SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Apparently, there are no hard feelings on 49ers general manager Trent Baalke's part regarding the Saints' targeting of San Francisco players in their bounty program.
The GM recently reached out to suspended former New Orleans defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams to discuss the matter.
He and Williams worked together during the 2004 season in Washington and Baalke still considers him a friend. Baalke said Wednesday they had a nice chat and that he has long respected Williams as a football coach.
"I don't feel any differently about him today than I did 20 days ago," Baalke said. "I've worked with Gregg. Gregg's a friend and he's been a friend. It was only fitting that you reach out and speak with him, and I felt very good about the conversation."
Williams oversaw and contributed money to the illegal bounty fund for planned vicious hits on opponents and has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL for his involvement in the scheme from 2009-11.
Earlier this month, a recording emerged of Williams in January telling players to "put a lick" on 49ers receiver and return man Kyle Williams to see if he had lingering effects from a concussion. San Francisco beat Drew Brees and the favoured Saints 36-32 in the NFC divisional playoffs.
"I have no untoward feelings about the game. It was a great football game. Both teams played extremely well and we got the better of it. I have great memories of that football game," said coach Jim Harbaugh, who insists he doesn't have enough information on the bounties to speak specifically.
"I mean, it would be like trying to comment on the clean water crisis that our world is facing," he said. "I don't have all the facts on that, you know? Who's going to be the best political candidate for president? I don't know. I mean, I'm immersed in football. So I don't think there's any need to be another guy jumping on the bandwagon having an opinion on it. The NFL is handling it, and that's good enough for me."
In the NFC championship game Jan. 22, Kyle Williams fumbled a punt in overtime of San Francisco's 20-17 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants to set up Lawrence Tynes' winning field goal.
The 49ers insist he will still be in the mix this season despite the costly misplay.
"I'm not down on Kyle Williams, nor is anyone else in this organization. It's done, it's over with and we're moving forward," Baalke said. "I'm very confident that Kyle will get past the incident of last year and is ready to move on. And he'll get better because of it."
Baalke said wideout Randy Moss isn't among the 60 players participating in the team's off-season workouts at team headquarters, where the 49ers on Thursday will hold a formal groundbreaking ceremony for their new $1 billion stadium that's already in the works.
The team facility is a gigantic construction zone, with a sign advertising the franchise's "new home" and a huge blowup 49ers helmet on site. The project plan calls for a 1.85-million square-foot facility with a 68,500-seat stadium featuring 165 luxury suites and 9,000 club seats.
Harbaugh said Moss is expected to be in town by April 30, plenty of time before organized team activities begin May 21. The coach suggested to Moss, who was out of football last year, that he train in West Virginia and spend more time with his family.
So, the 49ers have plenty to look forward to rather than focusing on how last season ended — or the bounty news that has dominated this off-season nearly as much as the pursuit of Peyton Manning, who wound up in Denver instead of the Bay Area.
Gregg Williams has admitted to his role in overseeing the bounty system that offered Saints defenders payment for painful hits. He left New Orleans after last season — his third with the Saints — and was hired as defensive co-ordinator by the St. Louis Rams.
San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers insists he, like Baalke, has moved past the bounty scandal. He played for Williams with the Redskins and considers him among the top coaches he has played for.
"I don't really look too much into it, because Gregg is one of my best coaches ever," Rogers said. "I never experienced the bounty stuff. All the stuff I heard about, I didn't read too much into it because for me, sitting in that locker room, he's just an aggressive coach. He talks aggressive. The whole bounty thing is just a word that is used as a bad word but also he's not out to hurt anybody. Everything I've seen him do, even when I watched clips, I've never seen anybody carted off. If you really want to go after somebody, it's easy to do — you just go hit their knee or hit whatever you want to target every time."
Rogers has made a name for himself with the 49ers, sharing the team lead with six interceptions last season for the NFC West champions. He was re-signed to a $31.3 million, four-year contract last month.
Rogers, for one, is pulling for Williams to recover both personally and professionally. They spoke when the news initially broke about the bounties.
"That's one of my closest friends, coaches. We're still close," Rogers said. "I know he regrets it. I hope he gets a second chance."
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