Making moves

The 49ers have a new quarterback, linebacker Jamie Winborn has a new contract and safety Zack Bronson is officially out of a job after seven years with the team.

The Niners began a three-day passing camp at team headquarters Wednesday, and they got things rolling by announcing a few transactions before the team hit the field.

The top news is Winborn agreeing to terms on a five-year contract extension. The flashy linebacker, whose career was in jeopardy just six months ago when he underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, displayed to the team during its May minicamp that he is all the way back from that unnerving episode.

"We're excited about getting Jamie signed," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "We really think that he has a chance to continue to grow as a football player and be a great player. There were times he might have been our best football player. Of course, he's had some injury problems. That's all part of it. Our doctors feel very good about that. We decided with his kind of ability that we wanted to re-sign him and get him for some more years."

The four-year contract Winborn signed as a rookie was set to expire at the end of this season, when he'd be eligible to become a free agent. Because of his injury, Winborn said he was prepared for the possibility the team might wait to see how he held up physically before discussing a new contract.

Instead, he was rewarded with a lengthy extension, even though he missed seven games last season with his neck problems and 13 games in 2002 with a knee injury.

"Man, you know, I just feel blessed. That's it," Winborn told SFI. "There's not much more you can say about it. It's a blessing for something like that to happen, and the fact that they think that much of you, it just makes you want to go out and work even harder for the team. It's not really about the money or anything like that, man, it's just personal pride with me, just getting back out there on the field and proving what I can do, showing people and gaining the respect of my peers and the guys that I play with around the league."

Bronson's release, which has been anticipated for months, increases to 10 the list of 2003 starters the team has lost during this offseason. Bronson had been the team's primary starter at free safety since 2000, but he missed 24 starts due to injury during that span, including four last season and 11 in 2002.

After his breakout 2001 season, during which Bronson had a career-high seven interceptions and played at a Pro Bowl level, the Niners rewarded him with a five-year, $10.5 million contract extension that included a $2 million signing bonus.

Releasing Bronson now will save the 49ers $1.75 million against their salary cap this season. He'll still count $573,750 against the cap this year and will count $1.15 million against the team's cap in 2005 before he is off the books.

The Niners also announced the signings of rookie offensive lineman Khiawatha Downey and first-year quarterback Jack Hawley. With just two veteran quarterbacks in camp for the next two weeks, the San Diego State product gives the Niners a third arm to conduct their seven scheduled practices over the next nine days.

"We needed another arm," Erickson said. "We have two guys here for the next seven days. It would be too difficult on their arms. And Cody Pickett isn't here because of school that he's involved in. Jack was with (offensive coordinator) Ted Tollner at San Diego State. Ted knows him; knows what kind of arm he has so we decided to sign him and see what happens with him. Obviously he's not going to get a lot of opportunity, but at least we'll get a chance to look at his arm."

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