Smiley, Harris on trading block?

The 49ers have made their offensive line a top priority since the day Mike Nolan arrived to take control of the franchise in 2005, but a shakeup could be coming before draft weekend as San Francisco addresses the long-term future of a unit that Nolan considers the most important on the team.

The 49ers' offensive line was one of the bright spots for the club last season, helping generate holes for running back Frank Gore to rush for a franchise-record 1,695 yards - a performance that made Gore the NFC's starter in the Pro Bowl.

Still, it has come as a bit of a surprise that the 49ers have not yet addressed that area during the offseason.

The 49ers spent nearly $40 million in guaranteed money to sign free agents - most of them on defense - but the club has not made any moves on the offensive line, the area that Nolan said last season is more important than even quarterback.

Left guard Larry Allen, the perennial Pro Bowler, is entering his 14th NFL season and will turn 36 during the middle of it. Allen, who still is a dominant run blocker even at this stage of his career, is entering the final year of his contract, and there is considerable belief the sure-thing Hall of Famer will finally choose to retire in 2008 and bring an end to his brilliant career.

But the 49ers have not only the impending retirement of Allen to consider as they look forward. The team has two 16-game starters from last season who are entering the final seasons of their rookie contracts, and it is unclear whether right guard Justin Smiley and right tackle Kwame Harris fit into the team's long-term plans.

The 49ers began discussing a contract extension last season with Smiley, but came to the conclusion his contract demands were far more than they were willing to pay. Smiley is adamant that he wants to return to the 49ers and continue his career in San Francisco, and team officials have said it's not their intention to part ways with a young building block who was so instrumental in the team's rushing success last year.

But one thing the 49ers aren't willing to do is overpay Smiley - or any other player, for that matter. Handing out the monster cash recently to free agent Nate Clements is an aberration in the team's spending philosophy.

If the Niners indeed are unable or unwilling to pay the kind of money that will ensure that Smiley is with the club in 2008, look for them to part ways with him now in order to guarantee that they get something in return. Now, as in the next dozen days before draft weekend arrives.

As the draft approaches, Smiley and Harris are expected to become the subject of trade talks - perhaps heavy trade talks. The names of both players circulated a year ago in trade rumors. The Broncos were intrigued with acquiring Smiley, while the Falcons and Texans had reported interest in Harris.

Smiley is an aggressive blocker with the athleticism to get out and pull on sweeps while delivering a wallop in the open field, but size and strength are not the high points of his game, and those are qualities the 49ers envision for their long-term line.

Harris, while not being a first-round bust as some claim him to be, hasn't exactly lived up to his status as the team's top pick in 2003, either. He is a quality run blocker, but still has not developed into a quality pass blocker after four pro seasons. While there still is belief that he can be a solid all-around starting tackle, he is beginning to look more like a journeyman.

The 49ers have 10 selections, including eight in the first four rounds, on draft weekend. The offensive line is expected to get some attention, possibly as high as the first round.

The 49ers own the No. 11 overall pick. The club would seriously consider Penn State tackle Levi Brown, if he were to still be available when San Francisco selects. If the 49ers were able to add Brown, it might answer a lot of questions if the 49ers decide to part ways with both Smiley and Harris.

There are several other prospects the 49ers can consider with their other first-day selections and bounty of fourth-round picks who could bolster the team's depth and battle for playing time inside.

Brown could start at right tackle as a rookie, which could have a ripple effect on the entire offensive line. Adam Snyder, slated to challenge Harris for the starting job at right tackle, could be switched inside to guard, where he has performed admirably before in his young career.

Snyder would compete with David Baas, the No. 33 overall pick in the 2005 draft, who has yet to make an impact but still has the potential to be the force the 49ers anticipated when they made him the second draft pick of the Nolan era.

The Niners also have a young up-and-comer in unheralded Tony Wragge, who beat out Baas a year ago as a top backup. Wragge has the ability to play both guard positions and also started in place of regular center Eric Heitmann when Heitmann was injured near the end of last season. Baas also has potential as a starting center.

So the 49ers, who are looking to be creative on draft day with all the picks they own, will listen to any and all offers for Harris and Smiley, whether they get veterans in returns or draft picks that could add to their flexibility during what will be a consequential draft weekend for the franchise.

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