Thanks to Blez over at Athletics Nation, I was able to get in touch with Matt Barrows, beat writer for the 49ers at the Sacramento Bee. Matt was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer my questions about the team and look ahead to the team's offseason plans. Before we get to the questions, here's a little background on Matt. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1995, and earned an advanced journalism degree from Northwestern University. After working at a South Carolina daily in 1997, he moved to Sacramento to work for the Bee in 1999 and began covering the 49ers in 2003. Feel free to check out his Mailbag over at SacBee.com.
NN: With the 49ers season complete, talk has turned to free agency and the draft. The 49ers have a ton of cap room and there is quite a bit of talent available. Is John York going to be willing to spend the big bucks it would take to get a Nate Clements, Lance Briggs or Justin Smith?
MB: Hi David. Yes, Dr. York has given Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan carte blanche to get the players they need, especially for defense. Of the players you mentioned, Clements probably is at the top of the list. The 49ers considered trading for him during the season but the asking price was too high. There are some positions the 49ers would like to upgrade in free agency rather than the draft, and cornerback is one of them. The team's lack of depth at the position was exposed when Shawntae Spencer went down with an ankle injury this season. If they did get Clements, it'll be interesting to see who -- Spencer, Clements or Walt Harris -- are the top two guys at the position. It'll make training camp quite interesting. I think Briggs will be their No. 2 option at linebacker. Nolan definitely wants to run a 3-4 defense in 2007, and Baltimore LB Adalius Thomas is better suited for that configuration than Briggs, who, by the way, is from the Sacramento Area.
NN: It seems Gore has proven he can carry the load and stay healthy. Do you think a long term deal gets done for Frank Gore before this upcoming season?
MB: I do think Gore gets a long-term deal by the start of the season. The 49ers don't want the distraction in 2007 and neither does Gore. The folks in the 49ers' front office don't have any issue with Gore's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who has a good track record of getting emerging players signed to extensions in the off-season.
NN: The WR talent in the draft seems pretty solid, while the WR free agent pool is relatively shallow. Do you see the team taking a long hard look at a Dwayne Jarrett or Ted Ginn (if he comes out) with that first pick, or maybe waiting until a later round to find a potential big play threat?
MB: I do see them taking a long, hard look at a WR. The combine, of course, will help determine the draft order, but Jarrett seems like he's in striking distance with the No. 11 pick. I'm not sure what to think of Ginn. He'd give the team the speed to drive d-coordinators crazy, but his hands seem suspect and he doesn't look like much of a downfield blocker. I'm no Notre Dame fan by any means, but every time I watched the Irish this season, Jeff Samardjiza had a big game. At 6-5, 220-ish pounds, he also has the size Nolan likes.
NN: A quick follow-up question on Ginn: Do you think he could fill a Steve Smith (Carolina) roll with his speed at the NFL level? It seems WRs take 2 or 3 years to really get established and in the meantime he could be a kick off and punt returner to make an impact.
MB: Steve Smith is a small guy, but he's very, very strong. I'm not sure Ted Ginn is built the same way. It seems to me he's more of a sprinter. The combine ought to tell us more about whether he can become an all-around receiver. The 49ers wouldn't draft Ginn in the first round if they thought he was one dimensional.
NN: With the plethora of picks at their disposal, do you see the 49ers potentially trading up in the first to get a Gaines Adams, who some are comparing to Julius Peppers, or Alan Branch to beef up the pass rush?
MB: Trading up is definitely a possibility, especially considering the 49ers' abundance of third- and fourth-round picks. If they fall in love with someone, say Branch, and feel he'd be gone by pick No. 9, they certainly could make like the Jeffersons and move on up....
NN: Do you think Singletary will get a crack at the defensive coordinator job or will they go for a more veteran coordinator like they did with Norv Turner? Seems like D-Coordinator would be the next logical step for Singletary, although maybe he thinks he can land a head coaching job first.
MB: I don't think Singletary is in the running for defensive coordinator. Nolan wants experience at the position and Singletary, while big on motivation, is not and Xs and Os type of coach. Nolan liked former coordinator Billy Davis, but because Davis did not have much seasoning at the position, Nolan was hesitant to give him free reign. In fact, any observer at a 49ers practice the last two years would assume Nolan was the coordinator because he was far more vocal and active. One of Nolan's weaknesses in two years as head coach has been his game management (timeouts??) and that might be attributable to him being preoccupied with the defense. That wouldn't change if Singletary were coordinator.
NN: On a separate note, what are your thoughts on the stadium issues? I'm sure the 49ers have some Sacramento season ticket holders, but since many residents would just be watching the games on TV, do the residents up there consider it a big deal, as long as the team stays in the Greater Bay Area, remains on TV and retains the San Francisco part of the name? Or does being in San Francisco mean a lot more for you guys?
MB: Funny thing about the stadium issue -- the Sacramento area boasts the same number of season ticket holders (about 10 percent) as the City of San Francisco. As someone who commutes between Sac and the Bay Area quite a bit, I can tell you that the Santa Clara-to-Sac trip takes about two hours while the Candlestick-to-Sac trip takes about 1:20 ... if there's no traffic. But there's ALWAYS traffic, especially at Bay Bridge. And when you factor in the crawl out of the Monster Park lots, it's incredibly slow and aggravating. I'm willing to bet that if the new Santa Clara stadium is as transportation-friendly as city officials there say it will be, the overall commute to and from Sacramento will be decidedly shorter, time-wise, than it is now to Monster Park. And when you consider that I actually live in Santa Clara, you kind of see where my feelings lie....
NN: There have been some features discussing Jeremy Newberry's return. Do you think Newberry will be able to successfully come back from all the injuries or has the time come for him to hang up his cleats?
MB: Jeremy Newberry is one of the most competitive athletes out there. Right now his knees aren't bothering him at all, and he figures he ought to give it one more shot. I think it would bother him for the rest of his life if he didn't try. Now whether his knees hold up is another question. History says that they probably will not.
NN: Finally, does Bryant Young make it back for one more year? His leadership on a potentially improving defense would hopefully allow for a smooth transition to the talent they bring in this off-season.
MB: I, for one, would be surprised if BY does not return for another season. Not only did he play well at the end of the season -- a good barometer for older players -- he played well at the end of games at the end of the season. The only way he doesn't come back is if he realizes that his body is in very good shape now and decides to quit while he is ahead. But I think he's like Newberry -- too competitive to keep away when he knows he can still contribute.
Thanks to Matt for his time and information. He was busy traveling on the East Coast and we were able to conduct this interview via email. If you like the information you see, maybe we can turn this into a 3 or 4 times a year post. In the mean time, remember to check out Matt's mailbag at Sacbee.com.