There is no more vexing prospect heading into the draft than Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Recent reports - from The Merc's Tim Kawakami and NFL Net's Jason LaCanfora - suggest that the 49ers not only like Clausen, they'd be willing to pool their picks together to go up and get him. There are two things that could be going on here.
1. This is a last-ditch ploy by Clausen's agent to prevent an Aaron Rodgers/Brady Quinn-like freefall in round one. Like Clausen, both of those guys were solid prospects coming out of the draft but they weren't considered can't-miss prospects. Once you get beyond a certain point in the first round, you start running out of teams that need quarterbacks. The most quarterback-needy teams in the first round are the Browns, Raiders and Bills at picks 7-9. If Clausen somehow got past those teams, there's a chance that, like Quinn and Rodgers, he would fall deep into the first round or farther. The 49ers are therefore a stop gap, a team that would prevent that kind of free fall. Furthermore, if the 49ers didn't want Clausen, they'd be more than happy to see one of the teams ahead of them take the quarterback instead of someone they truly coveted. The 49ers also are always the team that's mentioned/used when a quarterback needs a home. From Quinn to Michael Vick to Donovan McNabb, the 49ers are always at the top of the list because of their weak quarterback play in recent years.
2. Kawakami is correct when he writes that the 49ers' front-office dynamic is different without McCloughan. The former GM was indeed Alex Smith's biggest champion inside the building, and he likely argued against adding quarterbacks like Vick and Quinn because he believed in Smith. The 49ers' 2009 wooing of Kurt Warner, for instance, did not have McCloughan's support (perhaps because he saw it for what it was: an attempt by Warner and his agents to squeeze more money from the Cardinals). Which is to say, it's entirely possible that with McCloughan gone, the 49ers are more apt to go after a quarterback than they would have been if he were still around. And even if McCloughan were still around, Smith is playing in the final year of his deal. As of right now, I'd say there's a 50/50 chance he'd be back next year. David Carr is not a long-term starting option and Nate Davis is being brought along very slowly. If the 49ers felt that Jimmy Clausen was a starter-caliber quarterback, they should take him at pick No. 13. The scouts/analysts I've talked to have Clausen rated highly, and they say there are fewer questions about him than with Quinn and Rodgers. What we don't know, of course, is how the 49ers have Clausen rated.
More butt-covering by me: I wrote the other day that the 49ers could get ILB Brandon Spikes in the middle rounds of the draft. I'm hearing now that reports of Spikes' freefall are greatly exaggerated. He'll still go in one of the early rounds and the 49ers are one of the teams that are high on him. Spikes had lunch with the 49ers following his March 17 pro day workout.
-- Matt Barrows