SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers players are scheduled to be back on the practice field this afternoon, less than 48 hours after teammate Thomas Herrion collapsed and died following a preseason game in Denver.
Coach Mike Nolan decided against rushing his players back onto the field this morning, but said Sunday he thought that getting back to work would be good for his mournful team.
"Football will take a backburner, certainly for [today] as well," Nolan said. "I do think that being on the field is therapeutic to coaches and players alike, but not right away. We have some issues to talk about so that everybody can come to some sort of understanding in their mind of what all happened."
The 49ers were planning a memorial service for Tuesday.
The club didn't practice Sunday after getting home in the wee hours of the morning. But many players showed up at the club's training facility, and those who spoke to reporters expressed grief and shock about Herrion's death. The 23-year-old offensive lineman was on the field in the final stages of the 49ers' loss Saturday night to the Broncos, then collapsed in the locker room as the team finished saying the Lord's prayer. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Nolan said he spoke to several members of Herrion's family Saturday night and Sunday. Herrion's agent, Fred Lyles, said he also learned of Herrion's death from Nolan by telephone Saturday night.
"I had a bunch of missed calls from Coach Nolan," Lyles said. "I thought maybe Thomas had gotten hurt. But then I called and Coach Nolan told me what had happened. It was very difficult for him to talk about. Injuries are part of the game. But the last thing you ever think about is not coming home from a game. It's just tragic."
The 49ers had the flag flying at half-mast at their training facility Sunday afternoon. A delivery man dropped off a pot of flowers. Television crews lined the sidewalk out front. But youth soccer games took place all day on a set of fields right next door, and screams could be heard from riders on a roller coaster at the theme park across the street. Those were reminders that life moves on, and the 49ers will begin the process Monday afternoon of trying to move on along with it.
Eli Manning Has Sprained Elbow
Quarterback Eli Manning will miss the New York Giants' preseason game this weekend, but that's actually good news. His sore right elbow was examined and he underwent an MRI today that revealed only a sprain and bruise on the inside of the elbow. Coach Tom Coughlin said his status was "week to week."
The Giants spent big money on the free-agent market in the offseason, adding wide receiver Plaxico Burress, offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. But if they're going to improve on last season's 6-10 record, they almost certainly need Manning to be healthy and ready to begin to fulfill the promise of being the top overall selection in last year's NFL draft.
Tim Hasselbeck and Jesse Palmer are vying for the Giants' backup job, with Hasselbeck apparently in the lead and now likely to take over as the starter for at least one preseason game. He was signed by the Giants in the offseason after the Washington Redskins released him.
The Giants signed veteran Jim Miller during the offseason but released him after he underwent hip surgery. Tim Couch worked out for club officials over the weekend, but he hardly appears to be a potential savior. He's been a bust since being selected by the Cleveland Browns with the top overall choice in the 1999 draft, and he was out of the league last season after the Green Bay Packers released him during a training camp in which he was plagued by a sore arm.
After hurting his elbow when he struck the helmet of Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers on Saturday, Manning remained in the game and later threw a 41-yard touchdown pass. On Sunday, his elbow was sore and swollen. . . .
The Giants probably will be without cornerback Will Peterson for a couple weeks because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee suffered Saturday. . . .
The Panthers lost safety Colin Branch for the season because of torn knee ligaments suffered during the game against the Giants.
Gates Signs, Joins Chargers
Tight end Antonio Gates arrived in San Diego on Sunday and signed the one-year, $380,000 contract that the Chargers had tendered to him in the offseason when he was an exclusive-rights free agent (meaning he was ineligible to negotiate with other teams because of his lack of NFL service time).
Gates had been refusing to report to the club because of a contract dispute. Gates, after establishing himself as one of the league's top tight ends last season, wants a lucrative long-term deal with a hefty signing bonus. But his agent, Andre Colona, has not been able to reach an agreement with Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith.
Smith told reporters at halftime of Sunday's exhibition game against the St. Louis Rams that he would continue talks with Colona but added that negotiations seem to be at an impasse. Smith said that Colona had indicated there will be no further negotiations once the regular season begins. Gates is eligible for restricted free agency next spring, meaning that he will be able to negotiate with other teams and sign an offer sheet with one of them if he wishes. But the Chargers will have the right to retain him by matching any offer, and the right to receive draft-pick compensation from Gates's new club if they allow him to depart.
When Gates failed to report by a Saturday-afternoon deadline imposed by the team, the Chargers sent a letter to the league office stating they were placing Gates on their roster-exempt list. That means that Gates must sit out three games, including the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against Dallas. Smith told reporters Sunday that Gates and Colona had been informed by the NFL Players Association that there might be an appeals process in which Gates's eligibility for the next three games perhaps could be restored at a hearing. But Smith said the league office had informed the Chargers that Gates's status could not be changed. . . .
There are indications that defensive end John Abraham could report to the New York Jets soon. He has so far refused to sign the one-year, $6.666 million contract that the club tendered to him during the offseason after naming him its franchise player. . . .
The Browns traded wide receiver Andre Davis to New England today for a draft pick. It had been thought after the Browns granted permission to Davis last week to seek a trade that he might be headed to Seattle or Philadelphia. . . .
Reports that tailback Ricky Williams left his playbook in his room at the Pittsburgh hotel where the Miami Dolphins stayed before playing the Steelers on Saturday couldn't possibly be true, according to team officials. The Dolphins had given their players two-page handouts with a scaled-down game plan for the preseason contest. It's not clear whether that's what, if anything, Williams left behind and if he did, whether he will be disciplined. Under NFL rules, a player can be fined as much as $5,000 for losing his playbook. . . .
The Packers reportedly are close to signing Coach Mike Sherman to a two-year contract extension. Sherman is entering the final season of his current deal and had his general manager duties stripped from him by club president Bob Harlan during the offseason, but so far seems to be working well with new GM Ted Thompson.