Brockermeyer opportunity shows 49ers have leverage

The 49ers are going for it this year. And they're finding no shortage of top free agents who are interested in going for it with them. The serious flirtation with Blake Brockermeyer this week didn't result in the established offensive tackle signing with the team, but those negotiations are another strong indication the Niners have a clear vision of what it will take to push them over the top - and more evidence they won't be pushed around by anybody when making their roster decisions.

There are very few holes to fill as the Niners close in on training camp, which now is less than two months away. By signing All-Pro guard Ron Stone and talented safety Tony Parrish in a free-agency flourish during April, the Niners had their 22 base starters for the 2002 season set before their first spring minicamp. Most NFL teams won't have their 22 starters set until the first week of September.

By drafting so wisely the past three years - and, yes, we're including this year's 10-player class in that assertion - the Niners are developing great young depth behind those starters. But there still are a few places where - if the 49ers are to be a true Super Bowl contender this season - a top veteran is needed to provide depth and also push the starter(s) ahead of him.

Offensive line is one of those places. San Francisco's quality unit is one of the best in the league if you go by production, but the reality is that line adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Bringing in a player such as Brockermeyer - who has 101 NFL starts over the past seven seasons - would increase competition in an already strong area, and would give the Niners several options to make their line even better.

Starting Brockermeyer at left tackle and moving incumbent starter Derrick Deese next door to left guard is one very realistic and feasible scenario that could make a good line even better. Then Dave Fiore - the starting right guard the past two years who has switched sides after the arrival of Stone - could be a top backup at both guard and tackle, since he has extensive starting experience at both positions. And, let's face it, a healthy Brockermeyer immediately would become the best tackle on the team.

The Niners want Brockermeyer, just as they wanted Stone. And Brockermeyer wants the Niners. That was evident at the team's minicamp this week as Brockermeyer's agent, Marvin Demoff, chatted up Niners general manager Terry Donahue and director of football operations John McVay as that power trio casually watched a bunch of rookies and tryout players scramble around the practice field.

Top agents such as Demoff don't spend their mornings in that fashion unless negotiations are serious. Top agents such as Demoff also seek top dollar for their top clients. But Brockermeyer - who was released by the Chicago Bears in April because he was going to count almost $4 million against their 2002 salary cap - has some issues. He has a bad shoulder and a bum knee. He's already had surgery on both this year. He won't be ready to play until August.

Even so, Brockermeyer probably is a $2 million-a-year tackle. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less - but he's in that range. Demoff probably is thinking more, the Niners probably less. The Brockermeyer camp would seemingly hold the leverage, since Donahue said Thursday that the 29-year-old tackle and his agent, "have other options that they're looking at and they're considering. There's other issues here about ... what money we can offer as opposed to what money other teams can offer."

The Niners didn't want Brockermeyer to get away this week without a signed 49ers contract in his hand. They no doubt could have tweaked their salary-cap structure to give Brockermeyer the deal Demoff is demanding right now. But that's not the way this ship is being run anymore.

"We have a structure that we're in and a structure that I want to stay within," Donahue said. "We kind of set our structure as to what we want to get accomplished, where we're at in terms of range, and if it works out, great, and if it doesn't, we keep moving."

Just like with Lance Schulters, the Niners are setting the terms here. They feel they are close to the Super Bowl now, today, but they aren't going to mess with tomorrow to get there.

Because they don't have to. They know - just like everybody in the NFL knows - that San Francisco is one of the top destinations in the league again, just like it was in the 1980s and '90s. Quality players with championship dreams want to be part of that. That gives the Niners leverage, even when dealing with free agents who have leverage.

Brockermeyer may yet end up a 49er. But he better not wait too long. He's the guy the Niners want now, but come June 1, there will be other candidates out there. And they'll be standing in line to become part of San Francisco's line. The Niners also now appear likely to go after at least one other established free-agent veteran - likely a receiver - after that date.

"He was an opportunity," Donahue said of Brockermeyer. "But I think, June 1, there will be some more opportunities that we'll consider."

And, as the first five months of 2002 have shown us, Donahue knows opportunity when he sees it. And how to take advantage of it. And when to wait for a better one, as far as the 49ers are concerned. It's the kind of thing that already has positioned the team for a serious championship opportunity this coming winter, and that's something the Niners obviously are determined not to let pass them by.

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