49er free agents find out where they stand
February 26, 2003
Signing period begins Friday as players learn if there's a future with team
By MATT MAIOCCO
The NFL's free-agent signing period begins Friday, when teams no longer have exclusive negotiating rights with their unrestricted and restricted free agents. Here's a look at the 49ers' scheduled free agents and how they might fit in with the club in 2003:
S Tim Hauck: The 13-year veteran was signed in December because of a rash of injuries in the defensive backfield. Outlook: No chance they will re-sign him.
CB Duane Hawthorne: The four-year vet signed in December a week after he was cut by the Dallas Cowboys. He did not step onto the field to play defense until injuries forced him to log significant time in playoff loss to Tampa Bay. Outlook: Might warrant a longer look.
LB Terry Killens: Signed in January and played against Tampa Bay on special teams. Outlook: No reason to re-sign him.
C Ben Lynch: Did not re-sign with the team until training camp last season. His lack of versatility and $530,000 minimum salary are the reasons the 49ers will look for other options. Outlook: If they don't feel they have a reliable backup, they might be able to re-sign him in the summer.
DE Chike Okeafor: Started every game and ranked second on the team with six sacks. Clearly, he is the team's top priority in free agency. He has shown improvement each season. Outlook: His return might be 50-50, as defensive ends general get good money on the open market.
OL Matt Willig: An 11-year veteran, Willig provided a valuable service as he was able to back up at every spot, except center, on the offensive line. But the 49ers want to get younger and cheaper. Outlook: If the team feels it hasn't found someone to take his place, he could re-sign during training camp.
S Ronnie Heard: They like his versatility and his smarts in the secondary as a backup. Outlook: Almost assuredly will return, unless another team is willing to make him a starter.
LS Brian Jennings: The 49ers think he's one of the better long-snappers in the league. Outlook: They'd like to keep him around for 10 more seasons.
S John Keith: Never appeared to get over the knee injury that ended his 2001 season in the opening game. Outlook: Might not be tendered but it doesn't mean he can't rejoin team at minimum salary.
QB Tim Rattay: He is a popular player among the receivers because of his ability to get the ball down the field. Rattay has shown to be a pretty decent backup to Jeff Garcia and the club would like to keep him. Outlook: If the 49ers tender him at $605,000 it would not scare any teams from making a run at him because all they'd need to give the 49ers is a seventh-round draft pick as compensation. In order to guarantee he'll be back, the 49ers might have to offer him a one-year, $1.318 deal.
WR Tai Streets: With a meager group of free-agent receivers, Streets might have scored big on the open market. But the NFL ruled last week that Streets is a restricted free agent, not unrestricted.
Outlook: The 49ers will likely tender him at $1.318 million, so if he is signed by another team they will have the opportunity to match or they'll receive a first-round draft pick as compensation.
TE Justin Swift: His wife was Steve Mariucci's secretary, which might not be a good sign. Outlook: They're looking to upgrade depth at tight end, so he might not be back.
P Bill LaFleur: Was signed 11 games into the season and proved to be worse than the guy he replaced. Outlook: Might be invited to camp but they'll be looking for someone much better.
LB Quincy Stewart: Was team's leading tackler on special teams, though others have edged ahead of him for backup linebacker roles. Outlook: Probably gets invited to camp.
WR/RS Vinny Sutherland: Cut in the preseason and re-signed as return specialist in playoffs. He decided to do 20 days of jail time recently instead of a weekend work furlough arrangement after pleading no contest of drunken-driving charges. He thought jail time would interfere less with his work schedule. Outlook: Probably won't have a work schedule with 49ers.
CB/RS Jimmy Williams: Showed signs of being one of the better return specialists in the league until sustaining season-ending knee injury. Management would like to see him get more of a chance on defense, too. Outlook: He'll definitely be back.
Unrestricted free agent: Player is able to negotiate with any other team.
Restricted free agent: Club can match any offer and, based on level of tender, can receive draft-pick compensation if club declines to match.
Exclusive-rights free agent: If club offers a one-year tender, player can't negotiate with any other team.
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