Missing Julian

49ers officials were resigned to the fact linebacker Julian Peterson, perhaps the premier player now on the entire team, would not be attending San Francisco's first spring mini-camp this weekend. But that didn't stop the ripples of his absence to be felt throughout a young and impressionable team Friday. "I'm not going to say that nobody didn't realize that Julian wasn't out there," LB Jamie Winborn said. "But practice goes on. You have to learn. What happens if Julian's not there one day?"

"So you have to prepare yourself regardless of the fact," Winborn continued.

Peterson was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this year after enjoying his best pro season in 2003. The 49ers designated Peterson as their exclusive franchise player in February after talks broke down in contract negotiations with Peterson's agents, Kevin and Carl Poston.

Peterson said during an interview this week on NFL Total Access that he would not be attending the mini-camp because, "I have to try and work on my deal and stuff."

Attendance at the three-day camp is mandatory only for rookies. Niners coach Dennis Erickson wasn't surprised that his star defender was absent.

"Julian's not under contract right now," Erickson said. "He's got his things that he deals with. That's just how it is in this league. You'd love to see him out here, of course, but he's not here and that's how it is."

Likewise, general manager Terry Donahue said, "Disappointment? No. I certainly wish that he would be here, but we are not the only team with a franchise player, they are all over the league. I am not sure exactly what Julian's plans are, but we want him to come into camp as soon as he feels good about coming in. We certainly plan on having him play on the tender and it is really up to him and his agent as to when he comes into camp, but we are going to welcome him.

"If he were to come to the next workout we would be thrilled. If it isn't then and it is later than that we are going to be thrilled whenever he gets here. We are anxious to have him on the team, and anxious to have him play for us."

But Peterson could remain out for the team's three spring mini-camps, and the stalemate could even go deep into training camp if Peterson doesn't get a new deal.

Peterson missed out on a potential eight-figure signing bonus this spring when the Niners slapped him with the franchise tag. According to the NFL Players' Association, the salary for a franchise linebacker this season is $5.8 million. Peterson has not signed his tendered franchise offer from the team. NFL rules stipulate that negotiations with franchise players cannot resume until July 15.

Peterson has some leverage because the 49ers lost nine veteran starters during the offseason, leaving Peterson as perhaps the team's best player and one of its most visible figures.

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