The NFL season may have ended Sunday with the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but every team in the league has been busily preparing for next season – although no one knows how it might be affected by the negotiating process over a new collective bargaining agreement.
Like everyone else, the San Francisco 49ers are moving forward in a business-as-usual mode. Their next step is the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 24-27 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Niners GM Trent Baalke addressed the Combine and other topics with the team's Web site recently. Here are a few highlights:
On the importance of the Combine: "It's certainly another evaluation tool, but it comes down to the film. It comes down to how these guys play with their pads on. There's guys every year that go to the Combine and blow it out, post huge numbers, and on film you just don't see it. We're the type of guys that, we want to see it on film. If they can play, they can play, and the film doesn't lie."
On the benefits of the Combine: "It's a great time. It's a chance for the coaches to sit down with these players and X and O with them a little bit. It's a time where you get a lot out of the interviews. Even though they're 15 minutes long, sitting down visiting with them you really get a feel, a snapshot of who they are, what they're about."
On his relationship with coach Jim Harbaugh: "It's been fun. It's been everything that we thought it was going to be. When we went through the process, we talked about finding the fit, and the fit was obviously what we were looking for, and it's been no different. He's a ball coach. He loves the game. He loves all phases of it, just as I do, and it's been a great working environment."
On how deep the 49ers think the draft might be: "We certainly don't want to tip off what we feel about this draft or what we feel about certain positions in this draft. Every year, you start out pessimistic, and as you go through the process you find out that the draft was a little bit better than you thought it was. There's more players at certain positions than you thought there was, so from that standpoint I feel good every year. There's going to be enough good players to choose from. We've just got to make the right decisions, and that's on us.
"As far as coach, coach is going to be very involved, especially in the quarterback process. We're certainly going to use his expertise in that area to help us make the right decision."
It's possible any decision could involved Alex Smith, who becomes a free agent in March after six mostly unproductive seasons with the Niners. Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reports that Harbaugh has met with Smith several times and plans to meet with him again this week.
"Yeah, we were out on the field," Harbaugh told Maiocco. "Just two guys throwing the ball around. … I've had a couple of meetings with him. It's been good. And I look forward to continuing that when he's back in town."
How to evaluate Harbaugh evaluating Smith? It's pretty clear that if the 49ers can't acquire a veteran such as Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles or sign a soon-to-be free agent such as Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks, Alex Smith might be a viable option.