Trent Baalke answered a few reporters’ questions in the 49ers’ media room Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a transcript of the interview.
BARROWS: Has Justin Smith decided whether he will retire?
BAALKE: As I said at the end of the season, I think at this stage of his career, he has earned the right to make that decision when it’s right. I think he’s still sorting through that process. He’s training hard, but I think he’s still in a decision-making mentality.
BARROWS: What did you guys talk about on Wednesday? What it about how he hasn’t come to any conclusions?
BAALKE: Yeah. We just talked. We talked about where he’s at in his career, where he’s at in life, obviously, with his family. He’s got three boys. They’re growing up. At some point, we all go through it in this business. It pays such a price to be a part of it. It takes a lot of time away from your family. Those are decisions that are tough. You’ve got to let them make that decision on their time, not your time.
INMAN: Is it possible you could leave it open-ended where he could come in at some point of the season?
BAALKE: There will be a decision made before that. But, open-ended in the sense we’re not pressuring him to make a decision before he’s ready to make one. It’s a big decision, a big commitment. You’re not only making a commitment to yourself, you’re making a commitment to the team, the organization. You’re also putting some other things on hold when you go through it one more time.
BRANCH: Have you discussed working out a situation where he could come back midway through the season?
BAALKE: I think if you know Cowboy like we all do, that isn’t a part-time guy. He’s going to throw all of his chips on the table or he’s not. That’s how he’s done it his whole career. Why would you change now?
BIDERMAN: How’s NaVorro Bowman doing? How is his rehab coming?
BAALKE: Real good. I don’t know if you’ve seen him the last couple times that he has popped in, but you can tell he is working. I think he feels good. He’s really starting to feel like it’s coming back to where he wants it. And that’s always the most important thing. I’ve said this before – there is the physical response to coming back from an injury, and then there is the psychological, and sometimes they don’t coincide with one another. Sometimes physically you’re ready, but psychologically you’re not. But I think he’s at a real good place right now.
BIDERMAN: Did he suffer a setback when he came back to practice?
BAALKE: There was no setback. Not setback at all. It was just a matter of what’s the best decision for him long-term at that time?
ME: Patrick Willis was a rare inside linebacker who could go sideline to sideline and play three downs against every team in the league. Do you have a linebacker on the roster who can legitimately replace all the things Willis did?
BAALKE: Well, Grant, when you’re replacing a great player, a player that has earned that term as I said yesterday, that is a true three-down impact player, sometimes you can’t replace that one individual with another. You’ve got to replace those roles with multiple players. So we’re going to look inside. We’re very confident in the ability of Chris and Mike. Obviously they played very well a year ago. And look at other ways within the scheme and the system to cover up for anything that we do lose.
ME: Would you consider – this a scheme question so you don’t have to answer it – but would you consider using Dime in passing situations? You haven’t used that much in the past.
BAALKE: I think I’ve said this a lot over the last four years – I’m not the coach. I think that’s a question you can speak with the coaches on and they can give you a much better idea. But with that, we’ve been able to play Nickel and not have to jump into Dime very often because the skill level and the different ability levels of the players we had on the field. Now, once again, do we have to play a little more dime to cover up for Pat? That all remains to be seen, but certainly like the way Michael and Chris stepped in last year and played fairly well, really good.
MAIOCCO: What is Bruce Miller’s status on this team?
BAALKE: As you know, it’s a pending legal matter, so there really is nothing that I can say regarding that matter. We’ve been in contact with Bruce. We’ve started the process internally. We’re going to continue to gather information. That’s really all I can say at this time.
MAIOCCO: What process have you started?
BAALKE: Anytime any of our players gets in any type of situation off the field, there is a process that we go through internally. I’m not going to go through each step that we go through or detail the policy at this time, but we understand the gravity of where we’re at. That has been well-documented over the last 6 to 12 months.
MAIOCCO: Why bring in Jerome Simpson?
BAALKE: Like any player that we bring in, we do our due diligence. We really look into the situation. I think you remember a couple years back, we brought a player in. Perrish Cox. And it worked out well. Every situation is different. We felt good about the information that we gathered with Jerome. We not only spoke with a lot of people who have worked with him, but we spoke with people that played with him and we also brought him in here. He met with us for a full day before we made that decision. Very similar to what we did with Perrish when we brought Perrish in.
MAIOCCO: Perception-wise, your CEO states a goal of what you guys want to be. Is he that great of a player that you just can’t take a pass on him?
BAALKE: In everything we do, there is risk. We talked about this many a times. It’s a risk and reward business. We’re not going to bring in people we don’t feel can live up to what we expect a 49er to live up to. But we’re also not going take everybody that has made a mistake in their past and take them off of our board. We’re just not going to do that. So we’ve got a wave of decisions that we make, and we do everything we can so that when we do take a player that has had some transgressions off the field, that we feel like we can go forward with that player and not run into any of those situations moving forward.
MAIOCCO: In a similar vein, the report recently that you guys are interested in Greg Hardy. Where does the organization stand on that?
BAALKE: That’s an entirely different situation than Jerome Simpson. What I will tell you about this is, just like I came out the other day when the Kaepernick rumors were being (circulated), and I said it was a ridiculous statement to be made, the articles that were written and the statements that were made, I’ll say the same thing again. There has been no contact with Greg Hardy or any representative of his. There is no interest that we’ve shown nor will we show to bring Greg Hardy in this program.
MAIOCCO: What is Ahmad Brooks’ status right now with the team?
BAALKE: He’s on the team.
MAIOCCO: He’s going to be on the team opening day?
BAALKE: Yes. I know you’ve all been reporting that we don’t have the cash to keep him.
MAIOCCO: You have the cash now.
BAALKE: There has never been an indication from me otherwise. While all that was being written, I just sat back and looked at it because it was speculation based on our cap number and the cash flow that we had leading into free agency. A lot of assumptions were made wrongly.
INMAN: Torrey Smith? Your thoughts on bringing him aboard?
BAALKE: I think Torrey is a proven player in the NFL. He’s had four years of showing that he can make big plays in the NFL. He’s a guy that does allow you to stretch the field and take the top off of a defense. He opens up things underneath for other players. He has been a very good player for four years on a very good football team.
INMAN: Bruce Miller, he’s not suspended right now, is he?
BAALKE: No. And just so everybody understands – the NFL does have a conduct policy. The media was given that policy. I would hope that you do read it so that you get an understanding. And what you have to understand is we’re a member of the NFL. We’re one of 32 teams. That conduct policy we adhere to 100 percent.
ME: Who are the leaders on this team now that Patrick Willis has retired and Frank Gore is an Indianapolis Colt?
BAALKE: Grant, we’re in a situation that is no different than other teams. Players move on, and when they move on other guys have got to step up. Who are the leaders right now? Joe Staley and Kap and Anquan Boldin on offense. I don’t want to miss anybody. Defensively, NaVorro. Justin is still on this team. You’ve got Glenn Dorsey on the D-Line. Ian Williams. Antoine Bethea. There are leaders on this football team. They’re just not the keynote names that you’ve become accustomed to here. There is plenty of leadership. When leaders move on, others step up.
MAIOCCO: Did Mike Iupati have a broken foot he was playing on last season?
BAALKE: Not to my knowledge. I heard that today and that was news to me.
MAIOCCO: What is your situation at cornerback?
BAALKE: Feel good about it. Feel real good about it. We’ve got Tramaine Brock coming back. Dontae Johnson, a young guy that played well last year when he had the opportunity. Jimmie Ward coming back to play in the slot. We’ve got two guys that we drafted a year ago that weren’t able to play – Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker. We’ve got those guys in the mix. We’re working on a couple of other things still, and then we’ve got a draft. I can see the thought process that you may have, but internally, feel good about the group and where it can go.
BARROWS: Where is Jimmie Ward right now as far as coming back from that foot injury?
BAALKE: Good. He’s on schedule or slightly ahead of schedule, and progressing very well.
BARROWS: On the field, will he take part in the offseason program, the minicamp that’s coming up in April?
BAALKE: I don’t know that. I think he will be ready, but whether we allow him back into it at that stage or not, that will be determined by the medical staff.
MAIOCCO: This newfound cap room that you have, cap room you weren’t preparing to have a few weeks ago, does it change how you guys approach the offseason as far as what you can do getting a higher priced free agent?
BAALKE: Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re going to spend it foolishly. You’ve got to address needs. We’re into free agency now. Very seldom, at least in my tenor, have we delved into the early stages of free agency. We did it this year with Torrey. But right now, we’re still in that process. As you see every day, somebody else is getting cut. People are making room for their acquisitions. There is a trickledown effect. It’s always a fluid situation. Here’s your plan, but that plan changes as other dominoes fall.
BIDERMAN: How important is it to get a guy in the first round that you can plug into a significant role right away. It seems like since you’ve taken over the draft, those have been the players that you’ve taken rather than guys you have to wait on to develop.
BAALKE: Minus one. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself in this business, don’t you? Show me anyone who has batted 1.000 in this. That goes back to value versus need. Are you drafting for value or are drafting for need? If you can, you’re trying to build your roster leading into the draft where teams can’t pigeonhole you as to you have to take this position. When you get pigeonholed like that, other teams can maneuver if they need to to get ahead of you. You’re always trying to get into that draft with the mindset that nobody can lock in say, “Boy, they’ve got to take this position.” You try to get into it with the idea that we can go wherever we want to go and feel pretty good about it. I’ve always said this – when the value is similar, you’re going to go with the need. When the value is not similar, if there is a guy you have rated extremely high and the next guy is a tier down from that or two tiers down, you’re not going to take that two-tiered guy that’s two tiers below because you need that position.
INMAN: I know you addressed it with the statement the other day, but did teams call you about Kaepernick?
BAALKE: I’m going to say this matter-of-fact. There has not been a discussion with another team regarding Kap. We have not made a call, nor has anyone called us. So the report that was pushed out there, and I’m not sure who reported it, and don’t really care who reported it, but it was false, 100-percent false. It is what it is, but I can’t say it any cleaner. I came out with that statement the other day, and then that was turned upside down, so I’ll say it again. There has been absolutely none, no conversations with any team regarding our quarterback. Period. Exclamation point!
INMAN: On the flipside, why is he still so attractive to you as a quarterback?
BAALKE: Do I really have to answer that?
INMAN: I want to know what you like about him going into his third full season.
BAALKE: There are a lot of things I like about Kap, and there are a lot of things this organization likes about Kap. It’s really a…I don’t want to say a foolish question, but, I mean, the guy is a very talented football player. He can impact the game with his arm, with his feet, and he’s done it at a consistent level. We’ve won a lot of playoff games with him. We’ve won a lot of football games with him. And we look forward to winning a lot more with him. He is our quarterback.
INMAN: When these rumors popped up, people said, “Kap is Harbaugh’s guy, so Kap is gone.” I just wanted to hear it from you.
BAALKE: I think Jim would say the same thing if Jim was here. There was never in our four years together, “That’s Trent’s guy, that’s Jim’s guy.” The media may have brought that up on occasion, but I can promise you internally that was never the case. The assumption that Kap was Jim’s guy – Kap was our guy. And I think Jim would say the same thing if you called him and asked him. Jim certainly liked him, had a lot of respect for him as a player, pushed hard for us to go that direction, which we were able to do, to maneuver up to get him. From that standpoint, Jim was a big supporter and a very big part of why Kap was chosen by this organization.
ME: Kaepernick’s numbers declined the last couple of years, which doesn’t reflect well on the quarterbacks coach, Geep Chryst. Given that statistical decline, why promote Chryst to offensive coordinator?
BAALKE: There are a lot of factors that go into whether a player performs at this level or statistically they decline. Are they still winning games? That’s the main thing. Geep is a very good football coach. He has been in that position before. He has since stepped out of that position and was coaching other positions. But I said this when we hired Coach Tomsula – when a guy has been in a position and then they remove themselves from that position and they go on to coach another position, if they’ve been a coordinator before, they’re always looking at the game as a coordinator looks at the game even though they’re coaching a position. Coach Tomsula was a head coach, was a coordinator, wasn’t here, wasn’t in the league, but he’s been in those positions. Once you’ve been there, you kind of start looking at things through those lenses. So every decision that’s made, even though you may not be making it, you’re looking at that decision and saying, “How would I have done it?” Whereas if you haven’t been in that position, I don’t know if you always do that. It’s easier to get back to that than it is to start from scratch. That’s at least how I look at it in terms of growth. No different than on the personnel side. If you’re a director and you become an area scout because you’ve moved from one team to another and you’ve had to take a step back in your career, you still always look at personnel as a director looked at it. And I think that’s an advantage to being at a level, taking a step back, and then getting back up to that level and beyond. You learn from your mistakes your first time through if you made some. You start looking at things from a different perspective. Kind of a 30,000-foot view of it instead of that immediate tunnel-vision view.
MAIOCCO: Have you guys met with Reggie Bush?
BAALKE: I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.
MAIOCCO: Reggie Bush. Running back.
BARROWS: He was seen by us today.
BARROWS: Walking around with Jim Tomsula.
BAALKE: Yeah, I did meet with Reggie. And the entire staff met with him. Great guy, great guy. Had very good conversations with him, and I don’t know if he’s still here or not, to be honest with you. I think he was heading to the airport.
MAIOCCO: Do you want a three-headed attack at running back?
BAALKE: I’ll say this. As you look around the league, you see that more and more. This is tough. It’s tough to run 20, 30 carries a game in the NFL. My hat is off to the guys that are able to do that consistently, week in and week out through 16 games, taking the type of pounding that you take. So, what you try to do is spread the wealth. Try to get through the season with your guys as healthy as you can, so when you get into that final stretch and, knock on wood, you’re making a run into the playoffs, you’ve got guys that are fit and able to play that 17th game, that 18th game, that 19th game. It’s tough. You look at today’s game compared to 20 years ago, it’s a different approach because there are a lot more personnel groupings that offenses are using to attack. It’s hard to find that one guy that can do all three, just like it’s hard to find that middle linebacker that can be a first, second and third down player. Those guys aren’t just falling off trees. The teams that got them, it makes your life a lot easier. But the teams that don’t, you’ve got find ways to put combinations of players together. You look at New England and what they do systematically, they do it as well as anybody. And that’s a big part of their success.
ME: Will Geep Chryst use the same scheme and philosophy the offense has used the last four years, or will he change anything fundamentally?
BAALKE: Grant, you keep asking me these coaching questions.
ME: We haven’t gotten to talk to Chryst yet.
BAALKE: Yeah, well, I think that’s when you can ask those questions. I think you will see some changes philosophically, but how much change and how he’s going to use personnel, what kind of personnel groupings the offense is going to use – that’s what they’re meeting on right now. The coaches are over there 24/7 getting this thing ready to go. I think it is a question for them.
BIDERMAN: Jimmy Graham is now a Seahawk. Does he change how you approach this offseason?
BAALKE: Not unless you can find a 6’6” safety. If you can find one of those, I’ll take it. But, no. Obviously you’re always looking at the division. In order to get to the next step, you either have to win your division or play very well within your division. Very seldom do you play poorly within your own division and make the playoffs. You’ve got to try to win your division and put a team together that can win your division. You’re always looking at matchups. This is a matchup game now. They made a move. If you’re playing chess, they just moved their rook. Now we’ve got to make a move. What move will that be? I don’t know.
ME: You mentioned the A.J. Jenkins pick. What do you learn from it?
BAALKE: You learn from everything you do in this business. The decisions that you make, sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. And when you’re wrong, you’re wrong. You don’t push that off on anybody else. The responsibility falls on my shoulders to make those decisions. With that situation, it didn’t end up good. It ended up being a bad decision. I think what you learn from it is to consistently still with your philosophy. So much of what we do is based on scheme and fits. We’ve always said that there are certain characteristics we look for in players. Sometimes you make exceptions. When you make exceptions, what do you learn from those exceptions? A.J. was an awfully talented young man. Why it didn’t work? There are always reasons why things don’t work. But it wasn’t due to anybody not giving it their all. I think A.J. gave it his all. I think the coaches gave it their all. It just didn’t work, and you move on to the next.
MAIOCCO: How is Kendall Hunter?
BAALKE: Fine. He has progressed very well. Talk about a guy that works. If anybody can come back from two seasons like this, it’s Kendall. He’s a grinder.
MAIOCCO: You expect him to take part in the full offseason program?
BAALKE: Oh yeah.
INMAN: Same with Brandon Thomas?
BAALKE: He should be ready to go.