San Francisco 49ers Release QB Jeff Garcia
By GREG BEACHAM
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 2, 2004; 5:26 PM
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Quarterback Jeff Garcia was released by the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, ending his five-year tenure with the team.
The 49ers also released two-time Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone in an attempt to get under the salary cap.
Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler, was unable to agree on a restructured contract with the 49ers, who wanted to reduce his salary from the $9.9 million he was scheduled to earn in 2004.
Instead, San Francisco will save $1.7 million against the salary cap by dropping Garcia, a local product who holds the franchise's single-season record for passing yardage. He has been the 49ers' starter since 1999, but Tim Rattay is expected to take over next season as San Francisco clears room under the salary cap.
The 49ers waited until the last possible day to make their decision, since Garcia was due a $500,000 roster bonus Wednesday - the first day of the free agent signing period. General manager Terry Donahue delayed his expected Monday announcement to hold a last-ditch negotiation session with Garcia's agent, Steve Baker.
"We made this decision based primarily on cap ramifications," Donahue said. "The reality of it is we're going along with a plan we've established. In our view of things, we took the long-term view. This isn't anyone's fault, there are just things we've got to do."
Garcia was about to enter the fourth season of a six-year contract. Instead, he becomes one of the most attractive free agents on the market.
Rattay, Garcia's longtime backup, probably will lead a rebuilt San Francisco squad that will bear little resemblance to the team that won the NFC West and reached the conference semifinals in 2002.
"As we see it, the future looks really bright," Donahue said. "This team now belongs to (Rattay), the job is his to keep."
Four-time Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens is all but certain to depart, while running back Garrison Hearst and offensive lineman Derrick Deese also have been waived. More veteran starters, including safety Zack Bronson, are expected to be released soon - and others will leave as free agents.
Stone made the 2002 Pro Bowl after signing with San Francisco as a free agent. He was an anchor on an offensive line that looks incredibly shaky now without Deese, a 12-year veteran, and Stone - who also couldn't agree on a restructured contract.
Rattay, who signed a three-year, $4.8 million contract extension last August, went 2-1 as a starter while Garcia was injured last season. He was a record-setting quarterback at Louisiana Tech, but threw just three passes in his first two seasons with San Francisco.
Ken Dorsey and Brandon Doman are the 49ers' backups, but neither has appeared in an NFL game. After the 49ers finished 7-9, coach Dennis Erickson said he wanted Garcia to return - but also praised Rattay's development.
Garcia's departure is the biggest step yet in what's shaping up to be another rebuilding effort for the 49ers, who also rebuilt from scratch after Steve Young was forced to retire in 1999. Unlike last season, when nearly every starter returned, only a few starters from 2003 are certain to be back.
Under the tenure of owner John York, the 49ers seem to be focused primarily on the bottom line. That's a departure from the years when the 49ers were owned by York's brother-in-law, Eddie DeBartolo, who usually spent whatever was necessary to keep his stars and field a talented team.
The Niners' top priority is salary cap health. Donahue is determined to erase the team's "dead money" - the millions still owed to players no longer with the team, thanks to countless contract re-negotiations over the past five years - even if the 49ers aren't nearly as competitive next season.
The demolition began last month when the 49ers named All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson their exclusive franchise player rather than meet his demands for a lucrative long-term contract. San Francisco is expected to pay Peterson a salary between $5.8 million and $7.2 million next season.
Owens is still under contract to the 49ers, pending a grievance hearing over his contract mix-up. Owens' agent missed a deadline to void the final three years of his contract, but claims he wasn't told about a change in the deadline.
The 49ers are expected to trade Owens for draft picks.
© 2004 The Associated Press