San Francisco 49ers

Status of 49ers veterans Frank Gore, Justin Smith in question

General manager Trent Baalke plans to sit down with Justin Smith, 35, after this week’s NFL scouting combine to discuss whether the veteran defensive lineman will return for a 15th season. Smith has told teammates he is contemplating retirement.
General manager Trent Baalke plans to sit down with Justin Smith, 35, after this week’s NFL scouting combine to discuss whether the veteran defensive lineman will return for a 15th season. Smith has told teammates he is contemplating retirement. jvillegas@sacbee.com

The future of two prominent, 30-something 49ers remains fuzzy, but the team is expecting clarity on both soon.

General manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday he plans to sit down with Justin Smith, 35, after this week’s NFL scouting combine to discuss whether the veteran defensive lineman will return for a 15th season. Smith has told teammates he is contemplating retirement.

And contract talks between the 49ers and Frank Gore, 31, will become more serious as free agency looms. On Sunday, Gore seemed to doubt the team’s commitment to him when he wrote in Instagram, “I know the fans love me but I need to know if the management does.”

That message led to a phone conversation the next day between Baalke and Gore.

“We reached out. He reached out back,” Baalke said. “He wasn’t expecting (his post) to take legs like it did. Nor were we. He didn’t have any intentions by it and he made that very clear in our conversations.”

For the first time in his 10-year career, Gore is heading toward free agency. He earned $6.5 million each of the past two seasons, high for a running back in his 30s and a figure that Gore, who turns 32 in May, is unlikely to receive from the 49ers or another team.

Baalke said again the team wants Gore back, but he said little has changed since the end of the season.

“It’s at the same place it was the last time we talked,” Baalke said. “We’re still working on it. It’s not something that’s going to get done yesterday. It’ll take some time to resolve. It’s our intention to have Frank back.”

The sides are not believed to have discussed numbers, but that could change this week in Indianapolis. Team president and chief negotiator Paraag Marathe and Gore’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are both here.

Gore is one of several high-profile 49ers set to become free agents. Others include wide receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati. Baalke said the team will meet with those players’ agents this week.

Another prominent player, tight end Vernon Davis, has one more year left on his contract. But his salary-cap figure is nearly $7 million, and after just 245 receiving yards and two touchdowns last year, there has been speculation the 49ers might try to part ways with Davis.

Baalke, however, said he “absolutely” expects Davis, 31, to be with the 49ers in 2015.

“It was an off year,” Baalke said. “He realizes (it). The great thing about Vernon is he understands. He’s been in this business long enough and he’s worked hard enough, he understands where his level of play is and still believes he can have some great years ahead of him, as do we. We look forward to having him a part of this.”

As for Smith, Baalke said the 49ers are approaching the scouting combine as if the veteran lineman isn’t returning.

“You always go in anticipating that you’re going to have to address those potential holes,” Baalke said. “So it’s no different than any other year in respect to that. It just happens to be several key players over a long period of time with the organization. And that’s why it draws more attention.”

Smith has been the bedrock of the defensive line since he arrived via free agency in 2008, and he and linebacker Aldon Smith formed a potent, one-two punch on the right side.

But Justin Smith suffered a triceps injury in 2012, battled a shoulder problem in 2013 and late last year dealt with a back injury. He was noncommittal about his return when asked in December, but he has been working out at the 49ers’ practice facility in recent weeks.

For several seasons, Smith has told teammates he intends to retire but always has come back. Is this year different?

“I do believe with each year passing as these guys get older, the end is near,” Baalke said. “Is he ready to call it quits? Once again, I can’t answer that.”

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

  Comments