San Francisco 49ers: Steve Smith

Let’s look deeper into the San Francisco 49ers’ interest in free-agent receivers Julian Edelman of New England and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants.

Odds of landing them: There is competition. The Patriots want Edelman back and Cleveland has been connected to him as well. Nicks is visiting Indianapolis on Friday. Carolina is also interested. The 49ers don’t have a ton of salary-cap room, so they have to get creative in a deal with either player.

Who else is out there if Edelman and Nicks don’t end up with 49ers: The top available receivers include Steve Smith, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerome Simpson.

Who is the best fit? Probably Nicks because he is an outside receiver. Landing him on a short-term deal to see if he can become a top-notch player again could be smart. Don’t get me wrong; Edelman is good as well. You don’t catch 105 balls in a season if you’re not talented. But Anquan Boldin is essentially a slot guy as well. Still, I’m sure the 49ers could find ways to make it work.

How Crabtree, Boldin and the draft figure: Crabtree is a free agent next year and Boldin is 33. So, even if the 49ers sign Edelman or Nicks, I can still see them taking a receiver early in the draft.

Kaepernick factor: I’m sure quarterback Colin Kaepernick is paying attention. This passing offense could be nasty with Boldin, Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis and Nicks or Edelman. It would open it up. It could also behoove Kaepernick to wait to get his contract done until next year. He could put up big numbers with another top weapon.

Should Seattle worry? Yes. The 49ers must get better on offense to beat Seattle. That was the reason why the 49ers couldn’t overtake Seattle in 2013. A big-time offensive weapon could even the playing field.

Scout's thoughts: “I was a little surprised to be honest, especially after the re-signing of Boldin. Quinton Patton also shows some promise, but this would be a heck of a receiver corps if is Patton is your No. 4. I would think if they were in the market for WR though, that they would be looking for a pure speed guy, which isn't Nicks or Edelman.” -- ESPN analyst Matt Williamson
While I still think it would be a good idea for the San Francisco 49ers to trade running back LaMichael James to the Philadelphia Eagles, it won’t happen.

There's no room in Philly for a shifty running back. Chip Kelly -- who coached James at Oregon -- got his tailback Thursday when he traded for Darren Sproles from New Orleans. As for James, the 49ers can only hope he can become the Sproles-like weapon they envisioned when they spent a second-round pick on him in 2012.

James has made little impact on offense, but he did become a solid return man last season. If James doesn’t make something happen in a crowded backfield in 2014, his time in San Francisco could be limited.

In other 49ers' notes:

The Eagles signed cornerback Nolan Carroll. The 49ers had shown interest in him. The 49ers are reportedly visiting with Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook on Thursday. They still want to keep free-agent cornerback Tarell Brown.

Carolina released Steve Smith on Thursday. If the 49ers are interested -- here are some reasons they could be -- the time is now.

Second-year defensive lineman Quinton Dial switched from No. 71 to No. 92. He made the request weeks ago. It had nothing to do with the addition of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who wore No. 71 in Miami. If Martin wants to keep the number, though, it is available.
The San Francisco 49ers likely aren’t going to spend much more money in free agency, but I would not be surprised if they consider adding a veteran receiver to help with their depth.

While the 49ers will surely address the position early in the draft, there has been enough whispers around the league to suggest they are not averse to bringing in a receiver earlier.

Golden Tate told a Seattle radio station, after he signed with Detroit, that the 49ers showed interest. It is doubtful they were willing to pay big dollars, though. Tate reportedly received $31 million over five years from the Lions.

The 49ers also had some interest in Dexter McCluster before he signed with the Titans and there has been some interest in Minnesota’s Jerome Simpson.

There could be some decent receivers available over the next several days. Among the top receivers who could potentially be signed at a reasonable price include Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice and Emmanuel Sanders. Then there’s the possibility Steve Smith could soon be free.

Again, the 49ers may not be big free-agent players at a position they will address in the draft, but they have been looking. And if the price is right, there could possibly be a connection.

Steve Smith intrigues me.

I’m sure he also intrigues, at least, some members of the San Francisco 49ers’ decision-making team. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the 49ers pursued the California native if, as expected, he becomes available.

There is a lot of 49ers love for Smith, who is likely on his way out of Carolina. He was actually teammates with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in 2001. After the 49ers beat Carolina in the playoffs in January, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick tweeted a photo of him and Smith hugging after the game with the text: “respect the hell out of his game.”

Plus, the 49ers, who have snooped around some receivers recently, have been known to add aging stars, including receiver Randy Moss two years ago. Smith, who will turn 35 in May, had a nice year for the Panthers in 2013. He had 64 catches for 745 yards, proving he can still play.

The 49ers' starters are Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. They will very likely look to add a speedster early in the draft. Quinton Patton, entering his second season, also figures to have a role. Adding a top rookie prospect and Smith wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. It would just give Kaepernick more weapons. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson his thoughts and he said he thinks Smith could be a fit because of his desire to win. It also would help the team bring along a rookie at a gradual pace.

For the short term, a trio of Crabtree, Boldin and Smith would be pretty intriguing. Boldin and Smith are third-down monsters. Someone would always be open, especially if the 49ers get the right speed guy in the draft. I’m sure there would be other fine fits for Smith, but there’s reason to believe why the 49ers could be an interesting fit themselves.