The Oakland Tribune

S.F. cuts Fiore, Stubblefield to get under cap
February 27, 2003
49ers don't rule out re-signing vets later but also must make room for draft picks

By Roger Phillips STAFF WRITER

SANTA CLARA -- It was easier this year than in the recent past, but the San Francisco 49ers still had to say goodbye to two notable players Wednesday in order to comply with the NFL's salary cap.

The 49ers cut defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and left guard Dave Fiore, and restructured the contracts of seven players: quarterback Jeff Garcia, defensive end Andre Carter, offensive linemen Jeremy Newberry and Scott Gragg, safeties Zack Bronson and Tony Parrish, and fullback Fred Beasley.

Earlier, the 49ers released cornerback Anthony Parker and linebacker Alex Lincoln.

The draft, on April 26-27, is the next big event on the NFL calendar, and general manager Terry Donahue said more moves will be needed in order to sign the college players the 49ers will add in two months.

"But we're very comfortable with where we are at tonight," Donahue said.

With the moves, the 49ers are believed to be roughly $3 million below the NFL's $75 million cap, though Donahue declined to provide an exact figure. The deadline to get to the cap is today, and the 49ers began the week roughly $6.8 million above the payroll limit.

With Friday's start of the free-agent signing period, the 49ers will have six unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents and four exclusive-rights free agents:

Unrestricted free agents: Starting defensive end Chike Okeafor, reserve safety Tim Hauck, reserve cornerback Duane Hawthorne, linebacker and special-teams ace Terry Killens, backup center Ben Lynch and backup offensive lineman Matt Willig.

Of Okeafor, Donahue said, "We've expressed ... that we would like Chike on our team. He expressed to us he would like to be on our team. But he wants to test the waters and compare offers."

Restricted free agents: Safety Ronnie Heard, long-snapper Brian Jennings, safety John Keith, quarterback Tim Rattay, receiver Tai Streets and tight end Justin Swift.

The 49ers have tendered offers to Streets ($1.318 million), Rattay ($605,000) and Jennings ($605,000). If Streets signs elsewhere, the 49ers will receive a first-round draft choice as compensation.

Exclusive-rights free agents: Punter Bill LaFleur, linebacker Quincy Stewart, kick returner Vinny Sutherland and kick returner/cornerback Jimmy Williams. Williams and LaFleur were tendered offers, for $375,000 and $300,000, respectively.

Donahue praised the 32-year-old Stubblefield and Fiore, 28, and said it's possible the 49ers will re-sign them at some point. Stubblefield had been slated to earn $2.325 million this season, and Fiore was set to earn $2 million.

Fiore suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the 2002 season, subsequently undergoing the fourth knee operation of his career. Stubblefield's play tailed off late last season as his weight increased, Donahue said, adding that the 49ers did not attempt to restructure the contracts of the two prominent veterans.

"We did not try to keep them," he said. "Better they go into the free-agent market, then we'll talk to them."

Despite Wednesday's moves, Donahue said he does not expect the 49ers to be overly active in the free-agent market. Instead, the focus appears to be on long-term planning, which means such veterans as left tackle Derrick Deese ($2.3 million salary in 2003), running back Garrison Hearst ($2.2 million) and receiver J.J. Stokes ($2.25 million) may soon be hearing from the 49ers about revising their contracts.

Stokes had seemed a prime candidate to be a casualty at Wednesday's round of cuts but survived. Donahue, however, made it clear that improving the team's speed at the wide receiver position is on the team's "radar screen."

And speaking of receivers, a major issue soon to confront the 49ers is the status of Terrell Owens, who can become a free agent after next season.

"When it's appropriate, we'll start to talk to his representative," Donahue said, adding that discussions could begin following the draft.

NOTES: The 49ers are scheduled to meet today in Santa Clara with officials from the University of the Pacific, where they have held training camp the past five years. Five years remain on the Niners' contract with UOP, but Donahue said it's only "50-50" the 49ers will return to Stockton this summer. "We've raised a number of concerns we have at UOP," Donahue said. "UOP has also raised a number of concerns. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see us at UOP. At the same time, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see us (in Santa Clara)." A decision is expected within one month.

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