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49ers slapped with cap violations and veterans ponder their future

Dec 9, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The long awaited dark cloud that has hung over The San Francisco 49er Franchise has finally burst open with rain, as The National Football League has slapped us with a stiff uppercut in the sum of $300,000 dollars. And worst of all two drafts picks one being the fifth-round pick in 2001 and the other a third rounder in 2002.

I have read and observed this situation as it has surfaced many months ago, and have a hard time understanding why a franchise so proud of its roots and heritage must be humiliated for the likes of two individuals being former President Carmen Policy and his side-kick former Vice President Dwight Clark.

These two management figures cost us a whole lot as a result of calculated and premeditated under-the-desk deals in violation of the league’s bylaws of the NFL salary cap system.

The suffering although shared cannot be condoned and I go on record as very enraged as to what these individuals cost us as a result of their mismanagement practices. At one time I believed we had the best management money could buy in the form of these two men.

Now I eat my words as all their fine efforts along the way with this franchise, the endless days of planning, game-observation, analysis, scouting, financial reviews, community involvement, draft preparation, and signing player personnel have been seriously tarnished for life with this surfaced abomination.

Both these former executives with the 49er’s are now the top executives with the expansion club Cleveland Browns, Dwight Clark former legendary wide receiver was fined $200,000 dollars.

Clark admitted in a deposition before league attorneys to making a side deal in the rookie-year contract of former 49er’s quarterback Jim Druckenmiller. Clark’s boss with the 49er’s and current President of the Browns Carmen Policy was fined $400,000 because the violations occurred on his watch.

This agonizing ordeal has lasted nearly two years and current 49er owner representative John York turned in the team for suspected violations more than a year ago, centering around the contracts of Druckenmiller and tight end Brent Jones.

Brent Jones was allegedly promised a bonus outside the cap for off-season work the team had him do in conjunction with an effort to get a new football stadium built in San Francisco.

And Former Vice President Dwight Clark made a verbal side deal with Druckenmillers agent promising him that the first-round pick’s contract would be renegotiated within three years if Druckenmiller were to become a starter during that time.

The salary-cap bylaws prohibit verbal side deals to any contract, It is with great regret that I look at these former executives with such disdain and utter frustration, for it is these individuals that compromised our proud heritage and made us a mockery to all parties all over this league.

Policy has always steadfastly maintained his innocence to these allegations, but how could he not know or understand that these were blatant violations of salary-cap bylaws. As smart as I used to give him credit for I certainly cannot say that now.

Oakland Raiders Owner Al Davis has called for Policy to be suspended for running a front office that fostered cap violations. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has come under intense fire for taking such a long time to impose these penalties and for going easy on the violations.

For just that reason the league is considering a uniform, strict penalty for any team found guilty of any cap violations in the future. This is the type of penalty that should be in place and remain as a deterrent of such future infractions others may try to get away with.

In addition to all these wonderful presents that Policy and Clark bestowed upon us the 49er’s have also agreed to recognize a commitment of $483,000 dollars that the club’s prior ownership and management made to Tight End Brent Jones.

Such management malpractices should be handled more swiftly and with severity as this case sets a whole new precedent with what will happen in the future with other franchises involved in such shady side deals.

The San Francisco Community is a proud community made up of people very infatuated with the fact that they reside in an area rich with sports history and entertainment. And that they should be for thousands across the world tune in to their area to observe there teams play every year.

I am one of those beloved fans eagerly awaiting every chance I get to watch the 49er’s play every Sunday as they are the team I have cherished and faithfully walked with since I was 12 years old.

To have such a terrible and ugly scandal surface in regards to your beloved team and posted over all God’s creation in many newspapers and television highlights makes my stomach turn upside down.

Only time will heal these open wounds that have been opened up to a barrage of negativity for nearly two years, we will have to overcome this as we have so many other mountains that have stood in our way to glory and fame.

Policy defended his role in a statement issued by the Browns. "I steadfastly maintain that I did not intend to violate any of the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement nor do I feel that any of my actions amounted to a violation," he said.

"I cannot envision myself as an adversary of the NFL, especially in a situation involving litigation. A courtroom victory against the league would be the equivalent of winning a battle but losing a war."

I for one am happy that this has come to it’s finality however I feel that the fines were enough of a compensation for these violations especially on the franchise’s position. In regards to Policy and Clark they received what they deserved but should have taken the majority of the punishment for their misdeeds.

To take away draft picks from a franchise in the beginning of rebuilding is most devastating, and to me this punishment is two-fold for it punishes us for twice as long in the relevant matter that we are rebuilding through the draft due to salary cap issues to begin with.

It is most disturbing that Policy and Clark continue to damage us after they have left due to fallout with former owner Eddie DeBartolo, and simply have to pay a fine out of their fat bank accounts.

This entire ordeal has been a nightmare reoccurring over and over the principal issues involved allegations of an undisclosed agreement concerning duration and incentive provisions of Druckenmiller’s rookie contract.

Undisclosed agreement concerning the duration of Linebacker Lee Woodall’s contract, Undisclosed commitments and payments made to Tight End Brent Jones in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, and an agreement made between the agent for Steve Young and the club regarding the quarterbacks future compensation.

This settlement will be the last of it’s kind as we are the slaughtered lambs to make the difference for future clubs with similar violations. Harold Henderson, the NFL’s executive vice president for labor relations, said the league was satisfied with the outcome.

"Under our new agreement with the Player’s Association for stiffer penalties and enforcement, future issues of cap violation will not be settled," he said.

One has to wonder exactly what was going on in the mindsets of these executives when making such careless and unforgiving side deals. Certainly the likelihood of being uncovered was substantial especially should you have disgruntled players contesting such agreements.

The consequences certainly would have weighed in my mind as to what could happen when this was discovered, now we know and let it be a lesson forever as we need not to travel this road ever again.

Henderson went on to say: "Such cases will be prosecuted to a conclusion before the Special Master, and a violation will be subject to discipline under the significantly increased sanctions authorized by today’s agreement. This new agreement also eliminates the uncertainties and risks associated with litigating to a conclusion the types of complex issues raised in the 49er’s case."

Being in a rebuilding effort this case has literally taken the wind right out of our sails as a franchise. I am proud of the management we have in place now and have full confidence in their decision-making skills and expertise.

Owners Denise DeBartolo and her husband John York are committed to making the 49er’s a legitimate contender once again, York has hired a new President Peter Harris whom has proven financial success and endorsements that will aid this franchise and land a new stadium.

We also have John McVay Vice President and Director of Football Operations someone I am proud of as he has been a part of this management team a long time. Vice President/General Manager Bill Walsh the master guru whom is establishing a swagger in the 49er ranks once again and is a specialist in drafting and picking pro personnel.

And we have Terry Donahue Director of Pro Personnel and now Assistant General Manager as he will be the successor to Walsh eventually and is being groomed by the master guru himself. He also has been key to the outstanding rebuilding effort with his insight to draft analysis and placement.

These talented individuals along with a superb coaching staff is what makes this franchise click on all cylinders, it takes a little from everyone and they are certainly doing a bang up job as evidenced on the playing field today and what lies ahead in our future.

"This was a huge issue," John York said. "We are glad that is now completed and behind us. It was a very complex and difficult settlement that will probably always be unique due to the changes in ownership and management and the way it came about. The discussions with Paul Tagliabue, Harold Henderson and the league were very lengthy, very productive and, in the end, very fair."

I conclude this issue as being one of a great opportunity to learn by and never repeat, As I said before it comes at a crucial crossroads for this franchise in the beginning of a rebuilding generation, the sacrifices are only just beginning.

I feel the penalties were justified but not to the point of eliminating draft picks that are sorely needed to rebuild and make this team a brighter prospect. However I realize it is not what I think anyways that makes the difference but my opinion is very clear the league needs to go after the individuals responsible for the majority of the punishment, without question the 49er’s paid a hefty price on this day and in the future.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the teams salary cap purge that will be coming up sooner rather than later, Head Coach Steve Mariucci has been docking the ever increasing speculation as to certain veterans on the team that command large salaries in 2001.

Linebacker Winfred Tubbs is one of these veterans, the 49er’s will have to determine after looking at their payroll whether they can afford to pay certain veterans such as Tubbs large sums of money when they are under a rebuilding effort.

The team in actuality will have to cut approximately 15 million in cap dollars, and the first place they will look obviously is at the players making the most money. Tubbs is scheduled to be the fourth highest paid player on the team in 2001.

Linebacker Winfred Tubbs a veteran with The New Orleans Saints before signing a five-year, $14.25 million contract as a free agent with the 49er’s in 1998. He is playing probably the best football of his career right now even though he has been hampered with hamstring injuries on and off this season.

In Tubbs mindset he really has two options play the remaining games and give it his best shot at proving he is worthy to stay, or play hard and hope some other team recognizes his worth and is willing to pay him what he is worth.

I would like to compliment the play of Tubbs and consider him one of the elite linebackers in this game if not for injuries his production would have been far better this year than it has been. However his position looks to be expendable especially with the 49er’s determined to make room for Running Back Charlie Garner on the roster and his new hefty contract, as he is an unrestricted free agent.

"Everything will be understandable," he said. "San Francisco hasn’t been bad for me. I haven’t done anything bad to them. Anything that’s done, I’ll understand that. If not, I’ve enjoyed any time here and hopefully I can stay a little longer. I don’t know what they’re going to do. So I got to enjoy the time I have."

Tubbs has started at the middle linebacker spot called "mike" ever since he arrived on the scene to replace Gary Plummer.

However this may have been a blind spot for him, as he was not known as a linebacker who was at his best taking on the blocks of 300-pound guards. Twice last season Tubbs moved into the role of the every-down linebacker because of Ken Norton Jr.’s deteriorating skills. But he never remained because of a knee injury.

Injuries and adaptation to the grass surface at 3-Com have been the key factors to Tubbs never really distinguishing himself among the other linebackers. His return to the lineup is really a 50-50 chance at best in 2001, should the team decide to go on without him they would have to find two new starting linebackers to go along with outside linebacker Julian Peterson. The teams first-round draft pick in 2000 and a player the organization expects to build around for years to come.

It appears a certainty that The San Francisco 49er’s will part ways with Linebacker Ken Norton Jr. Because he is an aging player with a bad back and a huge contract; triple whammy. Rookie linebacker Jeff Ulbrich is expected to fill one of these line-backing spots along with Jeff Posey.

Ken Norton Jr. missed the entire preseason because of a back injury that many thought would threaten his immediate future in the league. At one point it looked like he would not be able to play at all this season.

I have a tremendous amount of faith in Norton, and a heck of a lot of respect for this gifted and reliable athlete, his motivation and enthusiasm for the game will be so very difficult to replace, and his leadership skills on the field are with great merit.

"He’s a warrior;" 49er’s defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "We depend on him so much, and you know he’s hurting out there."

Norton is one of only three 49er’s defensive players to start every game. He has started 156 consecutive games, tops among active linebackers and third behind Tennessee Outer Guard Bruce Matthews’s (213) and Tampa Bay Outer Guard Randall McDaniel (184).

Without question Ken Norton Jr. has a motor very few can contest with, his tackling abilities are testaments to a solid defensive effort every time he goes out onto the field. He is what true guts are all about as he has played in enormous pain time and time again this season, back spasm’s have plagued him all year long yet he desires to always be in a position to help the team at all costs.

Norton has led the 49er’s in tackles each of his first six seasons with the franchise, but he currently ranks third with 63 tackles, behind strong safety Lance Schulters (84) and linebacker Winfred Tubbs (79).

Can Norton contribute effectively after this season? One has to ask themselves if he should consider retirement as an option especially with his back in an injury-prone state the rest of his possible career.

He is scheduled a base salary of $3.36 million for the 2001 season, it would appear that Norton in my estimation at age 34 will not return a 49er in 2001. I hope that he considers retirement as an option but understand if he should go on to another team.

More options are being considered such as left offensive tackle Derrick Deese the man that protects Quarterback Jeff Garcia and has for Steve Young is a possible casualty to the salary cap purge as free agent Matt Willig brought over from The St. Louis Rams has played with exceptional ability while he was out for arthroscopic knee surgery.

Even General Manger Bill Walsh has questioned as to how much longer Deese will be able to hold up as an undersized left tackle with the 49er’s since 1997. This has not been received comfortably as Deese feels he has played to the top of his abilities every game.

"Guys have been overpowering us on occasion," Walsh said. "Derrick Deese is a very good player. But for 16 games at left tackle is tough. He weighs about 285 and we’re not going to find the biggest guys we can get and bring them in here, but we’re looking for massive size and ability, Maybe there won’t be anyone like that."

The other clear money cut will without a doubt happen to legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice who will command over 3 million dollars in salary for 2001. I have a hard time swallowing this one but I can also understand the logic to it, as youth is needed more than ever to rebuild this team to playoff contention.

Rice is a image to that reaffirms what a 49er is all about, if there were any way he would cut his salary on his own for the betterment of the team I would welcome that. However that is not going to happen as Rice really believes he still has the fire burning and he will play again.

Will the 49er’s be able to afford both Garrison Hearst and Charlie Garner? Can you imagine having both of them out of the backfield? That would be a fantasy come true.

I do not see this as a possibility but believe we should make every effort to sign him if it is within our means. Garner has more than proven his true worth with his spectacular production and nose for the game; he is without question our most dangerous offensive weapon.

Garner’s agent, Scott Crawford, has said they will be seeking a contract in the $4 million range. Many teams in the league already have featured running backs but there are some that have running backs by committee such a Kansas City and Buffalo and will have their sights set on Garner should they chose free agency or find an answer via the draft.

Mariucci has already indicated that the franchise will do everything in its means to try and resign Garner but the real possibility of that happening with the cap problems are slim at best.

Rookie Running Back Paul Smith from Texas-El Paso the 49er’s fifth-round pick in the 1999 draft is being counted on as the answer to Garner should he not be resigned. He has played sparingly on special teams and on some third down plays requiring a power north south back with exceptional speed, which he has.

There are real concerns that deleting too many veterans on this team could cause a vacuum effect on this team in the form of leadership and experience being the victims. We must be careful to keep key components of veterans in order to be coaches on the field for our youth that is now dominating the scene.

I honestly feel that we are going in the best direction possible to level ourselves on the playing field with other high-caliber teams. The addition of youth in both forms of drafted and un-drafted talent will go a long way in establishing solid position status for many years to come.

After this year and the salary cap menace we will start to see real light at the end of the tunnel for this franchise, free agency will once again be a possibility, however I feel our best option is to draft new talent then to developed someone else’s.

I am very excited to see this team rebound out of a five-game losing streak and once again become a determined force to be reckoned with in their division, the defense without a doubt has been most improved and influential in the last series of victories we have celebrated.

The New San Francisco 49er’s will be a team with renewed inspiration and raw desire to win as in the days of old once called "The Roman Empire in the NFL."

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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