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49ers' focus has been on free agent 'reclamation projects' (w/video)

  • Free agent safety Antoine Bethea provides a veteran presence in the defensive backfield that was vacated when Donte Whitner went to Cleveland. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SANTA CLARA - Send us your tired, your poor, your wasted draft picks, your locker-room misfits and, for minimal compensation, we will take them and turn them into a winner.

Reclamation projects — inexpensive fixer-uppers, if you will — were the 49ers' focus as they kicked off the new league year. Only one of the team's new acquisitions didn't fit that theme.

The 49ers wanted to retain free-agent safety Donte Whitner but felt that the $7 million-a-year deal the Browns offered him exceeded his value. So they acquired a Whitner-like replacement in Antoine Bethea, and did so at a lower price — a bit more than $5 million a year.

As was the case last year when rookie Eric Reid replaced Dashon Goldson at free safety, the new starter at safety is similar in size and style to the former starter. The 49ers needed a smart and steady veteran at that position as a counterbalance to the youth at other positions in the secondary. That's what they had in Whitner but also what they get in Bethea.

The rest of the additions fall under the category of: One general manager's trash is another's treasure.

When it comes to quarterback Blaine Gabbert, traded for a sixth-round pick, you have to assume coach Jim Harbaugh, who three years ago attended Gabbert's pro day at Missouri alongside general manager Trent Baalke, had input on the deal.

If Harbaugh had input, you have to assume that he believes he can work his quarterback-whisperer magic with Gabbert. Sure, everything from Gabbert's arm strength to his leadership to his moxie has been questioned since Jacksonville drafted him 10th overall in 2011. But he has size and physical gifts.

And given Harbaugh's track record with discarded quarterbacks (See: Smith, Alexander D.), you have to give him and the 49ers the benefit of the doubt at this point.

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