SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers made a splash before free agency even began.
Franchise rushing leader Frank Gore is gone. A former Australian rugby star is here. Star linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement Tuesday and fellow defensive stalwart Justin Smith might follow. And Colin Kaepernick is still the quarterback despite speculation he could be traded, prompting a team statement.
“Colin is our quarterback and we are excited to have him. He is not going anywhere,” general manager Trent Baalke said. “The media reports suggesting otherwise are without merit and quite frankly ridiculous.”
Left guard Mike Iupati is headed to division rival Arizona, while defensive end Darnell Dockett left the Cardinals to join San Francisco. Last week, former rugby star Jarryd Hayne signed with the 49ers hoping to achieve his goal of playing in the NFL.
On Monday, news broke that fullback Bruce Miller was arrested on suspicion of spousal battery. CEO Jed York — who said Dec. 29 that the franchise would move forward by winning with class — kept the focus on Willis during Tuesday’s news conference at Levi’s Stadium and wasn’t available to discuss other matters.
This has been an eventful few days, and it’s just getting going for the franchise that let coach Jim Harbaugh go at season’s end and replaced him by promoting defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
Tight end Vernon Davis took to Twitter congratulating Willis for a great career, posting how he would miss Iupati and weighing in on the dramatic changes.
“We’ve been hit by a lot & it looks like there’s still more to come. Times like this your FAITH is all you can lean on,” Davis said.
San Francisco was working to add a familiar face in Davis’ college teammate at Maryland, wide receiver Torrey Smith, to replace Michael Crabtree.
Smith posted on Twitter “Bay Area!!!!!!” following four seasons with Baltimore, including the 2012 season when his Ravens beat the 49ers by three points in the Super Bowl at New Orleans.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus didn’t immediately return messages.
The 26-year-old Smith had 49 receptions for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
He will be reunited with former Ravens teammate Anquan Boldin in what could be a dynamic receiving corps.
Smith’s deal is for a reported five years and includes $22 million in guaranteed money and could be worth as much as $40 million, according to ESPN.
San Francisco announced it had re-signed tight end and long snapper Kyle Nelson to a four-year deal.