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One thing that has become abundantly clear to all San Francisco 49er fans is that no one player will ever again control the spotlight within the confounds of Monster Park ever again under Mike Nolan's watch. He has made it very evident that the team will not use the exclusive franchise tag on any unrestricted free agent that chooses to fly the coop.
Just after the season ending finale against the Houston Texans this past January inside Monster Park, many of the players began cleaning out their lockers and heading for home. Julian Peterson though carried only a light load out to his vehicle anticipating and still hoping there would be a chance for him to comeback.
Much of that power to do that though lies with him as an athlete and his willingness to compromise where his notorious agents in the Poston Brothers are not well known for their willingness to negotiate but only to dictate.
In fact any professional athlete that has been represented by this clan find themselves at a distinct crossroads so to speak because either you cash-in or are known as an athlete only driven by the power of the wallet.
It either can work for you or backfire on you. And now one has to wonder if it is coming full circle for six-year veteran linebacker Julian Peterson.
"I haven't even cleaned my locker out," said Peterson, "I started taking some stuff down but I've had some of this stuff up there for four or five years. I need to keep it up there a couple of more days. It is kind of difficult taking some of that stuff down."
The San Francisco 49ers under Steve Mariucci and Dennis Erickson saw the premier linebacker in Julian Peterson as being a real playmaker on defense out on the field. He shined in everything he did and was a menace to opposing quarterbacks whenever he touched the field.
His ferocious abilities out on the field and his versatility were profound and compelling all in one. He was coveted for his raw abilities to not only pressure the quarterback and stop the run but for his extraordinary ability to cover both tight ends and even wide receivers at the same time when in position to do so.
His ability to cover the whole entire field was evident from day one and helped him cash in on more than just one occasion. In fact he was named the teams franchise player two-years in a row and earned $14.35 million the past two seasons on one-year franchise contracts.
He turned down one of the most lucrative long-term contracts ever offered to a San Francisco 49er just a few years ago to the tune of six-years, $38 million dollars with $15.5 million in guaranteed money before the start of the 2004 NFL season.
In order for the 49ers to retain his services for yet another full year the franchise tag would have to be levied upon him and it would cost the franchise $8.75 million dollars.
Mike Nolan though is unsympathetic to that notion as he believes in salary cap healthiness and is more interested in keeping more players than one on a team that is in the process of rebuilding itself with fresh raw talent on an everyday business.
In fact Mike Nolan has made signals that they may not even make a concerted effort to resign him once he is designated an unrestricted free agent at the March 3rd deadline of this year.
Much of that in hindsight seems to be with questions regarding his durability and his ability to rebound after injury. Julian Peterson had only played in just five games in the 2004 NFL season before he sustained a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon.
The six-year professional returned last season but recorded just three sacks, 2.5 of which came in the season-opening victory over the St. Louis Rams in fact. Following that victory the San Francisco 49ers suddenly took a nose -dive for the worst and Julian Peterson's performance was part of that equation.
Julian Peterson spoke to Mike Nolan and the media the day after the season ended for the 49ers and came away with a full realization that he wouldn't be designated the teams franchise player again for a third consecutive year because of the allotment of linebackers also looking at free agency on his team.
His fellow linebackers up for free agency include linebackers Andre Carter, Brandon Moore, Saleem Rasheed and Derek Smith, all of who have expiring contracts and are eligible to be picked up by another NFL franchise for the right price.
With that in mind Peterson knew that the end is seemingly near based upon the number of linebackers with expiring contracts and the fact that the money he's demanding is just too high.
"I would say that they wouldn't tag me because of how high the number might be," said Peterson. 'I don't think that would be a smart move. They have a lot of talent on the team they want to keep to stay on the right path and that's a big number to tie up for one guy. It's a tough decision."
"He shook his head. He knew the thing (salary) was going to be too big for us," Nolan said. "He understands how the thing works. I think he wants to be here in a strong way."
Mike Nolan is concentrating on hopes that the franchise will be able to reach contract agreements with some of the other free-agents-to-be before the start of the free agent signing period starting March 3rd, of this year.
The San Francisco 49ers are very interested in striking deals with kicker Joe Nedney in early March and are targeting veteran middle linebacker Derek Smith, the club's leading tackler, as being the club's top priority above that of Julian Peterson.
The San Francisco 49ers project to be somewhere between $15 and $20 million in salary cap room to open free agency, and they are very interested in keeping some of their own players.
However Mike Nolan has made it very clear that he's not interested in relying on high-priced additional players to his roster that steal from the potential growth of this franchise and its team philosophy he's trying to instill inside this organization.
"The big thing for us is to supplement the holes we have with a free agent or two," said Nolan, adding the 49ers already have a list of players they plan to pursue.
Some will testify to the fact that Julian Peterson's falling out from grace with the 49ers is his inability to bounce back from injury soon enough and therefore with durability issues clouding his performance, that performance cannot be compensated as requested.
Some will also say that he came back on to the field too soon following his 2004 NFL season-ending injury. This is one notion he disagrees to wholeheartedly and even suggests he was back to the player he was prior to the injury.
"I think being out of the game for a while slowed me down a little bit," said Peterson. "In my first five or six games, my Achilles wasn't 100%. I know that for a fact. I tried my best to get back to the same tempo and I think by pushing that is when I pulled my hamstring and was out for a couple of weeks. Once I got back from that, everything started coming back. It started slowing down a lot more on the field for me. I felt a lot more comfortable with my ability."
Some will contest that Julian Peterson still has what it takes to get the job done. And I for one am compelled to agree with that statement because many teams will be in serious negotiations with him when free agency starts March 3rd, of this year. He is an impact player that will again see the Pro Bowl.
In fact even though he had a sub-par 2005 NFL season he earned the right to be designated as a first alternate to the 2006 NFL Pro Bowl. He is a well-respected and formidable athlete with exceptional speed and skills that any defense would be foolish to go without.
"There's a possibility of being a free agent, and there's all kinds of different feelings for me because of that," said Peterson. "I want to be back, but I also need some time to sit back and sort it out. It's very difficult. I still love it here. I'm still trying to get this sixth Super Bowl back here too."
It is clear that Julian Peterson will be one of the most sought after linebackers in this up and coming free agency period. His ability to cash in dearly will compel him to sign with another franchise and leave the San Francisco 49ers behind after six years of solid service.
"I know we'd love to have him back but when 31 other teams are out there, it's hard to say," Nolan said when asked if the club will make a big push to re-sign him. "As I always say, no one player will be bigger than the team. I've made that comment before when talking about character or selfish issues, but that goes for cap involvement, too. If the (salary) number takes us out of the realm where it hurts the football team, we have to be smart about how far we go."
The former Michigan State Spartan has been a real playmaker for us in so many ways, with his best statistical season being in 2003 when he converted 94 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions and nine passes defended. Since then he has struggled with injuries and he has been slow to recover to full form.
Is he beyond those injuries now? I really think he is and I believe he'll be a Pro Bowl player again and deliver on everything he promises. However for us it comes with a big price tag, one that takes us out of the bargaining element almost completely. Only a change of heart and soul from within will keep Julian Peterson here in San Francisco.
Some of his plays that I remember as a fan were when he played in the secondary on occasion due to injuries that had devastated that unit and he played in those positions surprisingly well.
His ability to rush the quarterback and provide instant pressure is unprecedented and his tenacity and heart out on the field are without question. It is unfortunate that we find ourselves so vulnerable in this free agent period with so many linebackers available for it.
Our defensive strength has always been centered on this particular group and now that group will be dismantled in more ways than one. How it will survive is another question and will it thrive again like it has done so in years pass?
Derek Smith is characterized as the most needed linebacker up for free agency, but he'll command a hefty contract to retain his services. Re-signing him will undoubtedly doom any chances of re-signing Julian Peterson. And on top of that Brandon Moore played well in his absence last season while he was out and even though he is a free agent as well, the 49ers look at him as the cheaper alternative.
Julian Peterson just might have played his last game as a San Francisco 49er. It is something that all of us will have to accept and I thank him for those six years in which he made a definite presence on this defense.