The Press Democrat

49ers' salary cap purge begins
February 27, 2003
Stubblefield, Fiore cut;11-year veteran Deese possible June casualty


SANTA CLARA -- On the day the 49ers officially parted ways with defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and guard Dave Fiore, the team also sent signals Wednesday to its longest-tenured player that he might not be around for another season.

Left tackle Derrick Deese, an 11-year veteran who came to the 49ers in 1992 as an undrafted free agent, will collect a $300,000 roster bonus Friday but said he is under the impression he will be released in June for salary-cap purposes. He declined further comment.

Stubblefield and Fiore were released as the 49ers managed to get underneath the league-mandated $75 million salary cap. The team also restructured the contracts of seven players at a cap savings of approximately $8 million, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said.

Deese was not one of the players asked to restructure his contract, which was a tip-off that his future with the 49ers was in question. Releasing him in June would create $2.3 million in cap room, which would help the team sign its draft picks.

Running back Garrison Hearst and No. 3 receiver J.J. Stokes, both scheduled to earn approximately $2.2 million, were not asked to restructure their contracts, either.

Hearst, who is expected to relinquish the starting job this season to two-year veteran Kevan Barlow, probably makes too much money to be a backup.

Donahue spoke specifically only about Hearst, but lumped him into the class with all the other players on the team's current roster.

"There's no reason to feel he doesn't have a future," Dona-hue said.

When asked if he expects Hearst to play for his scheduled base salary, Donahue responded: "Right now, we certainly do. (It's) the same with any player on our team. To get specific about any individual is misleading. It's the same with every player on our team ... at some point in time, every player on the team could be asked to restructure their contract up or down."

On the surface, releasing Deese does not appear to make much sense. He's coming off perhaps his finest season in the NFL, and the 49ers don't have anyone ready to step in to protect quarterback Jeff Garcia's blind side.

According to statistics supplied by the team, Deese has not allowed a sack in his last 21 games.

The 49ers tendered three restricted free agents: receiver Tai Streets ($1.318 million), backup quarterback Tim Rattay and long-snapper Brian Jennings (both at $605,000). The 49ers have the right to match any offer sheet those players might sign with another club. They would receive a first-round draft pick as compensation if they lose Streets and a seventh-round pick for losing either Rattay or Jennings.

The team tendered two exclusive-rights free agents: return specialist/cornerback Jimmy Williams and punter Bill LaFleur. Neither of those players can negotiate with any other team.

Among the notable players the 49ers declined to tender, making them unrestricted free agents, are: safeties Ronnie Heard and John Keith, tight end Justin Swift and linebacker Quincy Stewart. They could re-sign any of those players later in free agency.

Garcia, defensive end Andre Carter, offensive linemen Scott Gragg and Jeremy Newberry, safety Tony Parrish, safety Zack Bronson and fullback Fred Beasley all restructured their contracts to help the 49ers create cap space. The team was about $6.5 million over the cap at the beginning of the week.

Now, the 49ers have enough money to enter free agency, which begins Friday. Defensive end Chike Okeafor is the only 49ers starter who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

Guard Ron Stone, who signed a four-year, $9 million deal as a free agent with the 49ers last offseason, refused to have his contract restructured.

Fiore was due a $500,000 roster bonus Friday as part of his $2.5 million salary. The 49ers are now off the hook for that money, as well as Stubblefield's $2.325 million salary.

Stubblefield, a 10-year veteran, was a first-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1993. He left to join the Washington Redskins as a free agent after winning NFL defensive player of the year in 1997. He returned to the 49ers in 2001 as a free agent.

Stubblefield started 15 games last season and recorded 43 tackles and three sacks, statistics that compared favorably to Pro Bowler Bryant Young, who had 47 tackles and two sacks in 16 games.

"At times Dana played very well," Donahue said, "and at times he struggled, particularly toward the end of the year when his weight got a little higher on him."

Fiore's season was cut short after three games when he sustained an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee. The seven-year veteran has undergone two major knee surgeries on both knees.

The emergence of rookie guard Eric Heitmann, who started 12 games at left guard, made Fiore expendable in the 49ers' eyes.

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