Niners working to keep Wilson

There has been a lot of speculation that the 49ers would be better off parting ways with receiver Cedrick Wilson, but that's certainly not how the fifth-year veteran sees it. In a SFI interview, Wilson said he "definitely" wants to remain with the team, saying "I think I've already established myself as a San Francisco 49er for life." And, for his part, new coach Mike Nolan said this week the 49ers are working to sign Wilson to a new deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 1.

It may sound a little strange to close observers of the 49ers who consider Wilson nothing more than a No. 3 receiver, but he actually would be one of the top names available among a weak crop of receivers who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next week.

Behind Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress, considered the top impending UFA receiver, the 26-year-old Wilson is grouped in a second-tier cluster with New England's David Givens, Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway and Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Though those wideouts all might offer things Wilson doesn't, an argument can be made that Wilson is as good a choice – or better – than any of them.

After evaluating team personnel the past few weeks, Nolan agreed that Wilson has some value, not only on the open market, but also to the 49ers.

Wilson did, after all, lead all San Francisco wideouts last year in receptions (47) and receiving yards (641). His 13.6-yard average per catch also was better than any San Francisco receiver with more than eight receptions.

When asked this week if he had made any decisions on re-signing Wilson, Nolan quickly answered, "Yes. We've made some decisions on that and we are certainly working on that. There is communication going on with his agent. We are very hopeful to get Cedrick back."

The Niners certainly have the inside track as far as that's concerned.

"I think that I'm a huge part of this team, and I think that I can definitely be a huge part of our offensive success," Wilson told SFI. "This is an organization where I've grown to be a part of, and I want to continue to be a part of."

But, he added cautiously, "At the same time, unrestricted free agency has come about, and guys do change teams. At the end of the day, it may happen and it may not. That's the bad part about it."

Because of the dearth of quality receivers available on the open market, this could be a fantastic opportunity for Wilson in free agency. He made $628,000 in his fourth season with the 49ers last year, and not many expected he would receive an offer of more than the veteran's minimum in 2005 to go along with a small signing bonus.

But his price probably has gone up. Wilson, believe it or not, probably will become a million-dollar receiver this offseason, and he could command a signing bonus that will exceed that figure alone.

Even though they are looking to upgrade their receivers corps – and push youngsters Rashaun Woods, Arnaz Battle and Derrick Hamilton onto the field – the Niners are making a push for Wilson as long as the price doesn't go much higher than that. His veteran savvy and dependable hands fit into the team's plans to return to the West Coast offensive system, Nolan said.

"We'll see how those (contract) discussions go, but I think he fits in very well with what we are doing," Nolan said. "I do like his competitive spirit, as far as the way he plays. He has a lot of confidence. With the things we are doing on offense, as well with the position coach and (new receivers coach) Jerry Sullivan, I know that we are going to get a lot of production of our wide receivers, no matter who they are. … I'm hopeful we get (Wilson) back."

Wilson acknowledged that, considering the 49ers selected Woods in the first round last year and Hamilton in the third, "knowing the ramifications of those guys getting paid tons of money, those guys are going to have to play sometime soon, or definitely get a good look to play," he said.

But he also added, "If we're trying to win the Super Bowl next (season), I think that Cedrick Wilson does need to be a part of this football team."

The big knock on Wilson is his size (5-foot-10, 183 pounds), but he did provide intangibles last year in his first season as a starter, when he developed into one of the 49ers' young leaders, particularly among the team's impressionable group of receivers.

"I've done my job ever since I've been here," Wilson said. "I get open, and when the ball is thrown to me, I'm pretty much bringing them down. That's about all I can do. I don't bitch about (getting) the ball (enough), I don't make it hard on my coaches to game-plan the other team. I don't cause any problems. All I do is work hard and try to set an example for younger guys. And I think that's what this team needs."

Wilson remains cautious with free agency looming. The images of the 2004 offseason still are fresh in his mind, when he saw several established veterans leave the 49ers rather than take pay cuts to remain with the team. Some of them cashed in for big paydays elsewhere, but some – notably two-time Pro Bowl halfback Garrison Hearst – barely found work for minimum wage.

"Some guys got the same amount that they were going to get paid here, and some guys got less than they were going to get paid here," Wilson said. "You might as well have stayed with a team that wanted you, that drafted you, that put you in the best situation to be successful."

That's something sure to stay prominent in Wilson's mind the next few days as the 49ers come at him with their best offer for him to remain part of the team.

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