News: Niners general manager Trent Baalke breaks down tape of San Francisco's 10 recent draft picks with team beat writers during a film session at 49ers headquarters.
Views: It's one thing for a GM to break down the qualities of players verbally. It's quite another for him to do it verbally while at the same time providing the visual to go along with his words. Baalke spent almost two hours in a darkened conference room Thursday morning with writers, and it was just the latest example of Baalke's personnel knowledge and media accessibility. As Baalke rattled off terms and phrases such as "functional on your feet," "motor-skill development," "ability to change arm angles," "down in the dirt," "quickness, strength and bursts," "wired right," "football savvy," "try-hard players," and "dirty birds," you get the impression this is just what it's like when Baalke's alone watching film with team scouts and other personnel types. And after those two hours, not only do we know more about those 10 draft picks, but to a man they all look a whole lot better. It's nice to put some live action next to the names.
News: Baalke puts the ball in Nate Clements' court regarding the overpaid cornerback's return in 2011.
Views: In bringing up the Clements issue, we're reminded of a one-on-one interview we had with Clements during his first training camp with the team while writing a profile on him for the Associated Press. When the conversation turned toward the blockbuster contract he got from the Niners as a free agent – an eight-year, $80 million deal that at the time it was signed made Clements the highest-paid defender in NFL history – Clements smiled, gazed into the horizon and said, "It is what it is." What it is today is the most ludicrous contract on the team, bar none. When asked during this week's film session if Clements will still be a 49er by the time the 2011 season begins, Baalke responded, "I don't know, you have to ask Nate. Honestly, I can't tell you right now." That was Baalke's way of stating the obvious: The Niners wouldn't mind having Clements back – particulary considering their uncertainty in a secondary that was thrashed repeatedly last year – but only at a greatly reduced price from the approximately $15 million Clements would be due this season thanks to a contract that has turned into an albatross around Clements' neck if he wants to remain with the team. The 49ers already have paid Clements the approximately $20 million that was guaranteed by his contract. Once the NFL lockout is over, the 49ers could cut Clements immediately and not owe him another nickel. Which is an interesting way to put it, since all Clements might now be good for is playing inside in nickel coverage this year if he continues to regress like he has the past two seasons. Clements played at a Pro Bowl level during his first season with the 49ers in 2007 and was still a solid starter in 2008. But he has slipped the past two seasons, and clearly has lost a step to the point that he can sometimes be a liability in coverage. Clements is a 31-year-old veteran entering his 11th NFL season. No way is he any longer worth the back-loaded contract that ties him to the team through 2014 and rewards him almost $50 million over the final four years, which is money Clements will never see. It's up to Clements if he wants to remain a 49er. The question we'd be asking Nate right now is how many other teams out there would want him at any price.
News: The 49ers promote Jeff Ferguson to director of football operations and sports medicine.
Views: Ferguson, fondly known as "Fergie" around the team, is one of the last men standing from the Mike Nolan era. Ferguson became the team's head athletic trainer in 2006 and has handled the role capably and diligently. While others in team personnel and front-office management have dropped one-by-one around him in recent years, Ferguson now will oversee the 49ers' strength and conditioning, team logistics, equipment and video operations departments. As Baalke said, "Jeff has always done an exceptional job of caring for our players and coaches, and has a way of bringing the people around him together for a common goal. Over the past five seasons, Jeff has proven to all of us at the 49ers that he is a highly capable administrator." And now he is one in a much truer sense. Congratulations, Fergie.
News: The 49ers terminate their working relationship with Lal Heneghan.
Views: Heneghan was fired this week after spending five seasons as the 49ers' executive vice president of football administration. While his face would occasionally pop up outside the building at 49ers headquarters, he was a behind-the-scenes guy who oversaw the team's day-to-day football administration as well as legal affairs. Heneghan was brought on board in 2006 when the doddering Niners were attempting to give their organization legitimate structure in the wake of the fiasco that was the Dennis Erickson/Terry Donahue regime. But after Scot McCloughan was promoted to general manager in 2008, and Jed York was made team president at the conclusion of that season, we always kind of wondered exactly where Heneghan fit in. Now, obviously, he doesn't.
News: Vernon Davis joins Frank Gore among the NFL Network's top 100 players of 2011.
Views: Well, why wouldn't Davis be included in such a list? He clearly is developing into one of the NFL's elite tight ends, and 2011 could be his best season yet. Well, here's one reason: The list is voted on by NFL players. Davis wouldn't have received many votes from those types before 2009, which shows you how much he has turned around his career since then. Davis was announced this week by the NFL Network as the 88th-best on the list of the game's top performers. Gore was named No. 94 on the list last week. Both players actually should be a little higher, but that recognition will never come until the 49ers turn into winners, and time is starting to run out for Gore to move upward on the list. That's not the case for Davis, whose best days are still ahead. Don't expect to see many more 49ers on the list as it is revealed on a weekly basis over the next few months. In fact, expect to see only two more – defensive lineman Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis, with Smith hardly the lock to be included that Willis is. After four Pro Bowl seasons, everybody knows how special Willis is, so he has a legitimate shot at the top 25 if NFL players truly are voting on playing-field merit.
News: Tim Ryan is named as analyst for 49ers preseason television broadcasts.
Views: This position has really been upgraded in recent years with Ryan, the San Jose native and former NFL player, following in the footsteps of former 49ers Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Davis, who will move into the radio booth this season to become play-by-play man Ted Robinson's sidekick in place of departed analyst Gary Plummer. Ryan's pedigree is Grade-A solid: He has called more than 145 NFL games on network television as a color analyst for Fox Sports and currently hosts "Movin' The Chains" on Sirius XM satellite radio. Ryan is familiar with the 49ers, having made several trips to the team's training camp in recent seasons and also having called several 49ers game in his role with Fox Sports, so there couldn't have been a much better choice to replace Davis.
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