McCloughan Discusses Free Agency

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Before the start of the free agency period, 49ers General Manager Scot McCloughan discussed several free agency topics with the media.RE: Scot, do you have anything done with any of your own guys? **

"No, we do not, not right now."

RE: Is that necessary, to begin this free agency process, or not?
"It wasn't. Again, even our own guys, there's a value for them and we know what that value is in our opinion, and if were able to reach something prior to the start of free agency, it would have been great, but we are going to stay in it with our own guys and hopefully, get a couple of guys done."

RE: I'm also referring to guys, whose deals expire at the end of this upcoming season. Any of those guys, such as [Parys] Haralson, or [David] Baas?
"There's nothing new to report."

RE: Where do things stand now with Alex [Smith]?
"He's on his honeymoon, so the communication has been down, but again, like I said at the combine, the conversations have been positive through Alex and through his agent and we are just going forward. Like I said, we would love to have him back as a 49er."

RE: Is there a timeline that you are looking at when you want to have that settled?
"There is no set timeline. From my standpoint, sooner would be better. I think from everybody's standpoint, sooner would be better because if he wants the opportunity to be the starting quarterback, he needs to go through the entire offseason program to earn that spot. So I think, there's not a timeline, but sooner than later would be better for both parties."

RE: Are you comfortable enough that he'll back that you don't have to go out and find a free agent quarterback once free agency begins?
"I am not comfortable enough. I am not comfortable until it's signed on the paper. I have to do what's best for this organization and that is making sure we have quality depth at all positions. I'm not going to sit around because anything can happen. I'm not going to sit around and think, 'Well, possibly this could happen.' It has to be for sure happening. Otherwise, I'm going to address the position."

RE: Are you concerned he could go somewhere else?
"I am concerned, sure, a little bit. But that's this business and for us to ask him to restructure, that's kind of a shot. He is under contract for two more years and for us to ask him to take a pay cut. You know, not just the players, but to the agent as well, it's kind of a blow to the ego. Again, I feel really good about it and we are trying to do what's best for the organization, also what's best for Alex Smith."

RE: How long can you carry Alex on the team, at his existing salary?
"We can carry him all the way to training camp. He can't go on the field with us and practice under that contract right now, but we can carry him all the way to training camp."

RE: Scot, Lowell Cohn here, if you were able to get Alex and you have Shaun Hill, would that be enough or would you still look for someone else?
"We'd still look for somebody in free agency and the draft."

RE: Would you be looking for a starter?
"We'd be looking for a quality quarterback that has a chance to start, would be great. If it's a veteran, you would hope he'd come in here and add to the pool of players there and make it better. If it's a young guy through the draft, of course you hope he doesn't have to start right away. He can kind of get his feet wet, progress through it, but at some point, become the starter."

RE: And will J.T. [O'Sullivan] be coming back as well?
"50-50. I mean, again, no doors are closed on any quarterbacks. You know, we know what J.T. is and he is a talent or a skill level that we like. So definitely, the door is not closed on J.T."

RE: Where do you stand with Jonas Jennings?
"From what standpoint?"

RE: Will he remain on the team at his current salary or what's his status?
"Yeah, he's under contract with us. He's under contract until either we trade him or cut him. So he's part of our 49er family right now. I think going forward, some issues have to be addressed and they will be, but as of right now he's a 49er."

RE: Are those issues concerning his health? That shoulder seems to always be…
"It's definitely a concern. The durability, no doubt about it with the salary he's due to make, the durability history plays into it."

RE: You said at the Combine, you were 50-50 on Isaac Bruce returning. Has that changed in the last week, week and a half?
"That has not changed, no."

RE: That would seem to me that you would need to add, knowing that or not knowing that, you would need to add several players at wide receiver. Is that the case, this offseason?
"I wouldn't say several, even if we knew for sure Isaac was coming back, we are going to address the position. We are going to add and I think we need to add two good players at the receiver position, meaning guys that come in this year and help us."

RE: Have you set any sort of timetable when you'd like to know whether he's coming back?
"I personally haven't, Coach Singletary has spoken to Isaac on the phone. I know that they talked about a timeline. I don't want to get into that right now, but again as you guys are well aware, when you are putting this roster together, especially getting ready for the offseason program and training camp, the sooner, the better it is for us to know because we bring 80 to camp and we need to know for sure, who's on board and who's not on board."

RE: Scot, in the past, you guys have made a pretty significant strike early. Do you expect to be on the phone at 9:01 p.m. and setting stuff up?
"Definitely, [I] expect to be on the phone. Once free agency starts, we have some calls to make, to get in touch with some agents and let them know we have interest in certain players. Just so you guys know, it's not going to be a big splash like it was with Nate [Clements] or with Justin [Smith]. We're not going that route this year, but know this; we are going to use free agency as a tool to make our roster better."

RE: What is your thinking Scot in adjusting that mentality, what has changed either from your thinking or the market to make you decide to not make a splash right now?
"If I were to identify, or my guys were to identify a player that was definitely a need position that we feel can be a big time impact player, both on and off the field, we definitely consider them when we talk about it. This team, from here on out, with myself being the general manager position is going to build through the draft and again, we are going to use free agency as a tool, to add players to this roster, in a starting role or even in a backup role, meaning they can be a backup linebacker, but we know we are getting a core special teams player, so we are going to use free agency, but we are not going to be considered a team that is going to build this roster through free agency, but we'll make it stronger because of it."

RE: Scot, have you changed your philosophy, because you've said that in the past, but it seems like you guys have tried to build more through free agency, or at least that's the way it's turned out?
"Well, the thing about it is Paraag [Marathe] has done a phenomenal job of getting our cap in place where we could do that. Not talking about past regimes in a negative manner, but we have rolled this roster over big time. Even talking about our secondary, being all free agents, which they are this past season, that means it wasn't that we didn't like what was here, we just thought that was the best route to go for us, sooner rather than later, but the one thing I'm never going to lose sight of is that we have to draft well and we have re-sign our own guys, that's the only way we are going to have consistency, but if you look at the teams in the playoffs, the last couple years you see that their rosters are built through the draft and not free agency."

RE: You mentioned 'no big splash' but will you be signing guys as early as tonight or tomorrow?
"There'll be nothing tonight. If we get some visits scheduled to come in…you know, a lot of this free agency plays into where they're at medically. They have to come in here and do a physical because we're not going to invest money into damaged goods. If we don't think we can get the length of the contract out of them, there's no reason to sign them. So that would be the first step that we would take. That could happen as early as tomorrow, or it could be nothing for a week or two."

RE: Will you sign a guy without a visit or do you want to see everybody?
"No, no. We have to put our hands on them from the medical standpoint because that's a huge part of this thing – that we have to know that they're healthy. Guys that play in the league, especially guys that play in the league for more than three or four years, as you guys are well aware, get hurt. And we need to know exactly where they're at medically."

RE: Are you expecting Ronald Fields to get a lot of attention on the free agent market?
"I certainly do. The draft is not really deep at the [defensive] line. Him being a bigger body guy that's been a healthy guy, I definitely see teams with interest. And we're one of them."

RE: How about Takeo Spikes. Where do you stand with him?
"Again, I'd say it's 50-50 because that's where we're at right now. Again the conversations have been very positive. You know the organization would like to have him back. He has spoke out and said he wants to come back. The thing that he did this year, which we're glad, is he put good tape out there. I know there's other teams that have interest there. So again, nothing's for sure. Even when both parties want it to happen, other teams can come in and offer deals that he can't turn down. But he's of importance to us to try to get back."

RE: Getting back to nose tackle, is that a position where you could rotate Isaac [Sopoaga] through there during the season or would you want somebody to be the backup to Aubrayo [Franklin] at that spot?
"The great thing about Isaac is he could play either or – left end or the nose. I think it's important for Isaac or any player on that defensive line that you don't rotate them back and forth, back and forth. Give them a home and you leave them there. If we're able to add a defensive end in free agency or the draft that we think can come in and compete for playing time, then we have the luxury to move [Isaac] inside and play the nose. Also where he is right now at left end, we feel comfortable with him being the starter."

RE: As far as [Kentwan] Balmer: does he figure into the mix at all in the future as the nose [tackle]?
"He does. He does. The thing, again, which is a positive – the coaching staff knows he's versatile and maybe he could be a really good nose. I personally think his best position is left end. But again, depending on what we do in free agency and the draft, we need to keep our best 53 and if it's moving him inside because we've got another end, so be it. We need to put the most talent we can on the field."

RE: Will you be waiving anybody today, Scot?
"No."

RE: [Shane] Lechler signed that contract last week giving him a pretty healthy pay raise.
"Pretty healthy?"

RE: Andy Lee is pretty far behind that salary-wise. Are there any plans to do anything with his deal?
"Not right now. The way you get ahead in this business and the way you can build consistently good teams, there are players who outplay their contracts, meaning that they're better than the number they're getting. But that's, from our standpoint, us doing a good job and pinpointing a guy early enough that we do get the deal done. That we know that there is upside there. And that's great. We respect Andy Lee. He's done a nice job. If he keeps going the direction he's going, he will get that contract and get the good contract."

RE: Before his deal is up?
"Certainly. Certainly. I believe we still have him for five years. If not, it's for sure four, so it's a great value for the organization what he's able to do right now on the money's he's making. When we signed that deal, we felt really comfortable about where he was at and that was right at the middle of the punters. And he's proven more valuable than that, which is great. We're going to take care of our own guys when we believe the time's right."

RE: At 9:01p.m. tonight, how much cap space will you have?
"Exact numbers I don't want to get into."

RE: As close as you can.
"It's going to be around $25 million. It's going to put us in, it looks like, the top five. If not, for sure the top six."

RE: $25 million even with the additional $4 million the team picked up yesterday?
"No, no. But I'll tell you this much: we have enough room to do some damage. But again, as you're well aware as we've been public about it, it's not going to be adding a lot of free agents at high dollar. We're talking to a lot of our own guys and trying to get something done. But we have enough space to do some damage and make this roster better."

RE: I know he's a few years out from coming up but Joe Staley: is he somebody that you guys want to get done in a hurry and just lock him up for as long as you can?
"I wouldn't say it's something to get done in a hurry. We understand that football players like that don't come around all the time, not just on the field but off the field he's what we want to build around here and a guy we want to build through. But there'll be a time and place for that. Right now, it's not urgency to get it done. He's got a lot of football ahead to play for us still but he's an asset that you definitely want to keep around."

RE: I know you mentioned wanting to build through the draft but also this year, with the free agency market not being that strong, is that another reason why you won't make a big splash?
"No. No, it's not. Again, we're going to add some guys in free agency to make this 53 stronger or make the 80 stronger going to training camp. And they're going to be fighting for a roster spot. And I think that's what you have to do. There's a value for every player in free agency. It could be a high value, it could be a low value. And we go through and we rate every one of them, just like we do in the college draft, we rate every prospect for the value they think they are. Again, we're not going to go out there, as I said before, I think in free agency you'll overspend. That's why I think if you're going to do it you re-sign your own and overspend early knowing the upside in the future. Andy Lee is a perfect example. But just because it's not as deep of a free agency market this year, that didn't play into our philosophy."

RE: Is your starting quarterback on the team right now?
"Well, yeah. If we were to go out and play right now, yeah, he is. But again, at any position we're going to try to get better. And we're going to try and add competition. And hopefully it's for the starting role at any position. I'm very comfortable with what Shaun [Hill]'s done in his 10 starts. I'm very comfortable with how the team believes in him when he walks in the huddle that he can get the job done. As you guys are well aware, I'm a fan of Alex Smith. I think being 24, he'll be 25 next year, he's got a lot of good football ahead of him. We need to get an identity on offense. We need to get a structure in place that's consistent more than one year. I think you'll see not just the quarterback position but all positions on offense take a step forward."

RE: I want to pursue this a minute, Scot, because when I was around Coach [Singletary] in previous interviews, he was reluctant to name Shaun Hill the starter. Has that thinking changed?
"No. Coach has his idea of what he's looking for in each player at each position. I know he doesn't want to name a starter because he wants open competition. He wants someone to come out here and fight for it, and earn it. And I think it's important for Alex Smith to know he's got a chance to earn the starting job if we do sign somebody in free agency or we do draft somebody. It's not: here it is, all of a sudden we have a proven quarterback that's won year-in and year-out and he's the guy. We don't have that here. So until we get that here, it's going to be open competition."

RE: Can you clear up one thing for me? When I asked you how long you could carry Alex at his current salary you said right up to training camp. What would change once training camp starts and he gets on the field?
"If he goes on the field with that contract, we can't do it. Because if he gets hurt, then we're locked into it. So we can't. He is under contract with us. He's not unrestricted come 9:01 tonight. We control the contract. He's got two years left. So for both parties, able to come to an agreement one way or the other, sooner than later is important. I believe we will come to an agreement one way or another way before training camp gets here."

RE: Does that apply to mini-camp as well?
"It applies to anything he does on the field for us. So I'm saying, for both parties it has to be done before the offseason program rolls if it's here or elsewhere if he wants a chance to be a starter."

RE: When is your first mini-camp?
"We have the one prior to the draft. I don't know the exact date. We added an extra one with Coach Singletary. We're doing one right now, it could change but we 're planning on doing one before the draft."

RE: Dates for that?
"I don't have them in front of me. I've got other things I'm kind of worried about right now."

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