INDIANAPOLIS — 49ers GM Trent Baalke said Thursday that he does not see the possible lack of free agency as an extra impetus to draft a quarterback in the upcoming draft. However, Baalke did point to the depth of this draft, especially at the quarterback position.
"There's good quarterbacks at every level of this draft, there's going to be guys that get picked later on that become good quarterbacks," Baalke said. "We're going to evaluate every one of them, and be in a position to pick them where we have them valued. "
Currently, the 49ers have only backup David Carr on their roster, although former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith and Troy Smith, who started six games for the team last season, are free agents who could be in the mix if they are brought back.
Baalke said he will lean heavily on new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has developed a reputation as something of a QB guru in his time coaching in the college ranks after being a solid starting QB in the NFL for many years.
"He's not only our head coach, he played the position, he has proven that he can develop the quarterback at the places he has been, and he's also proven in his short time in the league that he has an eye for that position," Baalke said.
While Harbaugh didn't want to tip his hand on his quarterback plans for next year, he did say that he was looking forward to evaluating the prospects at the Combine.
"It's the opportunity to get knee-to-knee and eyeball-to-eyeball with these guys. Some instances it may only be 15 minutes, other instances it may only be five minutes, but that's valuable time," Harbaugh said. "Then also to watch them compete in drills, see what their energy level is, see how they go about their business, and evaluate them as much as you can."
With the quarterback position a question mark for the Cardinals and possibly the Seahawks, too, Baalke admitted that whichever team secures that position would have a leg up in the NFC West divisional race along with the Rams, who added Sam Bradford via the draft last year.
"I think it's proven that this is a quarterback-driven league, and you need a guy that can function at that position to be successful," Baalke said. "With that in mind, I think whoever does the better job of answering that question and solidifying that position on their team is going to have an advantage. "
Harbaugh agreed on the crucial nature of properly evaluating the QB position.
"Quarterback is a critical position," Harbaugh said. "I feel like my job right now is to give the best possible evaluation on the quarterbacks in the draft that I can. Getting a chance to meet them — Do they love football? Do they like to work at the game? How much do they understand the game? Will they be a fit for our team? Those are all critical evaluations."