Off-season overview: cheers and jeers

Aug 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM0

Cheers to the resigning of Newberry, Beasley, and Hearst

The 49ers signed three of their four key free agents this off-season. They signed all the free agents that were irreplaceable; letting only safety Lance Schulters test the market (He ended up with Tennessee).  

Center Jeremy Newberry was their first signing and probably the most important. His signing insured that the offensive line would not be changed dramatically from last year and kept consistency in front of Jeff Garcia.  

Fullback Fred Beasley and running back Garrison Hearst were the 49ers’ next targets. Beasley is probably one of the league’s most underrated players and does a lot to help open up the running game as a blocking fullback. The signing of Hearst assures that young and sometimes inconsistent running back Kevan Barlow will not be thrown into the starting lineup. Instead, he will gradually be introduced as a major player on offense. This will help increase his learning curve and give the 49ers the double threat we saw glimpses of last season. This is very important given the fact that the 49ers still share the division with the Rams. These are games where ball control is very important.

Jeers to Terrell Owens’ attitude toward Mariucci

Star wideout Terrell Owens seemed to be going out of his way to make himself look worse and worse to both his teammates and fans. His antics and attitude made him appear as a very selfish player. However, he’s a selfish player that catches 93 passes for over 1400 yards and 16 touchdowns. Given those gaudy numbers, the team must find some way to coexist with him.

Things did not get any better when an already apparent rift with head coach Steve Mariucci widened even more. A fractured relationship that started with Mariucci’s reaction to Owens’ “Cowboy star” fiasco in Dallas two seasons ago was escalated even more last year when an already frustrated Owens openly blamed Mariucci, the team, and the staff for losses to Chicago and Green Bay. Owens should be allowed to believe whatever he wants to believe. However, he has to learn that when you have a problem, it’s not always a good idea to run to the press who will be more than happy to blow things out of proportion. He should have marched straight into the coach’s office rather than try to alienate everyone he has to work with. Whether he likes it or not, Owens is a role model on the team and needs to start acting like one.

Kudos go to Steve Mariucci for getting on a plane and flying out to Atlanta to meet with his frustrated wide receiver in an attempt to repair the rift. While the front office had already been pushing for the meeting, it was a classy move from a first class guy to go to Owens and not have Owens come to him. Owens seems fine with the relationship with his coach now and appears to be focusing on winning again. It will be interesting to see what happens the first time Owens feels he wasn’t targeted enough on offense during a real game. Which Owens will we see? The natural leader we all hope he will become? Or the one we have seen over the last couple of seasons?

Cheers to J.J. Stokes for taking a pay cut

He was already on the hot seat and he knew it. While no one really gave him credit, you have to admire the fact that wide receiver J.J. Stokes took one for the team. Even after playing through injury last season, he agreed to a pay cut in order to help the 49ers sign their final free agents. Had he not done so, it looked like Stokes’ career with the team might have come to a close. The 1999 first round draft pick was expected to do big things for the team after a brilliant stint at UCLA. He never really reached that expected potential. While his stats have always been solid and he has displayed great hands, Stokes never really broke out to be the star player everyone predicted. As recent as this off-season, the 49ers were still looking for that perfect compliment to Owens. This could be a make or break season for Stokes.  

Jeers to Terrell Owens basketball antics

Just when you thought things could not get any worse with this guy, Owens surprises everyone with his desire to play for the Adirondack Wildcats of the United States Basketball League. This in itself was not bad, but it was the fact that he had not asked for or received permission to do this from the team, making some heads fume. According to General Manager Terry Donahue, "It was discussed that he would like to do it, but he hasn't formally asked permission, nor have we granted it.” Because this was out of his contract’s scope, had Owens gotten injured, he could have jeopardized his seven-year, $34.5 million football contract. The team seemed to look the other way on this one rather than attempt to stop Owens from playing and making it a bigger issue.

Cheers to the signing of Tony Parrish and re-signing of Zack Bronson

Everyone was pretty saddened to see that safety Lance Shulters’ services would most likely not be retained. But everyone’s sadness turned to cheers when hard hitting and reliable former Chicago Bear, Tony Parrish was signed at a much better value than what Lance Schulters was asking. Schulters’ gamble to get a bigger contract resulted in him leaving for Tennessee for less money than the 49ers’ final offer. And many would argue that the 49ers upgraded the backfield with the addition of Parrish.

Making things even better, the 49ers re-signed safety Zack Bronson who has more than proven himself over the past few years as being a reliable compliment to whoever he plays with in the backfield. He has developed far beyond everyone’s expectations. This was really big news due to the injuries of cornerback Anthony Parker and safety John Keith.

Jeers to Steve Mariucci for thinking Irish

Now we know Mariucci had his problems with the front office in recent years. The team refused to extend his contract given the fact that there was still a good amount of time left on it. Plus, the front office never seemed to support Mariucci in any of his decisions so why not start looking at your options?

Mariucci’s first option of the off-season was a stint with Notre Dame. However, Notre Dame went with Stanford’s Tyrone Willingham after both Jon Gruden of the Raiders and Mariucci declined. But it was Mariucci’s initial interest that made the front office question his loyalties. This did not help with the already faulty relationship.

Cheers to signing free agent Ron Stone

It was already known that they 49ers would not make an attempt to retain the services of long time guard Ray Brown, instead opting to go younger. While Brown continued to produce, making it to his first Pro Bowl this past season, it did not seem like a logical move to invest any more money in a player that would have to be replaced soon. A new player now wears number 65 on offense. Ron Stone was acquired as Brown’s replacement. Stone had two Pro Bowl seasons with the New York Giants and has played at every position on the line except center. Brown was part of the Giants’ Super Bowl team two seasons ago as well as having played on two Cowboys Super Bowl teams.

With all these credentials under his belt, how were the 49ers able to afford him? Under normal circumstances, this team would not have been able to. The 49ers ignored Stone because of the hefty price tag they felt he would attract. They felt they didn’t have the money to bring him in as well as sign their rookies. But that changed when Stone’s agent called the team and asked why they weren’t even talking to him. After stating their reasons, Stone’s agent still arranged a meeting and a contract eventually developed. Stone was willing to take less to play for a first class organization and forfeited the bigger contracts he could have received elsewhere.

The signing of Ron Stone helps insure that the team will be able to keep quarterback Jeff Garcia healthy.

Jeers to the 49ers for trying to let Mariucci go

As if the relationship between the front office and the coach was not bad enough, the 49ers still allowed Mariucci to talk to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This would never have occurred had the team assured Mariucci that contract talks would be in his future. Instead they pretty much opened the door and said “if you feel like walkin out, go for it.” Out of courtesy, Mariucci flew out to meet with Tamba Bay. Back home, rumors started flying around stating that this was a plot to make Owens happy and get rid of Mariucci. Other rumors stated that the 49ers would pursue Jon Gruden of the Raiders once his contract was up and would assign an interim coach for the upcoming season, possibly Terry Donahue himself. But Mariucci did the right thing and decided to stay in San Francisco rather than abandon the team he helped to build and move his family who was perfectly happy in the Bay Area.

Steve Mariucci took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game in his first year even though the team had lost Jerry Rice for the season. In his second year he helped to lift this team over the playoff roadblock Green Bay Packers. Two years of heartache followed after he lost former Niner great Steve Young to retirement due to injury. In those two years, he kept his head, the team drafted well, and last season he led an overachieving and under aged 49ers team to a 12-4 record and a return to the playoffs. This was an unexpected bounce back to the top of the NFL food chain. It was even more amazing given the fact that the team probably played a lot better than they actually were. Mariucci has done a lot for the team and just casting him off would have been a huge mistake by the organization.

Cheers to taking a chance on Cade McNown

Highly praised as the quarterback most ready to start for a team in the 1999 draft, Cade McNown did just that.  He started six games for the Chicago Bears in his first year. While he started out well, slowly his youth and inexperience started to surface. Uncharacteristic frustration made McNown lash out at teammates, staff, and fans. After two seasons with the team that drafted him, he was shipped off to Miami where he became the team’s third quarterback on the depth chart.

Prior to his career in the NFL, McNown was a 4-year starter at UCLA. He started 43 straight contests. McNown left UCLA ranking first in total offense and second in passing in Pac-10 history. In his final two seasons at UCLA, he led the team to a 20-4 record which included a QB rating of 168.6 as junior in 1997 (189-of-312 for 3,116 yards with 24 touchdowns and 6 interceptions). It’s safe to say that the numbers he posted during his college career made NFL teams drool.

So why not take a chance on this guy? Chicago is not really the most quarterback friendly place to be and the offense has not been the best in recent years. Miami certainly was not the right place for a guy who was familiar with the West Coast offense run at UCLA. San Francisco was the perfect answer for an accurate left-handed quarterback who likes to scramble to confuse defenses and relies on his head rather than the his strength of his arm. Sound familiar? It should. In fact, guess who Cade McNown’s NFL hero was while he was playing at UCLA. That’s right, it was none other than Steve Young. McNown patterned his play after the great 49ers quarterback. So there is no doubt that he would want to play for the team that he had hoped would draft him.

What was the cost to get him? This is the best part. The 49ers gave the Dolphins a conditional seventh round pick in next year’s draft. What was the condition? In order for Miami to receive that pick, McNown would have to be on the team’s roster for a minimum of five games through the regular season. So if the 49ers decide not to keep the guy, they lose nothing at all. So why not take a chance on a guy who belongs in a 49ers type offense?

Jeers to off-season distractions

Vinny Sutherland, Jeremy Newberry, and Mike Rumph were the focus of some news this off-season. Unfortunately it was not the type of news the 49ers front office had hoped for. All three got in some sort of trouble this off-season, which is something very uncharacteristic of the 49ers. It was something that made the 49ers look like…well…a select few of the other NFL franchises. No need to name any names.

Vinny Sutherland was arrested on May 18th on charges of drunk driving after he drove his SUV into two light posts. Two of the team’s young and impressionable draft picks, safety Kevin Curtis and defensive end Josh Shaw were in the car with Sutherland. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. Once they arrived, officers found only Shaw with the vehicle. Sutherland was later found roaming about in a nearby neighborhood. He was clearly intoxicated. The two draftees were in town for a three-day minicamp, which began that Wednesday.

On May 24th Jeremy Newberry and his sister were arrested after being accused of punching a woman from another boat while docked at Lake Berryessa. The woman claimed that the two hit her after an argument escalated into a fight. Newberry claims to have never laid a hand on the woman and that the charges against him were false. The charges against Jeremy were dropped on June 27th after prosecutors cited insufficient evidence.

Another drunk driving charge was thrown on 49ers rookie cornerback Mike Rumph on July 6th. Miami Beach police pulled Rumph over at 4:20am Easter time and he was charged with driving under the influence after failing a breathalyzer test. Things got a bit worse when a warrant for Rumph’s arrest was issued when neither he nor his attorney showed up at the scheduled court hearing on Thursday, August 1st. The 49ers were in Japan at the time for a scheduled game against the Washington Redskins. Rumph’s attorney claimed he requested a continuance. The court found no record of such a request.

Cheers to adding defensive line help

One item the 49ers lacked last season was depth on the defensive line. The team may have addressed that in the off-season by adding former St. Louis Rams defensive end Sean Moran and former Green Bay Packer and long time Chicago Bears defensive tackle Jim Flanigan. These two will help a lot in the rotation allowing the defensive line to stay fresh when on the field for a long time. These pick ups were not big news because they occurred at the same times as the Tony Parrish and Cade McNown signings. However, they may be bigger signings than you think.

Jeers to too much preseason

Admit it, five preseason games are simply way too much. 49ers coach Steve Mariucci feels four preseason games are too much. It’s not like the 49ers have any giant question marks going into this season. Their starters are set and the only competition that exists would be the ones for the punt returning job and the team’s third quarterback. Mariucci would love to play only three preseason games. This isn’t like the previous two years where the 49ers threw a great number of first and second year players into starting roles. That would be the only situation where a coach may welcome a longer preseason.

Making matters worse, the team had to open up their five-game run overseas for the NFL’s American Bowl in Osaka, Japan. Sure it’s good for fans who wish to see their team in action five times before it even starts to matter, but for the team, you risk more injury. You also increase the odds of injury. If you think a 16 game season takes its toll, try adding 5 preseason games. Those two factors equal a very tired team come playoff time. You can also throw in the fact that the organization didn’t even discuss the matter with Mariucci or the team before agreeing to the overseas trip to the land of the rising sun.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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