Julian did the right thing

Julian Peterson probably realized long ago that staying away from 49ers training camp wasn't going to get him a better deal with the team this season. But it says something about the guy that he didn't stay away any longer than Wednesday, which leaves the All-Pro linebacker plenty of time to prepare for the season opener. Peterson made his point with a 28-day holdout, but he made an even bigger statement by not allowing it to drag into September, even if that's what his agents may have wanted.

It should be noted that two other franchise-tagged clients of agents Kevin and Carl Poston – the men who represent Peterson – still are not in their training camps today and probably won't be for a while. That's cornerback Charles Woodson of the Raiders and tackle Orlando Pace of the Rams, two guys who mean an awful lot to their respective teams.

But not as much as Peterson means to the Niners. They needed him here, desperately, not only to pick up the new wrinkles in the system being introduced by first-year defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, but also for team morale and chemistry.

The Niners have not had the greatest of summers, as some of you may have noticed. First there was quarterback Tim Rattay's throwing-arm setback, then first-round draft pick Rashaun Woods' hamstring problems, then a lot of other injury problems all the way up to quarterback Ken Dorsey's back injury that surfaced Tuesday. That's to go along with working a load of youngsters into the system and several new faces into the starting lineup. Those transitions have not always gone well.

None of that, of course, was Peterson's problem. He wants to be paid like one of the NFL's best defensive players – which he most certainly is – and he and his agents felt the team's offer was a little lacking. That could be argued, because a six-year, $37.8 million deal – which includes a $15.5 million bonus – is a ton of money, even by NFL superstar standards. But Peterson probably could – and will, eventually – get more, and as Niners coach Dennis Erickson said Tuesday, Peterson and his agents "could have held out however long they wanted to."

But Peterson has a little more conviction than that.

"No more holding out," he said late Wednesday afternoon in front of the locker room where he is respected and admired by virtually every player than walks through that chamber. "I didn't want to miss too much time away from the team. I'm glad all this is over with and I'm coming back to play football."

What's over with? The end of Peterson's holdout earned him only a new beginning in negotiations on a long-term contract with the team, negotiations that have been at a standstill since early spring, a standstill that wasn't going to change until Peterson came in and signed his one-year, $6.074 million tender offer to play this season. That wasn't going to change even if Peterson held out into September or beyond.

So Peterson did the right thing. He got into camp just in time to pick up the system, get into football shape and – perhaps most significantly – maintain his status as a stand-up guy and inspirational leader who puts the team first.

Those qualities cannot be underestimated. Peterson is a great player, perhaps the top talent on the entire team, but his impact goes beyond mere talent and presence. He is perhaps the one player with which the entire football world now most identifies the 49ers, so every move he takes and every decision he makes says something not only about him, but also the team in general.

"It's part of the business," Peterson said of his holdout. "I have no personal vendettas. I have a lot of respect for the organization to consider me (a franchise player). It's an honor. I wasn't really happy with, I would say, the average pay. When you think franchise tag, you think you're going to make all this crazy, crazy money. And that wasn't the case.

"It's nothing against the organization. The whole waiting was just to see if I could get a deal done within this period instead of having to wait until during the season. They're willing to work with me on a long-term deal, and the only way to work on that was for me to sign the tender. All that stuff is out of the way right now."

And a big load of negativity has been removed from the Niners' shoulders. Their defensive leader – heck, their team leader – is back with refreshed attitude, and the team can move forward now that the defense that will have to carry it this season has its most intriguing part back in place.

"We're just going on to different things and just trying to get on the same page and get a nice, happy medium," Peterson said of the new negotiations on his long-term deal that will take place over the ensuing months but can now be shelved from the overall team consciousness for the 2004 season. "What's best for me and best for the team, that's what we're all waiting for."

But, actually, the waiting is over. Peterson just provided the Niners with what's best for this team.

"I'm just glad to come back and be a part of this team and concentrate with my teammates to try to win another Super Bowl," Peterson said. "I'm just here to help us get back to winning that sixth Super Bowl and be the best franchise of all time."

The thing is, Peterson means it. He's what the 49ers are all about these days, and a month-long holdout did nothing to diminish that fact, which – when you think about it – is a wonderful thing in itself.

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