Niners may take No. 1 mystery up to draft Saturday

The draft week countdown began Monday with the 49ers holding firm to their leverage at the No. 1 overall selection. As rumors swirl wildly and speculation grows regarding what the team will do with the pick in five days, coach Mike Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughlan sat before a media gathering and said the mystery could persist even after the Niners are on the clock Saturday morning. But if the 49ers do deal the pick, it likely will be with a team that owns a top-10 pick behind them.

Anybody that thought the Niners might be shedding some real light on what their plans are at No. 1 were sadly disappointed when Nolan started his first draft luncheon as Niners coach by saying, "It is important for us to maintain an open mind throughout this process to maintain value for our pick."

That hardly could be construed as making progress on one of the most important decisions in franchise history – certainly the most important since the team began winning Super Bowls – but Nolan indicated that's the way it could be up until the beginning of the draft Saturday as the team continues to try to maximize the value of the first No. 1 overall selection it has held since 1964.

"In order to maintain the value of that pick, it is important that we do that," Nolan said. "Once you show your hand, so to speak, the value of that pick is pretty much gone. It is important to us to take it to the very end to maintain the value in it."

Nolan reiterated that the team has narrowed its choices to three prospects – Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Utah quarterback Alex Smith and Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards – if it indeed keeps the pick. But he also gave a strong indication that the pick definitely is available to all comers at the right price.

"Everyone can be bought, so to speak," Nolan said. "We are open to other people to discuss trade possibilities. We have been all along. We certainly feel there is a lot of value with the player that we take with the first pick, but we also are realistic about the value of that if someone wants to come to the door or to the table. So, there is a good chance of that."

Nolan continues to play the game with a patient poker face as decision day looms. Conflicting reports of the team's preference at No. 1 continue to flood the media on a daily basis; one day it's Rodgers in the lead, the next day Smith, then Edwards' name enters the picture again.

But there also is plenty of talk heating up among the teams that pick directly behind the 49ers and then later in the top third of the first round. Nolan said either he or McCloughan "have spoken with just about everybody, a lot of people at the top." After the top 10 teams in this year's draft order, Nolan said, the interest has dropped because the price goes up.

It also has been made clear that Miami and Cleveland – who have the Nos. 2 and 3 selections behind the Niners – also are interested in moving around with their picks. But if a team was to trade into one of those spots before the draft, it couldn't be certain the 49ers wouldn't pick the player they had targeted first.

Nolan said he is hearing interest from possible trade suitors to move up for three players in particular.

"Jockeying for position with someone behind us - I think everyone is a little reluctant to do that with Miami and Cleveland because they don't know what we're going to do," Nolan said. "So if someone jockeys that position and someone else knows what that player wants and they want that same player, they could basically go to us. Everyone is kind of reluctant to do anything and are all talking. If someone wants their player, they have to come to us, that is obvious, because we have the top pick.

"I think everyone is afraid right now to do any maneuvering prior to the draft because if they get second or third position, they're not guaranteed anything. That's where we maintain a position of value in our pick by taking the stand that we've taken. And that's important to us because the people that we're speaking to already are people that we think cut in the value of that selection."

Negotiations continue with representatives of Edwards, Rodgers and Smith on a contract agreement could be in place with one – or all three – before the first pick is called Saturday. But Nolan said a deal would not be signed or finalized before the Niners make their pick.

And who is that pick going to be? The Niners' inner circle may know in their hearts and minds by now, but they're not letting on, and don't plan to do so until the clock starts ticking Saturday.

"If we take it to the very last, it could take to the very last," Nolan said when asked if there was a deadline when the team would accept a trade offer. "There is no deadline, other than we've got 15 minutes when we go on the clock. That will be it."

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