Those plans changed quickly when Balmer did not report to preseason camp after being linked to the Carolina probe.

Cam Thomas, a 2009 Tar Heels defensive line star, said last week that he and current defensive lineman Marvin Austin were treated to trips to California by Balmer last summer. The team went on to an eight-win season and a bowl trip.

Balmer’s agent, Gary Wichard, is a good friend of Carolina associate head coach John Blake.

Balmer’s trade Monday came after an early-morning report by The Sacramento Bee in which Singletary made it clear that he was at wit’s end with the player holding out.

“I talked to Kentwan. And as simple as I can put it, I asked him to be here,” Singletary said in the report. “He’s not here. b& He is under contract, and the fact that he’s not here, that speaks to me.

“What it says, I really don’t know to him, but to us, all I know is that he’s not here. Fine. We’re practicing_we’re doing what we have to do.”

News of the trade to Seattle surfaced less than two hours later.

Efforts to reach Balmer for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Assuming Balmer attends practice with the Seahawks and makes favorable impressions on head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Casey Bradley, the trade could have a positive impact.

But the player’s holdout to date has only added to the mystery surrounding the NCAA investigation.

To be fair, Balmer has not been accused by the NCAA of any wrongdoing. The same goes for Wichard, Blake, Austin, Thomas, Tar Heels receiver Greg Little, other team members, Carolina head coach Butch Davis or the school itself.

But if all of this is simply a chain of coincidences, there certainly are closely related links.

Balmer, who played high school ball in Weldon, N.C., and came across as a likeable, team-first performer during his years in Chapel Hill, is flirting with professional disaster.

With the 49ers, he went AWOL at a time when not only was he under contract but coming off a shoulder injury that kept him out of the final few games of his second pro season.

The rookie 315-pounder never cracked the starting lineup on a weak team in 2008, didn’t start in any of his 11 games last season and still doesn’t have a quarterback sack after 27 NFL games.

The last thing a young player with that sort of performance record needs to be doing is ticking off coaches, general managers and player personnel directors.

The fact that Balmer was traded to a division rival for a mid-round pick means the Seahawks have such a minimal investment that he’s already dealing with a thin margin for error.

Financially, Balmer should be set for life. His salary this season is almost $600,000, and he’s already been paid more than $3 million by the 49ers. But the contract ends after the 2012 season, and according to the NFL players union, defensive linemen average less than five full seasons in the league.

Balmer is lucky. He’s getting paid a fortune to play football. Unless there’s an injury problem, he would be smart to start drawing those paychecks again.

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