The Niners' second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, James has been unable to crack a depth chart that has Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter above him. Marcus Lattimore -- recovered from knee surgery and set to make his pro debut -- could also leapfrog James.
James, 25, found success as San Francisco's primary return man last season, but the source told Barrows James has "made it clear" he wants a bigger role in the backfield. James had just 12 rushes in 12 regular-season games in 2013 and just one handle over three playoff contests.
The Niners' apparent play to move James comes two months after general manager Trent Baalke shut down the prospect of a trade.
"No discussions," Baalke said. "LaMichael is a 49er. He'll continue to be a 49er."