Niners restructure their way under salary cap

With some considerable tinkering in the form of salary restructuring, the 49ers got under the NFL-mandated $71.1 million salary cap Thursday a full day before the league deadline. But the direction they'll take now hardly is settled as the league's free agency period looms.

Without cutting any players, San Francisco shaved more than $5 million from its roster budget and put itself about $800,000 below the cap by restructuring the contracts of veterans Derrick Deese, Scott Gragg, Dave Fiore, Derek Smith, Bryant Young, Dana Stubblefield and Junior Bryant.

Despite this financial manuevering, the Niners still need to find more salary-cap space to pursue their own unrestricted free agents. General manager Terry Donahue said Thursday the team is close to a restructured deal with quarterback Jeff Garcia that will save the team $3 million more against the cap.

The Niners also worked a last-minute arrangement with guard Ray Brown to keep the 39-year-old offensive lineman on the team, at least for the time being. Brown agreed to push back by a month the date for a $500,000 roster bonus that had been due Friday. Efforts to restructure his contract continue, Donahue said, and the Niners also have given Brown's agent permission to see if other teams are interested in trading for Brown.

The Niners need cap room to pursue the four unrestricted free agents who were key starters for the team last year: Fullback Fred Beasley, tailback Garrison Hearst, center Jerry Newberry and safety Lance Schulters. San Francisco also is attempting to resign veteran backup offensive lineman Matt Willig. Donahue said the Niners would likely delve heavily into signing free agents from other teams only if they start to lose some of their own.

"Part of that depends on what happens with our own team," Donahue said. "In a perfect world, we'd like our own team back, put a draft class on top of that and keep moving." But that all depends on what kind of offers San Francisco's free agents attract on the open market. Some could get offers too good to pass up, and the Niners might not get a chance to match the deals presented by other teams. "I don't know what's going to happen," Donahue said.

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