49ers veterans under microscope
LB Julian Peterson: As their franchise player, the 49ers have paid Peterson nearly $13.5 million over the past two seasons, and they have to be wondering if they're getting enough bang for their buck because of his susceptibility to injury. Peterson was slowed by a hamstring injury earlier this season, but he said that was a product of the Achilles tendon tear that ended his 2004 season after five games, and he appeared to finally be approaching top form again at midseason. Peterson's impact potential is one of the primary reasons the 49ers switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme this year, and the new regime certainly would like to keep him as part of the team's foundation for the future. But he must prove he is worth the money down the stretch at a position where even the best players are replaceable. If the 49ers place the franchise tag on him for the third consecutive year, they will have to pay him $8.75 million in 2006. The team also is considering a long-term deal for the two-time Pro Bowler and, either way, Peterson is playing for a huge payday with his next contract – whether it's with San Francisco or somewhere else. FB Fred Beasley: The four-year deal Beasley signed with the 49ers in 2002 is up after this season, and he really needs to make a strong impression on coaches to get a contract offer from the team during the offseason. Beasley has been in the doghouse on and off the field this year and coach Mike Nolan has dropped hints the eighth-year veteran is not in the team's future plans. Beasley, however, still possesses the skills that made him the NFC's Pro Bowl fullback in 2003, and if he continues to buy into the team concept despite his diminished role, the new regime may think twice about letting him leave in the offseason. CB Ahmed Plummer: Plummer's base salary jumps substantially from $965,000 this season to $5.5 million in 2006, and that's big money for a player who has not impressed coaches this year. Realistically, the 49ers are tied to Plummer for at least another season because of the huge salary cap hit they'd take by releasing him after the previous regime gave him an $11 million signing bonus in 2004. But he will have to earn his way back into the lineup and the coaches' good graces after missing five games following September ankle surgery. While Plummer was out, unheralded Bruce Thornton came in and made quite an impression as his replacement, and coaches want to see Plummer fight to get his job back and help the team in other areas while he's doing it. RB Kevan Barlow: The 49ers have to make a decision about Barlow, and they likely will use the rest of the season to determine if he is valuable enough to keep around at his $2.5 million price tag for 2006. Barlow has followed the guidance of the new regime and has shown some improvement over his disappointing 2004 season, but he still must convince the Niners they need to keep him around to complement Frank Gore – and vice versa – next season. With Gore seemingly destined to be the team's lead back of the future, Barlow must show the Niners they need him around to share the load instead of finding a cheaper alternative to fill that role. OT Kwame Harris: The 2003 first-round draft pick hasn't been much better in his third NFL season than he was in his first, and the Niners must see both development and improvement from Harris at right tackle the rest of the way to be convinced they don't need to be considering alternatives at the position. There's a lot of different directions the 49ers can go at right tackle next season – they could play one of their youngsters there, pick up a free agent or even move Jonas Jennings there – so Harris' place in San Francisco's offensive line of the future is not exactly secure. He still needs to earn it, and now's the time to do it. QB Ken Dorsey: He got his big chance to show coaches what he can do when Tim Rattay was traded and Alex Smith went down with an injury, but Dorsey then sprained his ankle in his first start this season, opening the door for Cody Pickett to get his shot. The 49ers are committed to developing a quality backup for Smith next season, and if Dorsey doesn't get another opportunity to show that he's that guy in games this season, he must do it every day in practice, because it appears Pickett will be back as a developmental prospect next year regardless of what happens with the other quarterbacks on the roster. LB Saleem Rasheed: It appeared the fourth-year veteran was going to get the opportunity to show his stuff as a starter after Jeff Ulbrich went down with a season-ending biceps injury. But then Rasheed hurt his knee in his first practice as the starter and was forced to the sidelines after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Rasheed needs to push his way back into the lineup down the stretch and play like his career is depending on it to remain in the team's plans. WR Arnaz Battle: The new regime likes Battle's work ethic and the things he brings to the team, but he still must prove that he's not soft and can hold up to the pounding a NFL starter takes on a weekly basis. Battle hasn't always been able to play through minor injuries during his three seasons with the 49ers and, since the Niners are looking for major upgrades at receiver, he needs to stay on the field and prove he can consistently produce to remain one of the team's top four receivers. If he can't do that, the 49ers may see no point in keeping him around. LB Derek Smith: The heady veteran is being paid $2 million this year in the final season of the five-year deal he signed with the 49ers in 2001, and he is playing the rest of this year for another deal that will compensate him similarly in the future. The new regime respects everything about Smith and likes what he brings to the team, and he's one of San Francisco's core veterans who truly is earning his big salary on the field and in the locker room. But he'll be 31 in 2006 with the wear and tear of nine NFL seasons behind him, so he must keep it up and show no dip in performance if the Niners are to consider shelling out the millions it will take to keep him around next season and beyond. OT Anthony Clement: With the way Clement has occasionally imploded as the replacement for injured Jonas Jennings at left tackle this season, it may seem laughable to some to think the 49ers would consider asking him back next season. But it's no joke. Clement's biggest downfall when he joined the 49ers is that he was an out-of-shape player playing out of position. If Clement shows improvement and commitment to his craft the rest of the way, he may find a place in San Francisco's future somewhere else down the line, because the Niners certainly want to get that unit in order by next season. Clement should feel a sense of urgency, because the 49ers are the third NFL team he has been with this season. The other two released him.
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