 49ers to effectively implement sweeping changes brought by a new coaching staff.

However, playing in the NFC West gives the 49ers a chance to have it both ways. They can groom Smith and Kaepernick for the long term while still competing within the division. Teams from other divisions face tougher challenges. The Jaguars, for instance, would have to overcome the Indianapolis Colts, winners of at least 10 games in nine consecutive seasons. Cincinnati and Cleveland have to contend with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Defining Smith as a long-term project might be misleading. The 49ers have said they expect immediate contributions from him and that is one reason they selected him seventh overall.

Also, it's tougher to know how teams are approaching the coming season without knowing how they'll proceed in free agency. Arizona and Seattle did not draft quarterbacks early (or at all). The moves they make during free agency will tell us to what degree those teams are focusing on the near term.

Tucker and Williamson also debated the 49ers' interest in bringing back Alex Smith. Williamson called Smith a "great fit" for the situation and system, but he thinks Kaepernick will quickly turn Smith into a backup.