The 49ers are looking to trade inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, according to multiple sources.
Wilhoite, a 16-game starter last year, has been a valuable player for the 49ers both on defense and special teams, but he’s likely to be buried on a depth chart that promises to have starters Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman back for 2015 and also includes young players like Chris Borland, Nick Moody and Shayne Skov.
According to one league source, the 49ers are seeking a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick in return. With Bowman recovering from an ACL injury last year, Wilhoite was the Day One starter at the “Jack” inside linebacker position in 2014. When Willis was sidelined with a knee injury later in the year, Wilhoite teamed with Borland on the inside.
The 49ers finished the season ranked seventh in rushing defense and led the league with 23 interceptions. Wilhoite had two of them.
Wilhoite, who entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted rookie from Washburn University, is a pending exclusive rights free agent. That means he is not under contract with the 49ers for 2015 but cannot negotiate with any other teams. The 49ers can tender him at a minimal salary, then trade his rights.
If they are unable to move Wilhoite, he’s likely to have a large role on special teams, which already lost Ray “Bubba” Ventrone, who joined the New England Patriots coaching staff this week, and could lose Kassim Osgood in free agency.
Justin Smith visits – Veteran defensive end Justin Smith was at the 49ers‘ facility Wednesday, presumably to speak with coach Jim Tomsula about his status this season.
Smith, 35, has another year remaining on his contract but had not yet notified the team whether he plans to come back. There was no word of a resolution Wednesday night.
The 49ers also met with former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett, 33. Dockett, who sat out the 2014 season with an ACL tear, had a physical. The Cardinals want Dockett back in 2015 but at a reduced salary. The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams also are reportedly interested in him.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.