The San Francisco 49ers have several potentially important free agents hitting the market next spring, with wide receiver Michael Crabtree and left guard Mike Iupati among the most notable. Earlier this spring, general manager Trent Baalke mentioned that the 49ers were constantly working with all their potential free agents, including Crabtree. On Saturday, Baalke sat down with the media for 45 minutes, and he again addressed Crabtree's situation. This quotation comes from Tim Kawakami's transcription:
* On the possibility of signing Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree to extensions before they become free agents next off-season: "We're going to try, we're going to work. But at some point you've got to stop negotiating deals and let these guys concentrate on football. I don't know what point that is; we'll make that determination as a club.
"But we're going to certainly work towards that goal. Those are two very good football players and guys that we'd love to have in this organization for the long-term."
The 49ers generally do not go into much detail when it comes to their contract negotiations. This is not an overly detailed answer, but his reference to letting the guys concentrate on football at some point, is an interesting comment. The 49ers seem to sign most of their extensions in the offseason, but they have signed extensions during the season. Examples of the latter include Alex Boone (2011), NaVorro Bowman (2012), and Tramaine Brock (2013). They also signed Frank Gore to his extension in the latter part of training camp in 2011.
Baalke was purposely vague on when the point comes to stop negotiating, so that very well could mean the team will continue negotiating into the season. Nonetheless, given that he said "let these guys concentrate on football" makes me think that if Crabtree and/or Iupati do not have a deal done before Week 1 of the regular season, any potential extension would not be done until after the 49ers season ends.
The 49ers would still have over a month of time to work with them, so it's not like there is a concern they would immediately be heading into free agency. Additionally, if nothing gets done now, waiting until the end of the season provides a lot more context to a deal.
There are several ways to look at Baalke's comments. For example, given how close the 49ers have been to a Super Bowl, and the fact that this might be the deepest 49ers roster since 1994, maybe Baalke realizes that there need to be zero distractions the 49ers can control. Stupid stuff will happen that is out of the team's control, but in terms of contracts, they can just decide, forget it, we're going to wait until the offseason so the players are completely focused on the task at hand.
On the other hand, it is also possible Baalke's comments about Crabtree and Iupati were a bit of a shot across the bow of Ryan Tollner (Iupati's agent) and Eugene Parker (Crabtree's agent). The 49ers are not a team that speaks about contract talks, which makes these comments stand out a little bit more.
Baalke does not normally seem like one to negotiate in the media, so it is reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt on this. The latter is a bit more of a cynical (or realistic, depending on how you look it) way things go down. However, the 49ers are in a unique situation with their level of talent and where they've been the last three years. Or maybe it really is a little bit of both. Few things are perfectly black and white after all.