In an abrupt about-face, the Niners terminated Brown's contract late Monday afternoon after team officials said earlier in the day that might not happen until the end of the week.
After the 49ers came off the field early Monday afternoon following the opening practice of the team's final spring minicamp this week, general manager Terry Donahue said, "We expect to release Ray Brown this week at some time, probably the latter part of the week."
Make that, as it turns out, the latter part of the day.
Since signing All-Pro guard Ron Stone on April 12 to take Brown's place, the Niners have made it clear that it was all but certain they would release Brown, the 39-year-old veteran and locker room leader who made the Pro Bowl for the first time last year in his 16th NFL season.
Despite what appeared to be a strong season by Brown in 2001, the Niners felt he was slowing down and they did not want to go into their 2002 season of great expectations with a starting guard who would turn 40 during the season. By releasing Brown after June 1, the Niners were able to save a nice chunk of money under the salary cap that they may use to acquire another free agent before training camp begins in July.
But Brown's presence will be missed. Humble and stoic, Brown was one of the most popular players on the team.
"This is one of those times where you part ways with one of your great players, great people, a veteran who has done so much for this organization and this team, finished his career here very, very well in San Francisco, and we'll miss him," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said.
Said Donahue, "Ray's had a very distinguished career here and he's been a great 49er and we wish him well in all of his endeavors. He's just a marvelous man. But right now, we feel like we need to go another direction."
The Niners also are changing directions in their plans for Bryant, who was expected to be released after June 1. Bryant had signed a seven-year contract seven months before he suffered a neck injury against the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 17, 2000. Despite attempting a comeback last summer, team doctors would not clear him to play.
Donahue said, "The way his deal is structured, it's complicated. Basically, he won't be released right now. In terms of the way we structured his deal, it's in our best interest to be able to take part of his (contract) acceleration at one time and part at another time."
Donahue said Bryant will remain on the team's 80-man roster and eventually will be placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list after training camp begins in July. Donahue said Bryant would be released "at some point in the future," but it's possible Bryant could remain on the roster until next June - or even after that.
But Donahue made it clear Bryant won't play for the team again.
"He's not coming back," Donahue said. "He's not on the roster for that reason. He's on the roster (because) it's the best way for us to handle the acceleration part of it."