Of all the opponents the 49ers have faced throughout their long history, none have appeared more imposing than the one they face now. This battle will not be won on the field, rather the front offices. The opponent – the salary cap.

This is not a new thing to the 49ers as the salary cap has been in effect now for many years, but big spending and contract bonuses have finally caught up with the cap–strapped 9ers.

Over the last decade, Pro Bowl calibre players such as Deion Sanders, Ricky Watters, and Dana Stubblefield, have been salary cap victims. Some were willing to depart because they realised their value on the open market, others however were let go with some reluctance.

This year, players such as the great Jerry Rice (Mr. 49er) and Ken Norton Jnr. (considered by most to be the heart and soul of the defence) will be forced to leave the Bay Area due to such large salaries that the team could not possible afford to keep them on the roster.

This situation could cause a national outburst of emotion, more in the case of Jerry Rice than anyone else. Who would’ve thought that it would be possible Mr. 49er could be playing for a team other than the red and gold? This is coming closer to reality as the front office recognise the fact that it is inhumanly impossible to resign footballs greatest wide receiver.

Teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets have been mentioned as possible candidates in the race to acquire the talents of Rice. The 49ers would like to see him retire with the team that made his career, even going as far as offering a retiring bonus of US$1M. Rice however believes that he can still play another year.

Many fans detest the salary cap, believing it almost to be the root of all evils. This sentiment is understandable. However, in this day and age of corporate business, which football is, it is a necessary evil.

In an effort to 'even out’ the talent from team to team to ensure that no one club remains dominate for an extended period of time, the salary cap was created. There is no greater example of this than in recent years. 10 years ago it would have been unthinkable that teams such as the Giants or the Oilers (now Titans) would be playing in a Super Bowl, and it is unlikely that they will repeat that success anytime soon.

Because of this fact, the 49ers have a genuine chance of making the playoffs as soon as 2001. In a league that is as unpredictable as the NFL is, nothing is a given. In fact, of all the teams that are now considered to be rebuilding (due to the same bloated payroll problems that has inflicted the 49ers for the past two seasons), the 49ers are in the most favourable position to reap the rewards far sooner than anyone else.

The effects of this current rebuilding process are nothing short of an added bonus. The same salary cap restraints that have hindered the 49ers might just also end up being a blessing in disguise. Let me explain.

Since the 49ers are struggling even to sign their own veteran talent, the likelihood of any free agents being signed is slim. Bill Walsh, the architect of the 80’s, has also stated this himself. “I think we’ll still be in the red next year”, he said. “Not near to the extent we are now. I think next year, we can look at free-agent possibilities”.

This forces the 49ers to focus their attention to the upcoming draft in April.

Considering the 49ers record of last season (6-10), they are in a position to draft high with the 9th pick overall. Of course, that is only if Bill Walsh doesn’t trade away that pick for a couple of lower selections in the first round; something he is famous for doing.

It is important to identify which veterans can be resigned whilst remaining under the cap so that positions in need of filling can be targeted for the draft. Positions that have already been focused on are defensive end, linebacker, and running back. In reference to the imminent departure of Charlie Garner, Walsh may have already tipped his hand at what direction the 49ers may take with the 9th selection.

“It changes our draft mode. There are about five top prospects coming out of college. With the ninth pick, it’s a safe bet we could get one”, Walsh said.

With the focus on rebuilding with relatively inexpensive youth and speed, the 49ers are ensuring that they remain competitive for years to come. They are fast becoming one of the most youthful teams in the NFL today, not to mention one of the most feared.

This commentary has been dedicated to my mother Trudy Squire whom passed away on Sunday 11th of February.