Niners notebook

Unpopular 49ers owner John York, who has come under fire in the Bay Area for the perception he is a skinflint, appears to be taking big strides to craft a new image.

York began shortly after the season when he fired general manager Terry Donahue after signing him to a four-year extension just four months previously. He also terminated coach Dennis Erickson, who served just two years of a five-year contract. He also allowed new coach Mike Nolan to bring in a new staff, though all Erickson's assistants were signed through the 2005 season.

Nolan said York, who co-owns the team with his wife, Denise, has made good on his promise during the interview process. The 49ers kicked off free agency last week by signing left tackle Jonas Jennings, previously of the Bills, to a seven-year, $36 million contract.

"As I interviewed for this job, it was important that there was a commitment to winning, to doing what it took to get the good players," Nolan said. "I think this is one of the first signs that there is that commitment by John and Denise to rebuild this organization to the winning tradition that we all want. If you have an opportunity to get a good player like Jonas, that's what you do."

The move on the first day of free agency also resonated in the locker room, where veteran leader center Jeremy Newberry took notice that ownership is not going to sit idly and watch another embarrassing 2-14 season.

"It shows a commitment," Newberry said. "It took a little bit of money to put a whole new staff in there. A lot of people speculated (York) was too cheap to do that. He let coach Nolan retain who he wanted to and it wasn't a money issue at all. Everything that has happened this offseason points in the direction that he's committed to winning."

--- The 49ers have signed fifth-year defensive lineman Chris Cooper to a two-year contract. Cooper joined the Niners at midseason last year and started the final two games of the season at defensive tackle, finishing the season with 17 tackles and one sack. At 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, Cooper has premium size to play end in the team's scheduled move to a 3-4 defense next season. Though he can play both tackle and end, Cooper is more comfortable in the latter role, and he could vie for serious playing time at that position in 2005 regardless of who the team brings in to compete at that position.

--- The 49ers would like to retain offensive linemen Eric Heitmann and Kyle Kosier, but they did not do much to take them off the restricted free agent market. The 49ers tendered both players at the lowest levels, with one-year, $656,000 deals. The 49ers would have the rights of first refusal if either or both signed offer sheets from other clubs. Because both players were originally seventh-round draft picks, the 49ers would receive only seventh-round picks as compensation if either left for another team.

--- Jennings said he did all the necessary homework before deciding to sign as a free agent with the 49ers. As the Bills' left tackle last season, he faced every team in the NFC West. He knows what to expect in the six games he will be facing defensive ends from within the division.

"We played all those guys and we beat all those guys," Jennings said. "I'm familiar with those guys and I'm really excited about our conference out here. You ask me why I chose this, you best believe I looked at everything. I've weighed it. I know who I'm playing, and I know the cost of living."


1. Quarterback. Is Tim Rattay the answer at this spot? Can he remain healthy for an entire season? Coach Mike Nolan said there will be competition for the starting QB job this year. The 49ers might use the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith.

2. Defensive back. The 49ers expect CB Mike Rumph, who missed most of last season with a broken forearm, to return at full strength. They can't be too sure of CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed 10 games with a bulging disk in his neck. If the 49ers acquire a good corner, it might allow them to move Rumph to FS, where they have a need.

3. Wide receiver. The 49ers did not have any big-play threats from this position last season. Their roster is filled with mediocre NFL receivers, and they need to find somebody who can consistently get open and make plays down the field.

4. Running back. Halfback Kevan Barlow was a disappointment last season, and it remains to be seen how he reacts to a new coaching staff. Regardless, the 49ers need to find a backup halfback who can take some of the pressure off him.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Steve Bush; WR Curtis Conway; DT Chris Cooper; OT Jerome Davis (not tendered as ERFA); QB Brandon Doman (not tendered as ERFA); C Brock Gutierrez; FS Ronnie Heard; FB Jasen Isom (not tendered as ERFA); RB Terry Jackson; DT Daleroy Stewart (not tendered as RFA); CB Jimmy Williams; WR Cedrick Wilson.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OG Eric Heitmann; OT Kyle Kosier; LB Brandon Moore; LB Saleem Rasheed.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: DL Tony Brown; S Dwaine Carpenter.



PLAYERS LOST: PK Todd Peterson; DE Brandon Whiting.

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