Niners will 'do the dance' with Peterson

Niners general manager Terry Donahue says Julian Peterson's season-ending torn Achilles injury doesn't change the 49ers plans to try and sign their All-Pro linebacker to a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent again next year. But the $38 million deal Peterson turned down earlier this year no longer is on the table, and when negotiations begin again between the Niners and Peterson's representatives, "we just start from scratch," Donahue said.

In wake of Peterson's season-ending injury last Sunday, those negotiations don't figure to be renewed again for a while. Donahue, in fact, has yet to talk with Peterson's agents, Kevin and Carl Poston, since last spring. There has been no contact between the two sides since Peterson was injured.

When the Niners do begin talking contract again with Peterson, the dynamics of the situation will have changed. The six-year, $38 million contract – which included a team-record $15.5 million signing bonus – that was rejected by Peterson no longer is being offered. The Niners kept that offer open to Peterson until he signed his one-year tender as the team's exclusive franchise player in August. Donahue said that one-year, $6.1 million deal became Peterson's new contract and made any previous offers by the team obsolete.

"You just start all over again," Donahue said. "When we begin negotiating, we just start from scratch. We start all over again. We begin to dance. We do the dance."

Donahue indicated the Niners won't be hesitant to dance with Peterson despite his serious injury, from which he is expected to be fully healed by next spring. Peterson was looking to become one of the NFL's highest-paid defenders this year, but the injury could drive down his asking price. The magnitude of the injury begs the question: How much is a linebacker – albeit a great linebacker – worth when he just missed three-quarters of a season?

"I really belive that his injury really doesn't change anything dramatically," Donahue said. "His Achilles is a serious injury, but the medical evidence would say at this time that the doctors were happy with the repair, and I think he is going to recover (fully). I think we've had an open mind about extending Julian prior to the injury, and we're going to have an open mind about extending him after the injury. I don't think we all of a sudden take some kind of different mindset or approach to this thing."

That could be construed as good news for Peterson, but the fifth-year linebackers knows he will get his money down the road one way or another. As Peterson said before his surgery this week, another team will pay him the big bucks if the 49ers don't.

But the 49ers hold the upper hand now, and their position just got a little stronger. The team can slap the franchise tag on Peterson again next year if it desires, which means Peterson would be guaranteed at least $7.29 million in 2005. But after his injury, he might be hesitant to pass up a long-term deal this time around if the Niners come up with a quality offer like the one they presented to Peterson this year.

"We've always considered franchising if we can't get a long-term deal done," Donahue said. "That's been the strategy from Day One. Ourselves and the Postons agreed when Julian came into camp that we would have conversations at some time. We weren't going to put any time frame on it. But at some time, we'd have conversations in the future and work in good faith to get a long-term deal done for us and for him. And the injury hasn't changed that. We haven't restarted (negotiations). But at some point, we will."

The Niners, obviously, aren't hesitant to extend the contracts of injured players. They gave linebacker Jamie Winborn a new deal even after he had a career-threatening neck injury last year that required fusion surgery. They also gave a new deal to tight end Eric Johnson even though he missed the entire 2003 season with a broken collarbone that also required surgery.

Both of those calculated risks already have paid off for the Niners, as Johnson leads the NFL in receiving and Winborn is playing a major role on defense, where he is in the starting lineup to stay the rest of the season in light of Peterson's injury.

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