Notebook: Taking care of Gore in several ways

If the 49ers and Frank Gore had entered the 2007 season without a new contract, the team's best player would have also been one of its lowest-paid players. Clearly, something had to be done, and coach Mike Nolan said the timing was right for the 49ers to sign Gore to a five-year, $28 million extension that was a good deal for both the team and its star performer.

"It was a little early because Frank just finished his second year," Nolan said, "but if you identify somebody you want to have that is a good player - that you want to have around for awhile - it's good to get it done early because the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets and the closer it gets to them seeing that window for free agency."

The 49ers essentially controlled Gore's rights for the next three seasons. He was signed through 2007, but the team could have given him a high tender next year as a restricted free agent, then made him their franchise player in 2009.

But the 49ers and agent Drew Rosenhaus worked out a contract that makes Gore one of the top-10 paid running backs in the league.

Gore turns 24 on May 14 and has played just two NFL seasons. Although he was not the starter as a rookie, Gore still led the team with 608 yards rushing despite starting only one game, averaging a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. The 49ers dealt Kevan Barlow to the Jets for a fourth-round pick in August when it became apparent that Gore would become the team's featured back.

Gore's production was a big reason behind the 49ers' improvement to a 7-9 record last season. He rushed for a franchise-record 1,695 yards. He also led the team with 61 receptions and rolled up a franchise-record 2,180 yards from scrimmage. His average of 5.4 yards per carry ranked seventh in league history for running backs with at least 300 carries.

Nolan said the timing of Gore's new deal was great for the 49ers because, even though he does not have a lengthy NFL resume, the team locked up a player who should have a few more quality years ahead of him.

They also take care one of the team's young building blocks who has already has out-performed his former contract by leaps and bounds and now has a deal in place that is more in balance with his performance and production.

"The good thing is that when we looked at the other running backs, when they re-did their deals, most of them four, five or six years into their careers," Nolan said. "We get him as a young player, when he's still early in his career. That's a good thing. He had an outstanding year and if he has another one, it gets all the more expensive. And we don't think it's a fluke. If you think it's a situation where the guy just lucks into it, like Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl year, but that's not the case (with Gore)."

The only reason for concern with Gore is his history of injuries. He sustained torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees at the University of Miami (Fla.), and he underwent major surgeries on both shoulders after his rookie season with the 49ers.

He had not made it through a full season without being limited by injuries since his senior year of high school before holding up as the team's workhorse last season.

Now that Gore is locked up through the 2011 season, Nolan is talking about making better use of his backups to keep Gore healthy, fresh and productive.

"For us, it's featuring the guy who is your best player," Nolan said. "If you have another, I think that's a good way, too. You don't want to beat up your best guy. You want to take a little bit of wear off him. (Gore) likes to play, though. Some guys like to come out so when they go back in it's a fresh carry. Frank is not that way. Frank wants to stay in there all the time, even when he's a little gassed."

Gore said the day after the season that his goal for 2007 was to rush for 2,200 yards, which would break Eric Dickerson's league record of 2,105, set in 1984. But it does not appear as if Nolan wants to give Gore that kind of opportunity with an increased number of carries.

"Hopefully, he'll be a little less (carries) than this past year," Nolan said. "It would be nice to get somebody in there who could take some of the load. But he is the guy for us. We'll see how things go."

Currently, the 49ers' backups are Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks. Robinson was converted to running back after leading Penn State to national prominence as a quarterback. Hicks is a restricted free agent who still might attract some attention before the April 20 deadline for him to sign with another club. (The 49ers would have the right to match any contract.)

Depending on what happens with Hicks, the 49ers make consider using one of their several mid-round draft selections to bring in another running back to compete for playing time behind Gore and take some of the load off him. But Gore doesn't have to worry about seeing his playing time limited.

"He really enjoys playing, being on the field, so I don't have any problem with that," Nolan said. "You just sometimes have to be careful. There's a lot of wear and tear on a running back who runs like he does. He doesn't shy away from too much and he's not a huge guy. He takes a lot of punishment."

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The 49ers resisted the temptation last off-season to sign some free agents that might have provided short-term answers because the club had its eyes on getting some compensatory picks. When the league announced those picks, the 49ers got what they expected.

The 49ers will have picks at the ends of the third and fourth rounds, compensatory for losing linebacker Julian Peterson and defensive end Andre Carter to free agency. The 49ers receive the 34th pick of the third round, No. 97 overall, and the 36th pick of the fourth round, No. 135 overall.

The 49ers' free-agent signing of receiver Antonio Bryant was canceled out because of the team's loss of tackle Anthony Clement, who started all 16 games last season for the Jets at right tackle.

The 49ers are scheduled to have 10 draft picks, including eight in the first four rounds.

San Francisco currently has the No. 11 overall selection in the first round, the 10th selection in the second round (No. 42 overall), the 12th (No. 76) and 34th (No. 97) of the third round, the fifth (No. 104), 11th (No. 110), 25th (No. 124) and 36th (No. 135) of the fourth round, the 10th pick (No. 147) of the fifth round and the 12th (No. 186) of the sixth round.

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Those 10 draft picks - including eight selections in the first four rounds - give the 49ers a lot of flexibility. The team could package some of those selections to move up to acquire another first- or second-round draft pick.

The 49ers could trade their fourth-round pick (No. 76) and their first two fourth-round selections (Nos. 104 and 110) to move up 23 spots to get the No. 53 overall selection. Or, they could package their second-round pick (No. 42) and all three of their tradeable fourth-round picks (Nos. 104, 110 and 124) to move up into the late first round.

With so many picks, it gives the 49ers plenty of ammunition to go up and get a player they really like.

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The Seahawks are shopping receiver Darrell Jackson in trade talks. The 49ers and Seahawks have not held any serious discussions, but the 49ers have not shut the door on making a deal.

Meanwhile, Rosenhaus, who negotiated Gore's contract, is trying to create interest from the 49ers in a trade for disgruntled Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. The 49ers have said they have no interest in making a deal.

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Quarterback Alex Smith said he can apply lessons he learned from Norv Turner for the rest of his career. After Turner accepted the Chargers' head-coaching job, he told the young quarterback that Smith did not need him any more.

"Last year was a big step for us and now it's time to take the next step," Smith said. "A lot of that falls on my shoulders now. I learned a tremendous amount that will continue to help me throughout my career. Just because he's not here this year, I still think his influence will still be there."

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Defensive end Melvin Oliver, a sixth-round draft pick who started 14 games as a rookie, ranked No. 14 in the league in rolling in an additional $223,517 in performance based pay.

Oliver was the only 49ers player to rank in the league's top 25 in performance based pay. He recorded 50 tackles and one sack and scored a touchdown on a fumble return.

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