SANTA CLARA – Trent Baalke was interviewed by Bay Area reporters for an hour Friday morning. Here is a transcript of Part I of the interview.
Q: Are you going to pick up Aldon Smith’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract?
BAALKE: Why did I know that was going to be the first question out of the blocks? That’s still being discussed internally.
Q: Do you hope that he will play for the 49ers in 2014 and 2015?
BAALKE: And ’16. And ’17. And ’18.
Q: Smith will not be charged with a felony for this incident. Does that change anything in your mind?
BAALKE: Everything factors in. You take a look at everything. The one word I can use to describe this is “disappointing.” But, the important thing is that it is equally disappointing to Aldon. You have the keys to your own car. You make decisions and you live with the consequences of those decisions. Life is a growing process. It’s a growing process for all of us. He knows what needs to be done. We’re all accountable, each and every one of us in this organization is accountable for everything that takes place, especially when it involves you. There are things we have discussed many times internally. We’ve discussed them a little bit externally. We’ve covered the topic with you guys and gals on several occasions. It’s still a process and we’re still working at it.
Q: Is there any concern over the Miami incident with Colin Kaepernick? Will that have any lingering effects on his contract negotiation?
Q: No concern?
BAALKE: Any time an individual puts himself in a situation that becomes newsworthy – we certainly pay attention to it. So, to say there is no concern – that would probably be a misrepresentation of the facts. There always is concern, but at the same token let’s let this thing play out and let’s see where this thing goes.
Q: Do you have information that there is nothing for the organization to be concerned about?
BAALKE: I’m not going to get into the specifics of it. There have been some reports that have come out via the Miami police. Those are on public record. Read those and decipher on your own, no different than we would.
Q: Do you still want to get an extension done with him before training camp? Is there a set goal on when all parties would like this done?
BAALKE: To say there is a set goal, a drop-dead date that you want to get something accomplished – we don’t operate under that mindset. In every instance, we’re going to try to do what is best for the organization. We’re going to work diligently, as we do with all of our players that we’re working on contracts with. But to say there is a drop-dead date, we don’t function like that.
Q: You did say the goal was to get him signed before training camp. Has anything changed?
BAALKE: Nothing has changed. Negotiations of this kind – they’re long. They can be drawn out. They can be very tedious. Like always, it takes a lot of work to get these type of deals done. A lot of thought and a lot of engineering needs to go into them. We’re going to work diligently like we said we would. But when will that get done? Is there a timeline? I can’t say that there is.
Q: Do you go into the draft thinking there is a strong possibility Aldon Smith will miss games in 2014?
BAALKE: That remains to be seen. You prepare for the worst and hope for the best. There are still a lot of things that are going to factor into that decision at the league level and the club level. We’re working very diligently in the background to try and make sure that the right decisions are made long-term, not only for Aldon but for this club.
Q: You’re likely not going to have NaVorro Bowman or Aldon Smith – two of your best defensive players. Does that affect the alignments that you use?
BAALKE: I’m not going to get into scheme. You want to talk scheme, talk to the coaches. But I can say this from a personnel standpoint, and we saw it last year. Aldon missed five games and we were 5-0 during that stretch. Dan Skuta, Corey Lemonier both stepped in and did an excellent job. Sometimes when you lose a player, you can’t replace him with just one. Sometimes it takes multiple people. It takes other people stepping up to the challenge. We lost Patrick Willis, and Michael Wilhoite stepped in and did an awfully good job for us during that stretch. We’re very confident – as the team is – in being able to replace guys when they go down. “Next man up” isn’t just a hollow term. It’s a real term. This team has been able to do that. You never like to lose good football players, but it’s part of the business. If you’re not prepared for it, then we haven’t done a good enough job.
Q: Will you have enough information by May 3rd to make a decision on Aldon Smith?
BAALKE: I don’t know that we’ll ever have enough information. You never have enough, do you? We’re in the information-gathering business, not the information-dispensing business. That’s why I view talking to you as difficult task.
Q: How can the organization help Aldon Smith?
BAALKE: I’m a firm believer in the humanistic approach to everything. You continue to, just as you would with any family member. We’re a family. You don’t just open the door and toss people out of it. You continue to work until they leave you no choice. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to continue to work with him. we’re going to continue to find ways to support, not defend. We cannot defend the actions of others. All we can do is support and create and environment that is conducive to improving in the areas you need to improve in. As long as he’s a 49er, we intend to do just that.
Q: Will Aldon seek more treatment?
BAALKE: We’ve had a lot of internal discussions on a lot of things pertaining to a lot of situations. But as far as publically stating what our intentions are, or where we are in the process of working with him – that’s going to stay internal.
Q: He’s been working out here as part of the offseason program?
Q: What would you say to fans or critics that say the 49ers have become a lawless outfit?
BAALKE: To say the 49ers is a lawless…how did you phrase it?
Q: There is some perception that things are out of control here.
BAALKE: I would say this: We’re proud of this football team and we’re very proud of the players in this locker room. It’s unfortunate when the actions of one or two or maybe three people offset the good of the other seventy-plus that are under contract at that time. And going back to that word “disappointment.” The important thing is not whether we’re disappointed. It’s whether they’re disappointed. If they’re disappointed with their actions or the situation they’ve put themselves in, then you can learn from that and you can improve. If there is no remorse, there is no disappointment, how do you improve? But to say it’s a lawless or classless organization, I think that’s a total misrepresentation of what we stand for – ownership, our head football coach, myself and everyone else in this organization. Disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? No.
Q: Do you make an example out of Aldon Smith? How much can you do, and how much do you expect the NFL to do?
BAALKE: I think it’s a combination. There are policies that govern off-the-field situations, whether that’s in the substance-abuse program or the off-field-conduct program – there are rules that we have to follow, rules that players have to follow, rules that the NFL expects all of us to adhere to. We’re certainly looking at every avenue to help our players and to help our organization regain the trust, regain the support of those think, as was mentioned, that we’re a lawless, classless organization, which I highly dispute.
Q: Does this have a trickle-down effect on how you guys analyze draft prospects. Are you digging harder for information on guys’ backgrounds in terms of possible checkered histories?
BAALKE: The answer would be no, and the reason being that we’ve always looked into the character of players. The tone of the tone of questions, the directive of the questions once again points to us agreeing to this organization not being about character, not being about standards. Which is disappointing, because it’s not the case. We’ve had very few off-the-field incidents over the last three, four years. I keep going back to the word “disappointing.” Are we disappointed that we’ve had a string? Absolutely. Absolutely we are. But at the same time, very proud of the group of men that are in that locker room and what they stand for on the field and off the field. I have a lot of trust in them, a lot of trust. Almost as much trust as I have in my own family, my own children.
Q: Where do you feel Aldon is in his mind?
BAALKE: Growing. Starting to understand. Starting to realize the importance of his own accountability. I think that’s a pretty fair representation of where he’s at.
Q: You say it’s only starting. After what happened last season, shouldn’t that process be well on its way?
BAALKE: I think Aldon has made very good strides in a lot of aspects. He continues to work at it every day, just like I do. Just like anybody else. You try to become a better person every day. You try to become a little bit better at your craft every day. Sometimes you hit a speed bump. You’ve got to learn. Repeat offender – when it becomes repetitive, it certainly becomes a concern. But you continue to work. No different than you do at your craft or I do at my craft. We’ve all been there. You continue to work to get better.
Q: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you have not given up on him.
BAALKE: Can I make it any clearer? At the same token, we are disappointed. We do expect things to improve. There are standards that we do have. I don’t know that I can make it any clearer than that.
Q: You said you’ve had very few incidents the past three or four years. What are you measuring that against? I would say that you’ve had a lot of incidents the past three or four years.
BAALKE: Put them on the chalk board.
Q: You’ve got four DUIs.
Q: You’ve had a couple of guys under investigation. You have Aldon Smith incidents, multiple. You’ve got an investigation occurring right now in Miami involving two players. Nothing may come of it, but…
Q: To me, that’s a lot. You’re saying it is not?
BAALKE: We’re disappointed any time one of our players puts himself in a bad situation, OK? At some times of the year, you’re dealing with more than 90 players. Most parts of the years, well in excess of 60 to 70 players. There are going to be mistakes made. That’s just a fact. If we put 60 reporters in a room and we go back through the details of a four-year period, I don’t know if it would read any differently. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a good group of men. Have they made some mistakes? Absolutely they have. Not going sit up here and defend then. They have to learn from those mistakes, have to do better in certain areas and we’ll continue to work at it. So, I’m not saying there is no concern. There is concern. We hold ourselves to a high standard. The community deserves that. We represent the community and we don’t take that lightly. It’s important to us.