Week of decision for Garcia

As the NFL deadline for designating franchise players arrives today, the 49ers already have taken care of some serious offseason business geared toward the franchise's future by slapping All-Pro LB Julian Peterson with an exclusive franchise tag and reaching terms with promising RB Kevan Barlow on a five-year deal. But today also is Jeff Garcia's 34th birthday, and nobody can be quite sure yet if the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback also will be part of the team's plans for 2004 and beyond.

But Garcia's status should be cleared up in the next week as the team resumes negotiations on a restructured contract with Garcia's agent, Steve Baker.

The team already has said that Garcia - to remain a Niner this year - will have to redo a deal that currently calls for him to make $9.958 million this season.

The team didn't make much progress on a new contract in talks with Baker earlier this month. But both sides indicated recently there still is plenty of optimism in getting a deal done.

"I wouldn't describe our talks with Steve Baker as being at an impasse," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said Monday. "I don't feel like that at all. I think that when you get into these situations, both sides have issues and they are genuine."

Garcia, who was paid more than $20 million the past two seasons, is entering the fourth year of a six-year deal that he signed before the 2001 season. The main issue is the guaranteed money the 49ers are willing to give Garcia, whose performance did not equal his salary in 2003. The Niners also are looking for some salary-cap relief by redoing Garcia's contract during an offseason in which they are facing several other substantial cap decisions.

"We have issues that affect our team both short- and long-term," Donahue said. "Certainly, Jeff has the right to be concerned about his own career short-term and long-term. He is a great player and a great guy. We have to look at what is important to this organization over the next three years. We have to make sure that we get cap healthy. It's very important that we choose cap health over cap hell, and so we can't make short-term decisions. We have to look at the overall health of our football organization and where we are going. We are going to continue to have discussions with Jeff's people regarding his situation and we will just work towards a solution."

If the Niners work out a new deal with Garcia, they could save as much as $5 million in salary-cap room this year. But if the sides are unable to negotiate a new contract, Garcia will be released at some point in the next seven days. The Niners already have signed Brandon Doman, the team's 2002 fifth-round draft pick, to a two-year $685,000 contract in case the team feels it has no choice but to release Garcia.

In that scenario, the team would save just $1.7 million while absorbing a tremendous $10.3 million cap hit this year. The upside would be that taking the hit this year would rid the Niners of that burden in years to come.

Garcia's name also has been bandied about in trade rumors during the past few weeks, but Donahue said no other team has approached the Niners about a possible trade, nor has the team given Garcia permission to talk with other suitors.

Niners Digest Top Stories