49ers Sign Rookie Williams, Promote Baalke

The 49ers made a flurry of moves on Thursday, almost all of them dealing with front office and scouting personnel. However, one signing that might have slipped through the cracks is receiver Kyle Williams, the 206th overall pick from Arizona State, who put pen to paper and agreed to a four-year deal with the team. The Niners can only hope Williams will be similarly elusive on the field.

Williams (5-10, 186), who played in 41 games for the Sun Devils, totaled 109 receptions for 1,626 yards and 18 touchdowns, 74 punt returns for 768 yards and 31 kickoff returns for 709 yards for his career. In 2009 he played in 11 games (9 starts) and led the team with 57 catches for 815 yards and eight touchdowns, while returning 23 punts for 229 yards. He earned second-team All-Pac 10 honors as a punt returned as senior and an Honorable Mention as a junior, where he led the conference with 17.0 yards per punt return.

The son of Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams, the newest 49er was born in San Jose and is hoping to find a spot on the team so that he can play in front of family a friends. His niche should be as a slot receiver and punt returner and he was able to showcase his talents during the team's just-completed OTAs. Trent Baalke, the man who drafted Williams (more on him below), said that Williams brings a skill set that's unique on the team in that no one else possesses his combination of speed, quickness, change-of-direction and hands. He might also be the only natural slot receiver on the roster.

His stiffest competition for a roster spot figures to come from holdovers Jason Hill and Brandon Jones at receiver, and from fellow rookie LeRoy Vann at returner.

Meanwhile, in the boardroom, the 49ers promoted Baalke, their former Director of Player Personnel, to Vice President of Player Personnel, which was the title Scot McCloughan had before he was promoted to general manager. Of course by now everyone knows that McCloughan left the team under nebulous circumstances five weeks before last April's draft, leaving Baalke to run the show.

Baalke did well enough in Team President Jed York's estimation to get the official promotion (including a four-year deal, and, one assumes, a bump in pay) to the job he had been already been doing in McCloughan's stead. York explained that Baalke would have far more responsibilities now involving the draft and trades than he did in his old position, but disagreed with a reporter who characterized the job as a "de-facto general manager" saying, "I would call it the vice president of player personnel."

York then clarified his decision, saying that he believes that the traditional role of a general manager is too complicated and multi-faceted in today's NFL for one person to perform well and that, in his estimation, 32 such individuals don't currently exist. He doesn't want to burden Baalke with things like salary negotiations or off-the-field aspects of running an organization. "I want to make sure we didn't put too much on his plate," is how he put it, and he might have a point. If the team were to ever candidly discuss McCloughan's departure, it's a fair bet that the notion of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the job and all it entailed.

When asked if he was disappointed not be promoted outright to general manager, McCloughan sounded anything but. "That's going to take care of itself in due time," he said. "I think people get way too caught up in what the term general manager and what that states, and it's different around the league. I'm very happy with the promotion I got and I'm looking forward to the job. I've been able to concentrate on the personnel side. That's my passion, that's my love, that's what I want to do."

It's still a bit murky, however, just exactly what Baalke will and won't be able to do. He doesn't have the authority to hire or fire coaches, York told the media during his conference call - that'll be coach Mike Singletary's job. "Coach Sing" will also decide who makes up the 53-man roster. Singletary's employment, meanwhile (as well as Baalke's) will be up to York. The young CEO revealed that at the end of the day, "They all report to me," so maybe the team has a de-facto general manager after all.

Really, all that changes for Baalke is that now he's going to have to move here for good instead of shuttling back and forth from Colorado. The team will go forward without an official general manager, which York hinted would happen when he announced McCloughan's departure from the team. The real news is in the other dominoes falling in place behind Baalke.

Director of Pro Personnel Tom Gamble will be given additional scouting responsibilities, while new hire Joel Patten, a longtime scout and colleague of Baalke with the Washington Redskins, will now serve as the Director of College Scouting. Matt Malaspina has been promoted to National Scout and Justin Chabot will be heading up the Southeast Region after handling the South last year. Bob Morris, another new scout, will take over for him there.

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