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Cohn: Niners would be nuts to draft a QB


The 49ers should not draft a quarterback in the first round. I want to shout that from the top of the Transamerica Pyramid or from the upper deck at Candlestick Park. I want to fly a plane over Northern California trailing a banner with the message: No QB in 1st round for Niners.

Got that?

Draft Week kicks off today and you can read writers and hear pundits (what's a pundit?) proclaim the 49ers need a quarterback and should (and will) use one of their first-round picks to draft one. The 49ers have two picks in the first round, No. 13 and No. 17, and if they use either of those essential picks on a guy who throws a football for a living they are mentally addled.

As a side note I would like to declare with authority the 49ers will or will not draft a quarterback in one of those spots, but I don't know. I don't know for two reasons. First of all, teams always lie this time of year. It's an annual ritual — lie to those media morons; they'll lap it up. So if the Niners say they want a quarterback, that could mean they are looking for a punter.

More important — and this is the big one — the 49ers have not made draft czar Trent Baalke available to columnists, people like me who actually have opinions and share them with the reading public. The 49ers have conducted two media sessions allowing beat writers — writers who cover the team — to interview Baalke. Since there are about 3? Niner beat writers left in the world, those must have been intimate sessions involving celery and onion dip and Billie Holiday records in the background.

You get the feeling the 49ers are protecting Baalke, who took over for Scot McCloughan. I wouldn't know Baalke if I bumped into him in the Niners' Santa Clara Fortress of Solitude. It is never a good sign when the presumptive GM needs protecting. I was on television the other night with David White, the Chron's new 49er beat writer, and David said Baalke is not as articulate as McCloughan and that's why the Niners are limiting his exposure to media.

Not as articulate as McCloughan? McCloughan has difficulty making a subject and verb agree, so if Baalke is not as his level he must speak like Cro-Magnon Man. But as I say, I wouldn't know. I also don't know what his voice sounds like, how he carries himself or how he thinks. This anonymous person is running the draft for your San Francisco 49ers and is their de facto general manager.

Had I been allowed in Baalke's presence. I would have asked about drafting a quarterback in the first round. Because I wasn't there. I am reacting to what's in the air — QB first round, a very bad idea.

Why is it a very bad idea?

It is a very bad idea because the 49ers need to win their division next season — we are talking 2010. The season is ready for the picking because the Niners play in one of the weak divisions in the NFL. You know that. This will be the season Mike Singletary shows once and for all if he is a bona fide coach or just a terrific soundtrack. This will be the season the 49ers show if their modest improvement is for real and truly part of an upward trend. So much needs to happen next season.

Which means the 49ers have no business drafting a quarterback, someone who might work out some day but will have absolutely no bearing — zilch — on the upcoming season. The 49ers cannot allow themselves the luxury of a wasted first-round pick in the context of a make-or-break season. If Baalke had met with the columnists, I would have told him that and gauged his reaction. If I raised the subject and he started weeping, I would have known the Niners are in big trouble.

The two quarterbacks generally linked to the 49ers are Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow, although it's unclear either is good enough or would help the team. Clausen went to Notre Dame and Jed York went to Notre Dame, so there may be some kind of a connection. And then again, there may not. Tebow is deeply religious and so is Singletary, so there might be a connection between those two. And then again, there may not.

All this is irrelevant. The 49ers need at least one offensive lineman, maybe more. They could use a defensive back and a serious pass rusher. They have to address those needs right now. They certainly have to address those needs before they diddle around with a quarterback prospect at least two years behind the learning curve.

And there's something else. Try to imagine what drafting a quarterback would do to Alex Smith. The message would be clear: "Alex, you are benched." Oh, it wouldn't mean the 49ers would bench him immediately. It would be a Joe Montana/Steve DeBerg deal. The new guy would exist as Smith's replacement and it would only be a matter of time.

Why is this bad? Because Smith is emotionally fragile and this is precisely the wrong time to give him the heebie jeebies. They need him to play well, not to have an anxiety fit in the trainer's room.

Is it a liability that Smith is fragile? Sure. But the 49ers have hitched their wagon to his psyche for next season and there's no percentage in crashing that wagon. That's why no one on the Niners ever says David Carr is competing with Smith for the starting job. Too dangerous to say that. They say "Alex is our man" and Carr is a backup even though Carr will be the No. 1 guy in a heartbeat if Smith can't do the job.

Everything is in the phrasing and by the way they say things, the Niners are trying to keep Smith sane. If they draft a quarterback, it could send Smith to the psychiatrist's couch and no one needs that.

So, I come back to my original statement. The 49ers should not draft a quarterback in the first round. If they do, the one who needs a shrink is Baalke, whoever he is.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at blog.pressdemocrat.com/cohn. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.