Raising the dead

In the grand scheme of inflated salary caps, it may seem like a rather inconsequential number. But every little bit counts for a team such as the 49ers. When the Niners released free-agent lineman Greg Randall last week, they effectively threw away the small signing bonus they gave the fifth-year lineman in April, which increased the already outlandish amount of "dead money" going against San Francisco's 2004 salary cap, a figure that is stratospheric when compared to other NFL teams.

Randall was given a $25,000 bonus when he signed April 20. Since he won't be around to play for the team this season, that figure now is piled atop the already huge mounds of cash on San Francisco's 2004 cap payroll that the Niners have obligated to players no longer with the team.

Earlier this spring, when he was releasing veterans such as Jeff Garcia, Derrick Deese and Garrison Hearst, Niners general manager Terry Donahue estimated the Niners would have about $28 million in dead money going against their 2004 cap.

Revised estimates might make that number closer to $27 million, but whatever the actual figure is, it is far and away the largest in the NFL this season, and is more than three times the league average.

The Niners are allotting approximately 35 percent of their 2004 cap to players no longer with the team. That means, while the NFL has a league-mandated $80.6 million cap limit this season, the Niners will be working with an actual budget limit of approximately $53 million to pay their 53-man roster this year.

The league-wide average for dead money hovers at around $8 million, or less than 10 percent of the cap limit. But the Niners are paying more than that in dead money to one player alone in 2004.

Garcia, in fact, is counting more in dead money against the Niners' cap this season than any other player in the NFL is counting against his team's cap. Garcia's salary hit against San Francisco's cap is about $10.34 million, and no other NFL player this year has a similar figure of more than $8.7 million.

The Niners, in fact, have two players in the top 10 on that list this year - receiver Terrell Owens also is counting approximately $5 million in dead money against San Francisco's cap.

And the Niners won't just be paying for recently-departed players in 2004. J.J. Stokes and Junior Bryant are among the several players costing $2 million or more against the Niners' cap this year. Stokes hasn't played for the team since 2002, and Bryant hasn't been on the field in a San Francisco uniform since the first month of the 2000 season.

The Niners figure to be out of this salary-cap abyss as soon as next season. But, according to unofficial figures, the dead money they will carry against their cap this season is double any other NFL team except the San Diego Chargers.

If that doesn't make San Francisco's salary cap mess hit home, consider this: The Niners, according to those figures, will have counting against their cap this season more than 10 percent of the dead money in the entire NFL.

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