San Francisco Chronicle

Stubblefield, Fiore victims of salary cap
February 27, 2003
Deese upset over what he sees as uncertain future with 49ers

Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer

The annual dance the 49ers undergo to get under the salary cap prompted the release of offensive lineman Dave Fiore and defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield.

They were casualties of the team's effort to drop an estimated $6.5 million by today to comply with the league's $74.8 million salary cap.

The team also restructured the deals of tackle Scott Gragg, center Jeremy Newberry, safety Tony Parrish, defensive end Andre Carter, fullback Fred Beasley, safety Zack Bronson and quarterback Jeff Garcia.

The team saved $8 million with their restructures, and close to $5 million with the release of Fiore and Stubblefield.

"I really wanted to retire as a 49er," said Stubblefield, who wasn't surprised by his release. "I knew something was going on. I could feel it when I went to the facility."

Stubblefield also said he didn't feel it was a decision based on the salary cap. "I just think there was a compilation of people who didn't want me there, " he said.

Niners general manager Terry Donahue said Stubblefield's play fell off toward the end of the year because "his weight got higher on him." Said Stubblefield, "No one said anything to me about my weight. You would think if it was that big a problem they would say something to me."

It's also what the team didn't do that has upset left tackle Derrick Deese. Typically, the team restructures contracts of highly paid veterans. This year, they left that group largely alone outside of paying their roster bonuses.

It leaves many wondering what will happen after June 1, when the remaining amount of players' bonuses is halved against the cap. The timing of a release after June 1 is cap-friendly for the team but horrendous for the player, who must scramble to find employment in the weeks leading up to training camp.

Generally, those players must accept pay cuts by staying with their original team or sign for a bargain rate with another club.

Deese's contract was left untouched, making his future unsure. Deese, the team's dean with 11 years as a 49er, believes he is coming off his best season.

He hasn't allowed a sack in 20 games and improved his run blocking after a rigorous offseason training regimen.

"I shouldn't have to worry about whether my team is going to ambush me (after June 1)," Deese said.

Deese would have preferred to have been released than to be tentatively tethered to the team even though he'll be paid a $300,000 roster bonus this week. He believes his future is all the more tenuous after a postseason meeting with 49ers coaches and management.

Deese was dismayed when told only his postseason performance was relevant to his future with the team.

"How can they say that when I played well all year and helped them get to the playoffs?" Deese wondered.

Struggling with an ankle injury for most of the season, Deese played sparingly in the 49ers' two playoff contests. In fact, his health may have been one reason the 49ers didn't restructure his deal.

But Deese maintains his ankle is a nonissue. He didn't need surgery and is now doing his daily field workouts without hindrance.

"If I had gotten the rest I needed during the season, it wouldn't have been a problem," said Deese, who called the injury a little more than a sprain. But Deese never got two straight games to rest the injury.

Also, in discussions with the team this week Deese was never assured he would retain his job.

The only player who dates to the Joe Montana era, Deese has witnessed the unceremonious departures of players like Montana and safety Merton Hanks.

"I believe they are going to release me after June 1," he said.

Donahue said he doesn't anticipate much tinkering with contracts throughout the offseason, meaning that players like Deese might not be asked to take pay cuts.

"That's why we like Derrick Deese -- he loves to fight," Donahue said. "He'll fight anybody."

Fiore began the season as the team's left guard before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the team's third game against Washington. It was at least his fifth major knee surgery.

However, he seems healthy and would have been ready to play at the end of the year if not placed on injured reserve.

"We made it very clear to Dana Stubblefield and Dave Fiore we appreciated their service to the 49ers," Donahue said. "And we didn't want to close the door on their future (with the 49ers)."

Stubblefield isn't sure what he will do next, and he may decide to retire.

To replace him, Donahue mentioned the names of Jim Flanigan, promising second-year player Josh Shaw and a draft thick with defensive linemen.

Briefly: The 49ers used up $3.2 million of their newly uncovered money by tendering offers to QB Tim Rattay, WR Tai Streets, CB Jimmy Williams, TE/LS Brian Jennings and P Billy LaFleuer. Only Streets was tendered at the $1.32 million level, meaning a team would have to compensate the 49ers with a first- round pick if he's signed by another club. . . . Donahue and Niners management will meet with University of the Pacific officials to discuss whether the team will continue training camp in Stockton. Donahue put the odds at 50-50. If the 49ers don't train in Stockton, training camp will take place at their year- round Santa Clara facility. . . . Donahue said efforts to re-sign WR Terrell Owens, who has a year left on his deal, won't begin until after the draft.

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