Entrenched in his second offseason as the 49ers general manager, Trent Baalke is keeping an open mind when it comes to improving the team. Last year, Baalke proved to be a pivotal figure in turning the franchise around, as he and first-year coach Jim Harbaugh helped lead the 49ers to a 14 wins and the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
Speaking with KNBR on Tuesday afternoon, the NFL’s reigning Executive of the Year said he had instant chemistry with Harbaugh and that he felt good about the progress made in his first year on the job. Baalke and his staff signed key free agents like kicker David Akers, center Jonathan Goodwin and safety Donte Whitner in 2011, just to name a few, while putting together a deep, quality draft class.
“It was a group effort,” Baalke said. “We felt going in that we had a plan that we felt very good about. Jim and I had both talked about it many times. We were patient and patience does pay off in this business.”
As for this offseason, Baalke has been a busy man. He’s already re-signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks and safety C.J. Spillman, placed the franchise tag on safety Dashon Goldson and made a trip to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine.
With the franchise-tag deadline over, the 2012 free-agent class has taken shape and is set to hit the open market on March 13. Listening to Baalke, it seems the 49ers front office will consider all avenues of improvement.
“We’re always trying to improve the roster,” Baalke said. “That’s something we’re committed to. If there’s a move that we can make – whether it’s picking up some guys off the street, whether it’s signing some free agents from other teams, or going after a restricted free agent, drafting – nothing’s off limits. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to make this team as strong as we can make it.”
Baalke also reiterated the notion that the 49ers would like to keep as many members from last year’s team around in 2012, or as Harbaugh said, “(We) want to keep the band together.” Namely, Baalke addressed the current contract negotiations with free-agents quarterback Alex Smith and cornerback Carlos Rogers.
“We’re working very hard on it, like we are with all of our free agents” Baalke said. “I hate to sound like a broken record, but Alex is an important part of it, Carlos is an important part of it. … We’re trying our best to put together our best package to keep as many of them as we can.”
Thanks to the hard work of the 49ers front office, Baalke has another bargaining chip to bring to the table when speaking with potential free-agent targets: a new stadium. With the make-ready construction work already underway across the street from team headquarters in Santa Clara, the 49ers are hopeful 2014 is their first season in the new Santa Clara Stadium.
“All of that works to our advantage,” Baalke said. “When you have a new stadium, you’ve had a little success on the field, you have the type of players that we have, the type of coaches that we have – all of that plays into the decision of others.”
Amidst the tumultuous nature of the NFL offseason, one thing is for sure: Baalke won’t be resting on his laurels. Despite his stellar rookie season as a GM, he knows the road back to the NFC Championship game will be much tougher in 2012.
“We’ve had success, but it’s one year,” Baalke said. “The success you had in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the future. Each year you’ve got to try to get a little bit better.”
Click here to listen to Baalke’s interview
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