Last week, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke adamantly denied contacting the Philadelphia Eagles about wide receiver DeSean Jackson. But he never denied having an interest in Jackson, who is a free agent after being released.
Instead, Baalke chose his words carefully.
“As of this moment, there’s been no discussions between us and the Philadelphia Eagles whatsoever,” Baalke said during the owners’ meeting in Orlando, Fla.
But reports linking the 49ers and Jackson, the former Cal star, might have been more accurate than Baalke let on. News4 in Washington, D.C., and ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday the 49ers are one of the teams interested in Jackson, who recently wrapped up a two-day visit with the Redskins. ESPN also reported that Jackson and the Redskins were discussing contract terms and could be close to a deal. Other teams reportedly with interest include the Raiders, who might be able to offer him the most money, the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills.
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The 49ers have an established strategy when dealing with free agents. If they have a high grade on a player, they’ll typically show interest early, only to back off if the price tag exceedes their parameters. For example, they were one of the teams that initially inquired about then-Vikings free-agent defensive end Jared Allen, but they quickly fell out of the running when Allen made it clear he would require a top-dollar contract.
The 49ers’ message to free agents seems to be they can offer an opportunity to play for a winning team, but they won’t break the bank to sign a player. In that way, the 49ers could give Jackson a better chance at making it to a Super Bowl than his other suitors. But other teams – especially the Raiders and Browns – could offer more money and realistically more playing time.
One 49ers starting receiver, Anquan Boldin, will earn $6 million this season, and the other, Michael Crabtree, will earn $4.7 million. Jackson was due to earn $12.5 million in Philadelphia and reportedly was angling for a better deal last season. The 49ers have a very strict salary cap structure, and Baalke said it was unlikely they would alter that for an outside player.
“Never say never, but history usually repeats itself, right?” Baalke said. “So historically the answer to that would be no. But we always reserve the right to do what’s in the best interest of the 49ers.”
The 49ers also reportedly have contacted the Los Angeles Police Department after the NJ.com story about Jackson’s gang affiliations in that city. Jackson’s reputed gang ties were a concern to the 49ers when he was coming out of Cal in the 2008 draft. The 49ers selected defensive end Kentwan Balmer in the first round; Jackson was drafted by the Eagles in the second round.
“There’s a lot of thought that goes into every decision,” Baalke said last week. “One key thing we focus on is, ‘What is this decision going to do to our locker room?’ That’s a big part of the decision-making process. We spend a lot of time looking at that, talking through it, thinking about it and making sure that the move we make isn’t counterproductive to winning. Because that’s the ultimate goal – is to win.”