49ers won't be playing tag in 2006

Linebacker Julian Peterson, knowing his one-year pay was increasing to the point where it could do harm to the 49ers' salary cap, conceded after the season that he would not be the team's franchise player for a third consecutive year. And, indeed, 49ers coach Mike Nolan has confirmed that the organization has no plans to pay Peterson $8.7 million to retain him as the club's franchise player.

In fact, it appears the 49ers have no plans to place the franchise tag on any player in 2006.

But particularly not on Peterson, whom the team would have to offer a one-year tender of $8.75 million if it were to place the franchise tag on him again to prevent the six-year veteran from becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 3.

"I know we'd love to have him back, but when 31 other teams are out there, it's hard to say," Nolan said when asked if the club will make a big push to re-sign Peterson. "As I always say, no one player will be bigger than the team. I've made that comment before when talking about character or selfish issues, but that goes for cap involvement, too. If the (salary) number takes us out of the realm where it hurts the football team, we have to be smart about how far we go."

Peterson was not his usually disruptive defensive presence last season, his first year back after returning from a torn Achilles' tendon that ended his 2004 season after just five games. Peterson recorded three sacks on the season, but 2.5 of them came in the season opener.

"I thought he made significant strides," Nolan said. "A lot of people will be very interested in J.P. because of the player he's been over the years. I don't think people will see his health and think it's not an issue."

The 49ers, under the previous management regime, offered Peterson a six-year, $38 million contract that included a $15.5 million signing bonus prior to the 2004 season. He earned more than $14 million the last two years while tagged as the 49ers' franchise player, including $7.288 million last year.

He is not expected to attract a signing bonus in that range this offseason when he becomes a free agent. Peterson, a six-year pro, has said he wants to return to the 49ers. In the days after the season, Peterson said he knew the 49ers would not make him their franchise player again because of the 20 percent wage increase the club would be obligated to pay him.

"They might have to cut a couple guys to fill the depth chart if my (salary) number was so high," Peterson said. "I don't think that would be a smart move to do something like that because we have a lot of talent on the team. You don't want to start over from ground zero."

Thursday is the deadline for all NFL teams to designate franchise and transition players.

--- The 49ers plan to widen their search for a high-level executive after Mike Reinfeldt, Seahawks vice president of football administration, turned them down. Nolan has wanted to hire a respected NFL administrator to strengthen his support system. Just two weeks ago, the 49ers announced that owner John York had given Nolan the go-ahead to fill such a spot in the organization.

Falcons executive vice president/chief administrative officer Ray Anderson is among the candidates for the 49ers' opening, along with Rams executive vice president Bob Wallace, former NFL general manager Bob Ferguson and Cardinals senior director of football operations John Idzik.

--- Quarterback Alex Smith said he plans to speak this offseason with former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who won his first two Super Bowl titles with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. Turner is the new 49ers' offensive coordinator, taking over for Mike McCarthy, who left to become head coach of the Packers.

"I've talked with him before but my past conversations were more on what it's like to be a starting quarterback as a rookie," Smith said. "I know he speaks very highly of coach Turner, so I'll definitely want to talk with him again."

--- Smith said he was eager to delve into his offseason of work with McCarthy as his coordinator, but he now must make an adjustment to a new coordinator.

"Obviously, it was a surprise," Smith said. "I was looking forward to an offseason of not having to learn a new offense. But I grew so close to coach McCarthy last year that part of me is really happy for him. We talked about (how) we were both looking forward to getting this thing going this offseason. I understand the business and realize this was a great situation for him. There are only 32 of those jobs out there. We talked and decided to stay in touch. He said I could always call him."

Smith has already started learning Turner's new system after spending time this offseason at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and in Detroit for the Super Bowl.

"I'll be going back to a learning environment again," Smith said. "I'll be starting over with a lot of things, which is not a terrible thing. I learned a ton last year going through coach McCarthy's system. If coach McCarthy had stayed, we could have hit the ground running. Now, it's going to be a lot more scholastics."

--- The 49ers have allocated quarterback Bryson Spinner to NFL Europe. Spinner has been released by the Redskins, Jaguars and Seahawks. A 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, Spinner completed his college career at Richmond in 2003.

--- Nolan remains optimistic as the 49ers prepare to enter a critical portion of the offseason that includes the NFL Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, and free agency, which begins March 3.

"I feel a lot better about the football team today than a year ago," Nolan said. "Also, I'm very realistic about the improvements we need to make. Next year, we'll make some strides. We're going to start stacking on top of good players as we continue to draft well."

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