Players uneasy in wake of Winborn decision

The 49ers weren't about to outwardly criticize the sudden news Wednesday that popular linebacker Jamie Winborn is about to be shipped elsewhere. They probably came to the quick realization they better not criticize it, or else they could be the next one on the way out. But there definitely was a tone of uneasiness amid San Francisco players in a locker room where Winborn's stall already had been cleared of his nameplate and most of his personal belongings.

"It's very surprising – very surprising," said eighth-year fullback Fred Beasley, one of the team's veteran leaders on the field and in the locker room. "One thing that's surprising is not seeing Jamie out there contributing to the team. And then another thing that's surprising is making the decision to get rid of the guy."

Of course, Nolan didn't ask for anybody's opinion before he made the decision to put Winborn on the trading block, apparently because the fifth-year linebacker was unhappy with being removed from the starting lineup.

Beasley made a point to say, "It was the coach's decision, and my opinion is that he did it to help the team. So you have to go with that. That's what they brought (Nolan) in for, to bring that championship swagger back to the organization. And the decisions he's making, he's just making the best decisions to bring that swagger back. Coaches have their own opinion and have a different outlook. So, they're the ones that make the calls and make the decisions."

This decision didn't exactly play to high approval ratings among San Francisco players, even if they were willing to go along with the premise that Nolan feels he's doing what's best for the team.

Two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson, one of Winborn's best friends on the team, also gave face-value support to the decision. But he also spoke in paradoxical terms that a development such as this would take place four weeks into the season.

"It's very unusual," Peterson said. "It's something new, the first time I've experienced this. But it's part of the business. That's the way it is. I guess coach wanted something else. And something else for Jamie. It's going to be different around here without him.

"All in all, I think it's a good situation for (Winborn) and the team. I think (Nolan) just wanted to go in his own direction right now. I know that he knew Jamie had a lot of talent, too. He didn't want to hold Jamie back. And I know if you like to compete as much as (Winborn) does – which I know he does – he wants to be out there the whole time. So I guess it happened for the best case for both sides – for us and him. And I think both will be happy with it."

But happy didn't seem to fit the mood after Wednesday's news broke.

"It's tough," quarterback Tim Rattay said. "I like Jamie very much. On a personal level, Jamie's leaving is going to be tough. We'll definitely miss him."

Said Beasley, "I don't know if it's damaging (to team morale), but you still have to look at team morale. I mean, Jamie was a locker room favorite here. He was always upbeat and he had an awesome sense of humor and everybody liked him. Plus, he was an awesome player who makes things happen on the field. I've been playing with Jamie here for a number of years and I've seen what he can do when he's healthy if he's in there playing.

"I think they just wanted to go in a different direction with him. I don't know what the message is they're trying to send, but they made a decision for the best of the team. And if getting rid of Jamie, if that's best for the team, then we're all for it."

After Sunday's disappointing 34-31 loss to Dallas, a visibly-upset Nolan talked about "trust and distrust" and vowed to make changes that would affect players not on board with the team's new strategic systems and new ways of doing things.

Winborn apparently is one of those players.

Some say Beasley might be, too. A Pro Bowler in 2003, Beasley apparently has fallen out of favor with the new coaches. He now splits time at fullback and has yet to touch the football – no carries, no receptions – with the season about to reach the quarter pole.

When asked his reaction to the trust issues stated publicly by Nolan, Beasley said, "I mean, he's just trying to get a point across that he wants the guys that contribute to the team and give a total team effort. And if they're here, they're here for the team and nothing else. Those are the guys he's looking for. He's just getting that message across. And it's a strong message.

"You pretty much know what he's talking about. You're out there to do a purpose, and if you can't do that purpose, you basically have to find somebody else to get it done. It's a business, they make their decisions and you just have to go with it."

The players have to go with it, because it could be them going out the door next week if they don't.

"That's almost every day (players deal with that)," Beasley said. "You never know what's going to happen in this business. Like you say, (players) come and go. That is part of the business. I've just been fortunate enough to be here eight years. So I look at it a little different."

A lot of players will be looking at things differently now in the wake of Wednesday's development. The message has been sent and it is very clear – it's Nolan's way or the highway. Be a team player or play for another team.

The question now is how the Winborn episode will affect a young team still searching for an identity.

"I don't know," veteran safety Tony Parrish said when asked that question. "It's to be seen. I miss him already. It's very unusual, but we'll see what happens. Hopefully, everything works out."


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