San Francisco Chronicle

Owens, Mariucci await word
January 15, 2003
49ers must decide on potential lame ducks

Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer

They're out there now, stranded and exposed. They're the potentially unprotected lame ducks, eager to know what will happen next. Eager to know how committed the organization is to them after years of hard work, dedication and success.

So what will the 49ers do with Terrell Owens and Steve Mariucci?

Emerging from an uneven but largely successful season, the team's best player and head coach are now in the same predicament. Both have one year remaining on their contracts, and both undoubtedly would like the organization to offer long-term extensions.

Even though unrestricted free-agent starters Tai Streets (wide receiver) and Chike Okeafor (defensive end) are without contracts, the direction of the organization very well might be determined by what the team does with Mariucci and Owens.

No concrete plans were made Tuesday for a meeting between team owner John York and Mariucci's representative, Gary O'Hagan. The meter, though, is running on the contracts of eight assistant coaches whose futures presumably hinge on Mariucci's fate.

O'Hagan didn't want to be pinned down on a timetable for talks. "I really can't comment on that," he said. "We are going to be real low-key. Any information you get will probably have to come from John York."

O'Hagan did say that it would take a few days for both sides to "solidify their positions."

Meanwhile, the ever-present scuttlebutt says that Mariucci and York might agree to do absolutely nothing. With the organization unsure of how frugal York will be in going forward, Mariucci might want to wait a year to see where the team is headed.

A year also would give the 49ers time to hunt for a head coach if Mariucci proves not to be to their liking. Having a lame-duck coach could be an uneasy situation, but it has been done before.

Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh said he often finished his contract before re- upping.

Owens might present a more daunting prospect. After reaching playing-time incentives, he can void the two years remaining on his deal after next season.

He wants to be signed this offseason and a deal now would make sense, even though he will be expensive. In light of Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss' $18 million signing bonus two years ago and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' $19 million signing bonus last year, Owens could command $20 million.

With the 49ers only $8 million over the cap and with just two unrestricted free agents, the time is ripe to sign Owens. Next year, the team will be flooded with free agents and risks losing several of them if Owens goes unsigned.

Also, the relationship between Owens and Mariucci has been restored and Owens would like to return to the 49ers.

The 29-year-old has stayed relatively healthy and the team could sign him to a long-term deal knowing that he probably would finish the contract.

Owens' salary goes from $4.2 million to $5.3 million next season. Counting bonuses and incentives, he figures to count more than $6 million against the cap. The 49ers could lower that figure by signing him to a long-term deal.

Owens proved indispensable to the team this season after catching 100 passes for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games.

Owens won over many of his staunchest adversaries in the locker room with his play this season. Reportedly, on the somber plane ride back from Tampa, Fla., several players approached Owens and told him what a pleasure it was to play with him this season.

Certainly, signing Owens and Mariucci would have broad player support. Mariucci suggested he might take less to stay in San Francisco than elsewhere during his Monday news conference.

"Oftentimes when someone loves being at their place of employment, sometimes you will continue to stay there and say no to something else because you're on a mission to accomplish something where you are," Mariucci said. "I think we have a good thing going on here."

NOTES: Position coaches are writing their evaluations of their own players this week, which they will submit to management. . . . One of the eight unsigned assistants, running backs coach Tom Rathman, wants to return. "I don't want to miss out on the fun," he said. "I think we are just getting better."

Next year in doubt


S Tim Hauck
DE Chike Okeafor
LB Terry Killens
WR Tai Streets
C Ben Lynch
T Matt Willig .


TE/LS Brian Jennings
QB Tim Rattay
CB Duane Hawthorne
TE Justin Swift
S Ronnie Heard
S John Keith
LB Quincy Stewart
WR/KR Vinny Sutherland
P Bill LaFleur

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