Niners expose Pro Bowl guard to expansion list

A funny thing happened to Ray Brown five days after playing in the first Pro Bowl of his stellar 16-year NFL career: He was placed on the league's expansion list Thursday.

Brown's not laughing. And, despite playing a major role in San Francisco's offensive success in 2001 during what may have been the finest season of his career, indications are that Brown will not be with the Niners in 2002.

Don't expect him to be playing with the Houston Texans next season, though. Houston general manager Charley Casserly said Wednesday that the Texans would select no player over age 30 during Monday's expansion draft, when the upstart franchise can select as many as 35 players. Brown is 39.

Brown was placed on the list after safety John Keith was pulled off after failing an NFL physical. The Texans had shown preliminary interest in Keith, the Niners' fourth-round draft pick in 2000 who tore a knee ligament on the season's opening kickoff and was lost for the year. Keith has endured three major knee surgeries and a broken forearm, but the Texans thought enough of him to request their own physical, which Keith passed.

Brown joined tight end Greg Clark, defensive back Anthony Parker, center Ben Lynch and defensive tackle Reggie McGrew as the NFL-mandated five 49ers on the expansion list. Brown, who contemplated retirement after the 2000 season, returned and had perhaps the strongest season of his career, earning second-team All-Pro honors. But he is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 1, and his 2002 base salary of $2.4 million will be difficult for the salary-cap strapped Niners to fit into their salary structure. Brown's not thinking about retirement this year, however. After playing so well in 2001, he has strongly indicated he plans to return for a 17th season during which he'll turn 40. But it apparently won't be with the Niners.

The last time there was an expansion draft - in 1999 to stock the Cleveland Browns - none of the five players the Niners left unprotected returned to the team. Three were picked up by the Browns and the other two were released. The Niners currently are approximately $4 million over the projected $71.8 million cap for 2002. If they were to release Brown, it would create only minimal cap savings for the upcoming season, but create substantial space in 2003.

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