Baalke plays it cool

This is my Friday column on Trent Baalke.

After Day 1 of free agency, I thought the 49ers’ moves were weak. Not bad, but weak.

Trent Baalke didn’t really do anything. He cut Carlos Rogers, let Donte Whitner leave and replaced him with an older, cheaper safety – Antoine Bethea – traded a sixth-round pick for Blaine Gabbert, and traded a conditional seventh-round pick for Jonathan Martin.

Woo hoo!

Meanwhile, the Broncos signed the top cornerback on the market – Aqib Talib – and the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis to a one-year, $12 million contract.

Now it is Day 4 of free agency, and the 49ers still haven’t done much.

I’m beginning to admire that.

Not the Gabbert trade. That was silly. But I admire everything else Baalke has done this week.

I admire Baalke cutting Rogers. Too old and too expensive.

I admire Baalke letting Whitner go. Not worth what the Browns paid him — $11 million guaranteed. Whitner is a good player, but he struggles when he has to cover tall tight ends. He seemed better than he really was the past few seasons because he played on a great defense and didn’t have to cover tight ends very often – Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman mostly handled that responsibility.

A bad GM would have re-signed Whitner for sentimental reasons. Whitner is a leader in the locker room. He brings “chemistry” to the defense. Those clichés. But Baalke is not sentimental about his players. “See you, Donte. Enjoy Cleveland.”

Enter Bethea, Whitner’s replacement in Santa Clara. One year older than Whitner, and just as fast and just as athletic. Bethea might even be better than Whitner. Bethea certainly is cheaper. The 49ers gave him $6.25 million guaranteed, less than half of what the Browns gave Whitner.

Brilliant move by Baalke.

The Gabbert trade was weak, though. I just can’t get past that one.

A sixth-round pick and more than $2 million guaranteed for a quarterback who may or may not be better than Tim Tebow. Don’t like the comparison? Consider that Tebow completed 42 percent of his passes that traveled between 10 and 20 yards downfield in the NFL. Gabbert has completed 45 percent of those passes.

Not much of a difference.

A waste of time and money and a draft pick. But, the 49ers still have plenty of money and plenty of draft picks. Baalke can and should draft another quarterback and, if he does, we’ll let the Gabbert trade slide.

Now, back to things I admire about Baalke:

I admire him not entering a bidding war for an impact player, like Revis. How many impact players do the 49ers need? The Niners have plenty. Don’t overspend for one more.

I admire Baalke letting the market settle. He’s waiting for a bargain. He’s bringing in cornerbacks and wide receivers every day – Vikings’ free agent cornerback Chris Cook visited the 49ers on Thursday according to the Sacramento Bee. Seahawks free agent corner Walter Thurmond and Patriots free agent wide receiver/punt returner Julian Edelman visited on Friday, and Steelers free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders will visit the Niners on Saturday, according to ESPN.

If Baalke signs any of those players, Baalke will do it on his terms (he signed Cook to a one-year contract on Friday). Baalke doesn’t have to overspend like Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie. Baalke has a winning team and a new stadium.

Why sign a veteran unless he comes extremely cheap? The 49ers own five of the top-94 picks in the upcoming draft – a talented, deep draft. If there are players in it that Baalke likes, why pay market value for a veteran? Draft choices always are cheaper and usually are healthier.

Baalke holds all of the leverage in these negotiations. “We’re the 49ers, and you’d be lucky just to be a member of this franchise,” – Baalke’s sales pitch.

If Baalke sticks to his cautious, conservative strategy, I will give him an A for free agency.

Actually, an A-minus. I still can’t get over that Gabbert trade.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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