Peterson a puppet?

Is Julian Peterson still the same guy who said in December that "it's an honor" to wear the 49ers' franchise tag, then said at the end of that month before heading into the offseason that San Francisco "is obviously my first choice" of places to play in 2004? Peterson's tune has changed during the offseason, making one wonder if his attitude has changed, too, or if he is just unwittingly being used as a negotiating device by his hard-line agents.

The Julian Peterson that left 49ers headquarters at the end of last season was a goodhearted and good-natured individual who had suddenly and impressively blossomed into a team leader and team spokesman in his fourth NFL season. Not coincidentally, he also took his game to the highest level in 2003 to earn first-team All-Pro honors, making Peterson the complete package at the tender age of 25.

But Peterson's no dummy. The kindness, respect and fortitude he displayed to others should not be construed as weakness. Peterson knows his performance on and off the field last year vaulted him into the top echelon of NFL linebackers and - since it all came together for him during his contract year - it would make him a very rich man with unrestricted free agency looming.

Peterson got the franchise tag instead from the 49ers, who were turned off immediately when, according to sources, agents Carl and Kevin Poston made initial demands for $30 million in guaranteed money. The two sides cannot open negotiations again until July 15 - two weeks from the start of training camp - meaning Peterson likely will be an official holdout once the serious summer session begins July 30.

He already missed the team's first spring minicamp in May and, since nothing has changed since then, is practically certain to be out during the team's final minicamps during the first two weeks of June.

Given his newfound star status, Peterson has been a popular figure on the talk circuit this spring and announced during an interview May 5 on the NFL Network that he wouldn't be attending the minicamp because "I have to try and work on my deal and stuff. ... Once we get all this stuff worked out with the upstairs and my lawyers, everything should work out fine."

Obviously, Peterson has the right to use his leverage to get a fair contract from the 49ers, even if missing minicamp is uncharacteristic of his work ethic and the values he has displayed since joining the team. But it's now becoming obvious that the Postons are telling Peterson how to operate, and perhaps even using him as a puppet to get the stratospheric money they have become accustomed to attaining for their top clients.

The Postons got an eight-year, $80 million contract extension for Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington, who didn't have as good a year as Peterson in 2003, so they probably figure the sky is the limit for Peterson.

So whether Peterson is now speaking from the heart or talking just the talk that his agents want him to say is open to speculation. Perhaps Peterson has found a middle ground on those feelings within himself, but earlier this week during a Sporting News Radio interview he said, in regards to the contract he is seeking, "I would like to be somewhere within the (Brian) Urlacher and Ray Lewis frame and possibly even higher than that."

Peterson went on to say during that interview, "I feel like even though each one of those guys are great individual players, I feel like I do a little bit more than the average player. I don't just play linebacker, I go down to the defensive end. I play corner, I play safety, so I have a lot more to offer I would say than the rest of them."

The thing is, nothing has changed in that regard since the end of the season, when Peterson said all he wants in contract negotiations is to be treated fairly.

Now he's saying he wants a contract that possibly could approach - or even break - records. His agents already have dropped those kind of hints. Has it come to the point that Peterson - who has been a loyal soldier during his career in San Francisco - is now speaking for them instead of the other way around?

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