This is my Wednesday column on Vernon Davis.
SANTA CLARA – This is about Vernon Davis and the nature of news.
Davis, who held out of OTAs and mini-camp because he wants a new contract, ended his holdout and showed up Wednesday for Day 1 of the 49ers’ training camp.
A positive start.
But not positive enough for the 49ers.
The 49ers chose not to make Vernon Davis available to talk to the media Wednesday. The 49ers did not make Jim Harbaugh available, either. The only people the 49ers allowed the media to interview were Patrick Willis, Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Stevie Johnson and Justin Smith.
After those five interviews, a few reporters asked the 49ers’ public relations director if he would get Vernon Davis for a group interview. The P.R. director tried hard to look confused.
“We’ve given you so much positivity,” the P.R. director explained. “We’ve given you All-Pro players to interview.” And then the P.R. director said Davis and Harbaugh will talk Thursday.
The 49ers tried to control the news. It’s like they said, “Write about what we want you to write.” But the news is the news. Vernon Davis is the biggest story in the NFL today, not Patrick Willis or Stevie Johnson.
Trying to control the news backfired. The 49ers turned a one-day story into a two-day story.
Let’s discuss the story the 49ers don’t want us to discuss – why Vernon Davis ended his holdout. Did he give up? Did he skip OTAs and mini-camp and forfeit roughly $270,000 for nothing?
That’s not how I read it.
According to Pro Football Talk, which cites a league source, Davis still wants a new contract. He has not given up, but he will not be a hostile holdout, either.
What Davis created was a peace accord with the 49ers. The 49ers prefer not to negotiate with hostile holdouts. Negotiating with them creates a troubling precedent for the franchise, a form of knuckling under. Not the message any franchise wants to give, especially a franchise as strong as the 49ers.
Davis may be the only player who has the talent and the leverage to hold out and win a game of chicken against the Niners but, as an act of good faith, he didn’t hold out.
While Davis is in training camp being a good teammate, Davis’ agent and the 49ers’ front office can talk amicably and work out a deal. This strategy has worked in the past.
Frank Gore wanted a new deal in 2011. He was 29 and had one year left on his contract. He did not attend “Camp Alex” – the informal mini-camp Alex Smith ran during the lockout. Gore did not report for the first day of training camp, either. He held out until Aug. 1, Day 5.
The 49ers reinforced Gore’s decision to show up for camp. On Aug. 2, Harbaugh publicly went to bat for Gore, saying, “Frank’s a 49er and we want Frank here. We want Frank happy.” Harbaugh also said he expected Gore to get a new contract “sooner rather than later.” On Aug. 23, general manager Trent Baalke said he wanted Gore to be a “49er for life.” On Aug. 30, the 49ers gave Gore a new three-year, $21 million contract, $13.5 million guaranteed.
If Gore deserves to be a 49er for life, so does Davis. He’s a Hall-of-Fame talent who may not make it to the Hall of Fame because the 49ers don’t throw him the ball enough. And he never complains. If he had played for a team that passed him the ball more, he might have been the greatest tight end ever.
I asked Gore Wednesday afternoon if he feels Davis deserves a new contract.
“That’s up to upstairs and Vernon,” Gore said. “That’s their business. But Vernon still probably is the best at his position and still is playing at a high level. Vernon is a different guy, man. He’s 30, but he still can run like he’s 23, 24.”
If the 49ers do not renegotiate Davis’ contract before the regular season starts, do not return Davis’ good faith, he can demand a trade, or failing that, he can walk away at any time.
And that would not be positive news. No way can the 49ers spin that one.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.