SANTA CLARA -- Could running back LaMichael James be the next high draft pick traded away by the 49ers?
James, limited to 39 carries in two seasons, is reportedly being shopped to potential trade partners, the Sacramento Bee reported.
General manager Trent Baalke has dealt other young, high-round prospects in recent years: wide receiver A.J. Jenkins (first round, 2012) to the Kansas City Chiefs last year, and safety Taylor Mays (second round, 2010) to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011. In return, the 49ers got wideout Jon Baldwin for Jenkins, and a seventh-round pick for Mays. Also, Baalke dealt quarterback Alex Smith, the 2005 draft's first pick, to the Chiefs last year for two second-round picks.
James appeared to embrace what he dubbed "old news" of being a trade candidate. On Twitter, he retweeted posts in which one fan wrote that he needed "a fresh start" and another fan hoped the 49ers "would use ur talent instead of give it away."
Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh have long maintained that James is a key member of the team. Of course, that could change if they find a suitable trade partner. But when? Before Monday's start of the offseason training program? Before training camp? Before the regular season?
James expressed unhappiness with his limited role in 2013, as he lingered on the depth chart behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and occasionally Anthony Dixon.
Although he led the nation with 150.4 rushing yards per game his final season at Oregon, James hasn't had a 100-yard game with the 49ers. His highest output was 49 yards in the 2012 regular-season finale against Arizona, and he's averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
The 5-foot-9 James got on the field more in 2013, though basically as a punt returner. He averaged 10.9 yards per punt return last regular season.
In the 49ers' NFC Championship game defeat at Seattle, James muffed a punt to open the second quarter, he got stopped for no gain on his only carry, and he averaged 23 yards on four kickoff returns.
The 49ers have 11 picks in next month's draft, including one in the first round (30th overall), two in the second (Nos. 56, 61) and three in the third (Nos. 77, 94, 100).