49ers, Raiders Make Moves
The 49ers decided not to put the franchise tag on linebacker Julian Peterson, as they had last year, and released cornerback Ahmed Plummer.
NFL teams are more reluctant than before to put the franchise tag on a player, which requires a team to pay that player the average of the five highest salaries at his position, because of the uncertainty of the negotiations on a new contract between owners and players. But, that was the least important factor for the 49ers in the Peterson decision.
Peterson did not have the kind of season last year that had given him the reputation as the 49ers’ best player. In part, that was because he was coming back from surgery on a torn Achilles tendon. Typically, it takes a player two years to fully recover from that kind of surgery.
At least as important, the 49ers’ defense has changed in a significant way since Mike Nolan became head coach. Nolan believes in a disciplined defense, where every player has a specific assignment. That’s in his genes because his father, Dick, was an assistant for Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys, and Landry is perhaps the paramount example of a coach who taught that kind of system. Landry developed some great teams in Dallas when he got the players to fit that system, but it also took him six seasons to get to .500 in the ‘60s. Nolan will not have that long to turn the 49ers around.
Peterson, before his injury, was a special player because of his speed and athletic ability. To a lesser extent, so was Jamie Winborn. Both excelled in making free lance plays, just going to the ball. Nolan got rid of Winborn early last season, and it was a given that he would eventually get rid of Peterson, too.
Peterson often looked like a fish out of water last season, especially when he was involved in pass coverage. He was simply not suited to play his best in the new system. Given that, it would have been foolish to keep him, especially at a high price.
The decision on Plummer was even easier. Nolan said it was a financial one but it had been clear for some time that the two were at odds. Nolan never explained why, but it seems he thought Plummer could have come back from his injuries but chose not to. Earlier in his career, Plummer had the reputation of being a hard worker with good character, though he never played quite to the level the 49ers expected when they drafted him in the first round. Perhaps his big contract changed Plummer’s personality. Perhaps it’s just that it’s very easy to get on Nolan’s wrong side.
Plummer’s contract was too large, without question. That was a fallout from the Terrell Owens soap opera. Then general manager Terry Donahue had planned to re-sign Plummer before he became a free agent, but when it happened that Owens’ agent had not filed the papers required for him to leave the team, the NFL briefly put Owens back on the 49ers roster. That raised the 49ers’ payroll to the point that they couldn’t fit a new Plummer contract in. By the time the Owens’ matter was resolved, Plummer was out on the market and Donahue had to offer an $11 million signing bonus to get him back.
Nolan is putting his stamp on this team, weeding out the players he doesn’t want. Forty-Niner fans can only hope that strategy will work. Last season was inconclusive, though the Niners went from two wins to four. The next two seasons will be a much better test, because the players on the roster will either be ones who meet Nolan’s standards or ones he has personally drafted or obtained through free agency.
THE RAIDERS also lost a player who was a disappointment, cornerback Charles Woodson, who never lived up to his Heisman Trophy reputation. That was really a no-brainer. Woodson hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and a franchise tag on him would have cost the Raiders $12.6 million.
Woodson’s value went beyond his playing because he was a guy who could go to the coaches with messages from the players, and he was never one to cause trouble in the locker room. After he was injured last season, though, he virtually disappeared. He knew his Raider career would be over soon.
The Raiders’ decision to bring back Tom Walsh as offensive co-ordinator was a real head-scratcher. Walsh had worked for Art Shell before, part of the time as an offensive coordinator, but he had been out of football since Shell was fired as head coach after the 1994 season.
Obviously, there’s a comfort level here with Shell and Walsh, but I really question this decision. Shell is not an Xs-and-Os guy. He’s been brought in to instill some discipline in the team, so he needs someone who can really run the offense. There’s nothing in Walsh’s resume to indicate that he’s the guy who can do that. Being away from the NFL that long is also a problem. It’s easier for Shell to return as a head coach because he can essentially do what he did before, but the game has become much more complex in the last decade. An offensive coordinator has to know how to deal with the multiple blitzes defenses throw at an offense now. Do you have confidence that Walsh can do that? I don’t.
Of course, maybe this just means that Al Davis will serve as the offensive coordinator.
I’m much more pleased with the addition of Jackie Slater as an offensive assistant working with the offensive line. Slater, of course, is in the Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman. There has been much talk about how Shell could work with the offensive line but, in fact, a head coach seldom does that kind of hands on work. Slater will do that for him. The Raiders offensive line clearly needs some work, especially since it appears the immobile Kerry Collins will return at quarterback.
BOTH THE 49ers and Raiders obviously need a lot of work to get back to being respectable; the teams have the NFL’s worst record over the past three seasons, 13-35.
The Raiders seem to have the more talented roster, but Davis’s strategy of building primarily through free agency hasn’t worked well lately. The veteran players clearly quit on coach Norv Turner last year, losing their final six games.
The 49ers know they have several holes to fill, and they’ll probably work mainly through the draft to fill them. Even if it doesn’t work immediately, that’s usually a better method for the long term.
And fans of both teams can agree: There’s only one direction to go.
TV: I’ll be on the “Last Honest Sports Show” on Channel 44 Saturday night. It usually airs at 6:30 and 10 p.m., but check your local listings if you live in the Bay Area.
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