NFL Nation: Frank Gore

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore joined an elite club in Sunday's 28-17 season-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Yes, we already know he became the 29th member of the 10,000-yard rushing club. But more than that, Gore is just the 10th player to rush for that many yards while playing at least 10 seasons with one team.

[+] EnlargeFrank Gore
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsIn his 10th season -- all with the San Francisco 49ers -- running back Frank Gore is on pace to add to his more than 10,000 career rushing yards.
The others?

Try Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys), Walter Payton (Chicago Bears), Barry Sanders (Detroit Lions), Tony Dorsett (Cowboys), Franco Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers), Thurman Thomas (Buffalo Bills), Fred Taylor (Jacksonville Jaguars), Jerome Bettis (Steelers) and Tiki Barber (New York Giants).

All but Taylor, Bettis and Barber are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though Bettis is a four-time finalist for enshrinement in Canton. So it begs the question -- is Gore worthy of Hall of Fame discussion?

Or is it too soon to bring up the topic?

Consider: Bettis, who rushed for 13,662 yards in his career as a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, went out on top with a Super Bowl ring while Barber was a three-time Pro Bowler, and one-time All-Pro and Taylor went to one Pro Bowl.

Gore, a five-time Pro Bowler with 10,033 career rushing yards who has been to the playoffs the past three seasons after being shut out the first six years of his career, has yet to win a rushing title, or be part of a Super Bowl championship team. Besides, a more hearty Canton case for a 49ers running back might first be made for Roger Craig.

Plus, Gore is 31 years old and his best days may be behind him, but he still has some run left in him.

"There's no shelf life for football players," said coach Jim Harbaugh. "And that's something I learned at an early age from my mom -- never to believe in expiration dates. She taught us that very early -- pay no attention to the expiration date on that can or that milk or that bread.

"Now, maybe she was just trying to get things at a lesser cost. Learned that very well. There is no expiration date. Even if the bread had a little mold on it, brush it off or cut it off and eat the other part, but we're not throwing it away. We're not throwing away good food or drink."

Or football players that can still contribute and, presumably, continue to build a case for Canton while helping a team that's been to three straight NFC title games finally break through to get the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy in 20 years.

Because with the 49ers currently having just two tailbacks on the roster in Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde -- LaMichael James went through waivers unclaimed on Tuesday, a day after requesting and being granted his release from the Niners while unhappy about a lack of playing time -- it's obvious San Francisco still has faith in Gore.

And that's just fine with him. After all, it was his 5-yard pickup off right tackle on third-and-3 that sealed the 49ers' victory over the Cowboys.

"That's me; I'm a very smart runner," he said, unapologetically. "I've got good feet and great vision. I know my alignments. You see different movement on the defensive line, and you know where they're going.

"That's just me being me."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Colin Kaepernick’s salary cap-friendly contract extension was constructed that way, in part, to help free up money for the San Francisco 49ers to lock up other key cogs on the roster.

But with right guard Alex Boone’s holdout waged on, the 49ers quarterback was asked if he would like for some of that money to go to Boone.

“I think that’s something that the front office, that’s their decision,” Kaepernick said. “For me, I tried to do something where we gave them space to be able to get players back now. Who they sign and what they do with it is really up to them.”

Coach Jim Harbaugh would not touch the topic.

“As always, we don’t talk about contracts publically,” Harbaugh said. “Rarely do we talk about it in any form or fashion. We don’t feel it’s in anybody’s best interest to do that.”

While starters like running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree, left guard Mike Iupati and cornerback Chris Culliver are entering contract years, Boone was signed to a four-year extension on Dec. 8, 2011, that runs through the 2015 season. Boone did not take part in any of the team's offseason activities and is subject to a $30,000 a day fine, per CSNBayArea.com.

The 49ers have more than $8.2 million in salary-cap space, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Frank Gore will report for his 10th training camp with the San Francisco 49ers this week.

Gore
This milestone accomplishment needs to be celebrated in San Francisco. There are no guarantees Gore will be in a 49ers’ uniform next season. If not, he has already has staked his claim as one of the best skill-position players in the team’s rich offensive history.

In today’s NFL running backs rarely make it to their 10th season, especially with one team. But Gore is not your typical running back. At a time when the running back is being devalued in many systems, the 49ers still rely heavily on the run game. In fact, they are one of the few teams that are still a run-first offense.

But that doesn’t mean Gore will be around for the long haul. Looking at the cold facts, there are some signs that Gore could be entering his final season with the 49ers.

He is 31, which is ancient for a running back, and entering the final season of his contract. The 49ers clearly are looking toward the future at the position. They took the injured but talented Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of last year’s draft. They selected a falling Carlos Hyde -- the Ohio State product widely considered the best running back available in the draft -- with the No. 57 overall pick in May. While Lattimore will be eased back to health, Hyde, who looked terrific in the offseason, has a chance to get carries right away.

It’s only natural for the 49ers to think about the future. Of course, that doesn’t mean Gore’s future is dead with the 49ers.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Frank Gore
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrank Gore didn't look over-the-hill last season, as he ran for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns on 276 carries at age 30.
They clearly are interested in Gore being a key member of the team in 2014. The 49ers are scheduled to pay him $6.4 million this season. They could have asked Gore to take a pay cut. They didn’t. Teams don’t give away that kind of money to players in today's salary cap-dominated NFL. Gore is being paid well because the 49ers have plans for him.

And if you listen to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh -- an unabashed Gore follower -- this season might not necessarily be the end of the line for Gore in San Francisco. When asked last month if he talked to Gore about his future plans, Harbaugh said: “You know how I feel about it. I feel like Frank is still at the top of his game. I have even made the comment very clearly, that I think he has three great years of football left in him. That’s his mindset as well.”

In keeping with his low-prolife approach, Gore has been mostly quiet this offseason. The 49ers have kept him out of most of the offseason, but that's not a signal they don't plan on featuring him. It’s all about saving one of their best veteran players. Also, the 49ers know they can count on Gore. There’s no doubting that.

“People always ask me (if Gore surprises him). There’s nothing Frank does that surprises me,” San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said this offseason. “I’ve never met an individual -- a player, a coach, anybody -- that’s been around the game of football that is as passionate about the game as Frank Gore. That’s what drives him. So nothing he does surprises us.”

Look for Gore in Year 10 to still be the guy the 49ers look for in the clutch, the guy who seems to punch through the hole when the 49ers need it most. But I can also see Gore's load being reduced, even if its done subtly.

Think of what the Broncos did with Knowshon Moreno last year. He had the first 1,000-yard rushing campaign of his career, but by the end of the season, Denver was consistently working in second-year back Montee Ball. Now, Moreno is with the Dolphins and Ball is the starter in the Broncos' backfield.

Gore, like Moreno, didn’t show signs of slowing down at the age of 30 last season. He had 276 carries, third most in his career. If Hyde and Lattimore are factors this season (and the 49ers can utilize their new receiving weapons), perhaps Gore’s load will drop to the 200-carry range.

He can still be effective. He’s Frank Gore. He’s always effective.

“Frank is the best, it’s that simple,” Lattimore said. “He is so good at so many different things, and that will not change. Of course, I want to be a factor, but Frank is always going to be a factor as long as he is here. He’s Frank.”
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

May, 29, 2014
May 29
10:00
AM ET
video
By almost everyone’s estimation, the rough and rugged NFC West was the best division in the NFL in 2013. It had the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, two teams in the NFC Championship Game (Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers) and another 10-game winner in the Arizona Cardinals. The St. Louis Rams were 7-9 but likely would have had a winning season in any other division.

And now? Other than adding Godzilla and three superheroes to the four teams, they could not get much better. It looks like the big boys on the NFC block will remain out west.

Most experts believe the Rams had one of the best drafts in the NFL, adding Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, giving St. Louis four first-round picks on what is arguably the best defensive line in football.

The 49ers had 12 draft picks, including seven in the first four rounds, and made a trade during the draft for talented Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson.

The Cardinals signed gigantic left tackle Jared Veldheer and blazing kick returner Ted Ginn in free agency. They also added a vicious hitter, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, with their first draft pick.

As always happens with Super Bowl champs, the Seahawks lost a few key players to free agency, but they kept the man they really wanted to keep in defensive end Michael Bennett and locked up "Legion of Boom" stars Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long-term deals.

Believe it or not, the best division in the NFL just got better.

First Down

As usual, the Seahawks drafted some players other teams would have taken later, if at all. Should people question their choices, or have they earned the benefit of the doubt?



Terry Blount: Have we learned nothing from the past? Questioning Seattle's draft strategy, along with undrafted signees, now seems a little foolish. Shall I name a few who stand out that other teams passed up or the experts questioned? Sherman, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith, for starters. The Seahawks bring in players with specific traits -- unusual athleticism, driving competitiveness and obvious intelligence. Where those players rank on another team's draft board means nothing to them. And at first glance from rookie camp, they found some winners in receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, along with defensive end Cassius Marsh.

Nick Wagoner: At this point, it's hard to argue with the results the Seahawks are getting from the players they draft. It is interesting that it seems like the first-round picks (such as James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin) are the ones who seem to struggle most relative to draft position. But the thing Seattle does so well is find players who fit the confines of who they want to be on both sides of the ball. Then they develop them and have them ready to go. It is why they never seem to miss a beat when injuries hit or a player is suspended. The results speak for themselves.

Josh Weinfuss: A little leeway should be given to the Seahawks because, first, they are the reigning NFL champions, and second, their personnel department has been able to piece together a pretty good roster with players who were not highly rated. With that being said, good will should only go so far. Sometimes a general manager and coach think they have the secret recipe and get cocky about their ability to find talent. When that happens, bad decisions are made. Obviously, the Seahawks have a reputation for picking good players, but they won't be right every time. Every team has an off draft and picks who don't pan out. It is also too early for us to know if some of their "rogue" picks will do anything. Their picks should definitely be questioned until they have a chance to show us their stuff.

Bill Williamson: The glue to the Seahawks is general manager John Schneider. Yes, coach Pete Carroll is a tremendous fit for the franchise and is a big part of the team's success. But Schneider is the architect of this franchise. He built this roster. There is little doubting the way he has drafted. Look at the core of the team -- they were all great value choices by Schneider. The tie goes to Schneider. You can doubt him if you choose, but it would be a lousy idea. Expect these Seattle rookies to develop into players. Schneider always wins.


Second Down

Do the additions of Johnson and Carlos Hyde give the 49ers the most dangerous offense in the division?



Blount: Both players will help, but the real key for the 49ers is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Having enough weapons wasn't really the problem. Using them effectively on a consistent basis and cutting down on mistakes is the issue. Kaepernick's extraordinary talent is unquestioned. But can he be the same type of team leader that Wilson is and make the big play in the most difficult moments? He couldn't do it last year in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. If he shows he can do that consistently when the big game is on the line, watch out.

Wagoner: Well, the competition for that crown isn't exactly daunting in a division known mostly for grinding it out offensively and dominating defensively. But the 49ers probably do have the most dangerous offense in the division. I don't personally think Johnson or Hyde will be a major difference-maker right away, but they don't have to be. Putting Johnson with a healthy Michael Crabtree at receiver and tight end Vernon Davis should allow Johnson to operate free of the pressure of being a No. 1 wideout. Hyde can learn from Frank Gore before taking over the reins. In terms of top-to-bottom talent across the roster, yes, the 49ers look to have the most dangerous offense in the NFC West.

Weinfuss: It is certainly looking like the 49ers have one of the most dangerous offenses in the division, if not the most dangerous. San Francisco has the right pieces at every position, from quarterback to running back to wide receiver to tight end. But the first question that came to mind when going through San Francisco's offensive depth chart is this: Will one football be enough to go around? This might turn into a case of the 49ers being better on paper than they are on the field, which has happened many times throughout the NFL. The Cardinals bolstered their skill positions during the offseason, giving themselves a lot of talent at wide receiver and tight end to complement two young running backs and a veteran quarterback who finds ways to win. A team can have all the ammunition in the world, but if the coach doesn't know how to use it, it will be stockpiled for naught.

Williamson: I think so. There is nothing missing from this offense. We saw how dynamic it can be when Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. Put Crabtree, the clutch Anquan Boldin and Johnson together and that is a great veteran group of receivers. Someone is always going to be open. Rookie Bruce Ellington was added to give the 49ers the ability to take the top off of defenses, an aspect they didn't possess last season. We didn't even mention Davis at tight end. Really, how is this offense going to be stopped? Kaepernick looked like a completely different quarterback when Crabtree played last season. Kaepernick with all of these weapons? Oh, and we didn't even mention the bread and butter of the 49ers' offense -- the running game. Hyde, Gore and a healthy Marcus Lattimore? How do you defend this group?


Third Down

After a narrow miss last season, have the Cardinals made enough of the right moves to get into the playoffs?



Blount: I don't think they needed to make many moves to reach the playoffs. Record-wise, they were a playoff team last season, but a victim of circumstances in the playoff structure. So the real question is can the Cardinals catch Seattle and/or San Francisco? And my answer is yes, especially the 49ers. Quarterback Carson Palmer will be better after having a full season in the Arizona offense. Bruce Arians might be the most underrated coach in the NFL. The team clearly is on the rise, while San Francisco's offseason turmoil could come back to bite it.

Wagoner: I like what Arizona did this offseason. The offensive line should be much better with the addition of Veldheer and the return of Jonathan Cooper. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a nice pickup, and first-round safety Bucannon should be a good complement to the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. But it is still going to be difficult for them to make the playoffs. The Seahawks and 49ers remain at the top of the heap, and until we see otherwise, it's hard to see how they fall from that perch unless injuries strike. That would still leave one playoff spot for the Cardinals. Three teams from the same division can make the playoffs, and it just happened last season, but I expect Arizona to take a small step back and just miss the cut again.

Weinfuss: The Cardinals have made enough moves to make the playoffs this season. They missed the postseason a year ago by a game, which might have been different if Arizona had been stocked with a better kick returner, left tackle, second cornerback and safety. The Cards addressed those issues in the offseason, which should make them better in 2014. Adding left tackle Veldheer to anchor the offensive line should ease Arians' concerns about Palmer's blind side. One thing Ginn has shown throughout his career is that he can return kicks with the best. But the biggest difference for the Cards will be their improved secondary. Signing talented veteran Cromartie gives the Cardinals two lockdown cornerbacks (along with Patrick Peterson) and drafting Bucannon gave Arizona an instant upgrade against tight ends and big receivers -- which there are plenty of in NFC West.

Williamson: I really like how well the Cardinals are coached. I think Arians is on to something. His players seem to respond to him. So the program will continue to rise under Arians. Also, I love the defense; it is nasty, aggressive and ball-hawking. Add great defense and a well-respected coaching staff and a team is going to win a lot of games. I think the bottom line with the Cardinals is quarterback play. Palmer had his moments last season, but I'm not a big believer in him. I think he will cost the Cardinals at some point. Maybe this is a playoff team, but I think the Cardinals are a couple of steps behind the Seahawks and the 49ers. The deficit starts at quarterback.


Fourth Down

The Rams decided not to draft help at wide receiver and waited until the sixth round to add a young quarterback. Will their offense score enough to make up ground in the NFC West?



Blount: Sure, it would have helped to add a top receiver, but is there a bigger unknown in the entire division than Sam Bradford? What the Rams, and everyone else, have to find out is whether Bradford is an elite quarterback. Frankly, I have my doubts, but he did play well last season before his injury. Bradford's situation is much different than that of Kaepernick, who is as gifted a player physically as you will ever see. In Bradford's case, it's hard to know how good he really is or can be, because he hasn't had top talent around him. And it doesn't help that he has to play six games against three of the of the best defenses in the NFL. It's time for Bradford to step up, no matter whom he is throwing the ball to each week.

Wagoner: The Rams are clearly hoping they will be able to win games in classic heavyweight slugfests by playing good defense and running the ball. The Rams did put up points against playoff teams like New Orleans and Indianapolis without Bradford, and most of the same cast of characters returns this season. The question is if they can score enough to overcome teams following a similar blueprint within the division? Adding Robinson and running back Tre Mason and having a full season of Rodger Saffold at guard should certainly help the run game. But until one or more of the young receivers proves himself and Bradford can consistently take advantage of play-action opportunities down the field, I don't see the offense being able to do enough to win games without the help of a special-teams or defensive score from week to week. The Rams should be better against division foes than they were a year ago and might be able to push Arizona, but it still seems unlikely it will be enough to overtake Seattle or San Francisco.

Weinfuss: The depth of the NFC West makes this the toughest question of the four. The Rams' additions weren't significant improvements to their offense, but will help. Bradford will come back with a vengeance and try to light up the scoreboard. He will have a talented group of receivers, but can they score enough to close the gap from the bottom of the West? Not sure that can happen. Rookie Robinson will take his lumps and bruises and might not come into his own until the second half of the season, so the Rams have to be hoping it's not too late by then. Points will be at a premium in the West, especially considering how good the three other defenses are, so the Rams will have to be even better than expected to make up ground, and I'm not sure they are ready for that just yet.

Williamson: Points scored? Who needs points with that defense. Man, the Rams' defense is getting silly good. Adding Donald to that defensive front should have been banned. It's simply unfair. The Rams are not going to allow many points this season. So the offense won't have to be overly dynamic. With that said, I am not a big Bradford fan. I don't think he is the answer. Until the Rams upgrade at quarterback, I don't think they will reach their full potential or be able to hang in the division race. But they will dangerous every week because of the defense.

 
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A wrap-up of the San Francisco 49ers' draft. Click here for a full list of 49ers draftees.

[+] EnlargeHyde
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWhile more NFL offenses move away from backs as their focus, the 49ers' selection of Carlos Hyde reaffirmed their commitment to the run.
Best move: Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, who was widely considered the best overall running back available. The devaluation of running backs has become an NFL trend. It has happened in the last couple of free-agency periods and in the last couple of drafts. However, the 49ers are still a run-first offense. Frank Gore is turning 31 next week and is entering the final year of his contract. Marcus Lattimore, who was taken in the fourth round last year, is still a question mark as he recovers from a devastating 2012 knee injury suffered while at South Carolina. Hyde can help immediately. He is tough and is a perfect fit for this offense. He'll be an instant contributor.

Riskiest move: Clemson guard Brandon Thomas. The risk lies in the fact that Thomas recently tore his ACL -- an injury he also suffered in high school. Taking a player in the third round fresh off of a torn ACL may be considered a risk, but it's a risk the 49ers are used to. They did it last year with Lattimore and defensive lineman Tank Carradine. If he can stay healthy, Thomas can be a long-term starter at guard. He was expected to go in the second round before his injury, so there is a reward factor with this risk.

Most surprising move: Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. We might as well start at the top. When it was announced the 49ers were taking Ward at No. 30, it was stunning. They took safety Eric Reid in the first round last year and they just signed Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal. However, as the smoke cleared, the pick started to make more sense. The highly regarded Ward will play nickel cornerback initially for the 49ers. It is the team's biggest need. Yes, we all expected the 49ers to take a cornerback early to play nickel, but they went with a safety. Surprise.

File it away: South Florida product and Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch has big skills, but the fifth-round pick has character issues as well. The 49ers visited with him extensively and have ties to him through South Florida -- coach Willie Taggert is a close friend of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Many scouts feel that if Lynch can avoid off-the-field issues, he can be a big-time pass-rusher. Lynch's role model is the late Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, whom he researched on the internet. It's worth a shot for a team that is deep and had so many picks.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers -- the power brokers of the 2014 draft as they entered with a league-high six picks in the first three rounds -- did their thing Friday night. It was one big, messy, impossible-to-follow cluster of picks.

But once the second day screeched to a stop, some clarity was achieved: The 49ers’ offense has gotten a lot more powerful.

After shocking the league by taking hard-hitting safety Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois at No. 30 to play nickel cornerback (their biggest need), the 49ers acquired veteran receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo in the hours before the draft. That move clearly warmed up general manager Trent Baalke. After making three trades in the second round, Baalke landed one of the premier skill-position players available in the second round in Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.

In all, Baalke made four trades Friday and acquired Johnson from Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round pick. Baalke’s moves Friday night netted the 49ers a fourth-round pick from Denver, so they essentially got Johnson for free.

The 49ers added Johnson and Hyde to an offense that seemed to be missing just one extra ingredient in 2013.

San Francisco, riding one of the NFL’s most rugged defenses to become an elite franchise again, struggled on offense before Michael Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. His return made quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in his first full season as a starter, a much more confident, dangerous player down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Last season ended in Seattle with Kaepernick's intended pass to Crabtree in the end zone in the final seconds of a wild NFC title game being deflected and intercepted. The year before, the 49ers’ offense was just yards away from a Super Bowl victory.

San Francisco hopes the addition of the steady Johnson and the rugged Hyde will be enough to get them those last few yards to their first Super Bowl title in 20 years.

Instead of dipping into a deep receiver class, the 49ers jumped at Johnson, who became expendable after Buffalo selected Sammy Watkins on Thursday.

Add Johnson to an arsenal that includes Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis and Kaepernick should always have someone open. It should also help free Kaepernick to run.

The Hyde pick was a reminder the 49ers are run-first operation. The 49ers’ blueprint is to grind down opposing defenses with a mauling offensive line. The engine of that attack has been the venerable Frank Gore, who quietly has strung together a potential Hall of Fame career in San Francisco. But Gore turns 31 next week and he’s entering the final season of his contract.

The 49ers are paying Gore $6.4 million in 2014. They still believe in him. But Hyde and 2013 four-round pick Marcus Lattimore are the future. Hyde will get a chance to play now.

Hyde fits the Gore mold. He is 6 feet, 230 pounds. Hyde, who averaged 7.3 yards a carry and 3.1 yards after contact last season, described his running style as “violent.”

“He was the highest-rated player on our board,” Baalke said. “He’s more than just a power back.”

The 49ers are counting on Johnson and Hyde to propel the 49ers’ offense past Seattle’s Super Bowl defense.
videoSANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The pick: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

My take: I can't argue with the value. The 49ers, with a league-high five picks tonight, waited and let the board come to them. They made two trades and pounced on Hyde. Frank Gore, entering the final year of his contract, is nearing the end of his career. Hyde will be the big back for the 49ers for the next several years. The 49ers continue to rely on a punishing rushing game and this pick confirms it.

Don’t forget Lattimore: The 49ers took running back Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round last year. He is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in 2012. The 49ers won’t rush him. But a tandem of Hyde and Lattimore could be pretty special down the road.

What’s next: The 49ers will likely look at cornerbacks, receivers and offensive linemen next.

49ers contract status update

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
8:00
AM ET
Free agency starts in 11 days. Along with every other team, the San Francisco 49ers are putting together their final plans. The 49ers are in pretty nice shape. They are poised to be $15-16 million under the salary cap.

The team has gained cap room by reducing deals for backup safety Craig Dahl and backup receiver Jon Baldwin. They want cornerback Carlos Rogers back at a much reduced salary from the $6 million he is due. If he doesn't accept a pay cut, he will likely be cut. General manager Trent Baalke has said he doesn't think the team needs to reduce the salary of running back Frank Gore, who is set to make $6.4 million.

The deadline giving a player the franchise tag is Monday. The 49ers are not expected to use the tag. They have been close to a deal with receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, 33, is likely looking at a two- or three-year deal. He could be paid up to $17 million if it is a three-year deal. The team's other priority free agents are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The 49ers extended the deal of Daniel Kilgore on Thursday. He was set to be a free agent next year. That means he is in line to start next year and that the 49ers likely won't re-sign Jonathan Goodwin, who started at center the past three years.

The team is not expected to give the restricted free-agent tender to backup defensive lineman DeMarcus Dobbs and cornerback Perrish Cox. That would make them unrestricted free agents.
I departed another day of meetings at ESPN headquarters to see Vernon Davis is hinting that his friend -- and Bay Area native -- Maurice Jones-Drew may have interest in joining him in San Francisco.

Davis
Jones-Drew
Hmmm.

Davis posted a picture of himself with the running back on Instagram with the caption, “Me and Maurice Jones Drew discussing the FUTURE a few nights ago. #San Francisco.’’

So does that mean we should expect the running back to end up with the 49ers?

I’d doubt it.

Sure, Jones-Drew probably would be interested in coming back to the Bay Area and playing for a winning team.

But the 49ers really don’t have much need for a veteran running back. Frank Gore is still very much in the plans and the team is looking for 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore to make contribution in 2014 after recovering from a torn ACL.

Plus, the 49ers have other needs.

With all that said, I rarely dismiss anything. Too many crazy things happen. So if Jones-Drew’s price is reasonable, who knows, but two weeks prior to the start of free agency this does not look like a natural pairing to me.
Echoing what coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Thursday and keeping to the mantra of the organization, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke predictably had this message when speaking to the media Friday: the team’s free-agent plan will be to keep its own.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep our own guys,” Baalke said.

Whitner
The 49ers' top priorities in the coming weeks (free agency starts March 11) are to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson, and perhaps cornerback Tarell Brown. Whitner might be the most difficult to sign. If I had to guess, I’d say Boldin has the best chance of being signed before free agency.

In other topics Baalke addressed:
  • Baalke praised running back Frank Gore for another productive season in 2013 and told reporters the 49ers don’t necessarily have to approach Gore to take a pay cut. He is to make $6.4 million this season.
  • Baalke said he expects Michael Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody to fill in for linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the first half of the season as Bowman recovers from torn ACL. Baalke also indicated the team could bring in some competition. He said Bowman will not be rushed.
  • As he did in October, Baalke said the team has no intentions of trading running back/kick returner LaMicheal James. Baalke said he believes James, a second-round pick in 2012, will get more opportunities to run the ball moving forward.
  • Baalke said pass-rushing star Aldon Smith is going well and said the team has “a great support system for him." Smith missed five games in 2013 when he voluntarily entered a substance abuse center. He finished the season strong.
  • Baalke spoke glowingly of 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. The receiver finished the season strong after missing 10 games with a broken foot. Patton impressed the team with his zeal for the game.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

In our NFL confidential survey, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the most votes when players were asked which player do they most want to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson was a popular choice among the 10 49ers players polled. So it's not surprising he was the leading vote getter. Most of the 49ers’ roster was not eligible because they qualified for the Super Bowl last season.

If not, I’m sure players like running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis would have received votes because they are so well respected around the league.

Small 49ers' Pro Bowl group

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
8:00
AM ET
There will not be a big San Francisco 49ers' contingent at this weekend's Pro Bowl.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks told the San Jose Mercury News he expects to be the only 49er there. Eight 49ers made the team, which was announced in December. It was tied for the most with Kansas City.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) and guard Mike Iupati (leg) were seriously injured in the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game Sunday. Left tackle Joe Staley suffered a minor thumb injury.

Brooks told the paper running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis aren't planning on playing and tight end Vernon Davis told reporters nagging injuries will keep him out.

All the bail outs are not surprising. Often players, especially players who have been to the Pro Bowl in the past, choose to rest rather to go to the Pro Bowl. It is especially not surprising in the 49ers' case. They just ended a three-week window in which they played three road playoff games.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider