Niners brace for FA as axe falls around NFL

Mike Nolan said early Wednesday evening that the 49ers will not have to release any players before Friday's scheduled start of free agency whether there is or is not a new CBA in place between the NFL and its Players Association. Because of their healthy cap situation, the Niners are in position to move quickly in free agency, and they have done all their homework to prepare for the tumultuous uncertainty and different scenarios surrounding this year's FA period.

Nolan was back at 49ers headquarters after spending most of the previous week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where, for the first time during his coaching career, he spent more time dealing with "49ers issues" than evaluating players on the field.

"I got tired," Nolan said when asked what he got out of the Combine, where he was joined by the rest of his 49ers coaching staff along with other San Francisco team personnel and scouts, who did most of the player evaluation for the team. "I didn't get to watch as many players as I would have liked to because I was working on some of our things about free agency and our search for (a top-level football) executive. I think it's the first time I've ever been at the Combine where I spent at least 50 percent of my time on 49ers issues. I want to get things straight as we go forward."

Free agency is what's directly in front of the 49ers as they move forward, and Nolan says the Niners are ready to make a splash with or without a new CBA.

"It will affect everyone if there is or is not (a new CBA)," Nolan said, "and as it's going right now, we're anticipating there's not going to be one, and right now it's looking like that's the case."

Money won't be an issue for San Francisco, which could be as much as $20 million under the new cap figure if there is no new CBA, and Nolan said the 49ers will be involved in free agency for the long haul.

"We are looking for good players that are our kind of guys," Nolan said. "We will stay involved in free agency from beginning to end as far as staying in the hunt for whatever players. I'd rather get the right free agent in June rather than get the wrong guy in March. I think the important thing for us in free agency is to get the right kind of guy that can play that's also the right kind of person."

Team VP of player personnel Scot McCloughan was in contact with several player agents at the Combine, and the team will continue to have ongoing discussions leading to Friday with agents for current 49ers and other players throughout the league scheduled to hit the open market.

"There's communication going on throughout the league right now with different people," Nolan said. "Obviously, it doesn't all start until that deadline."

Nolan realizes the dynamics of 2006 free agency could change within the next 48 hours, which could make it advantageous for the 49ers as other teams with higher payrolls cut veterans to get in compliance with the salary cap.

"If players are let go because of (that)," Nolan said, "then that also adds another dimension, because the complexion of the whole thing can change dramatically if someone becomes a free agent that you weren't anticipating."

It already is happening. Though Nolan wouldn't mention names, the 49ers already are buzzing about some of the veterans that were released throughout the league on Wednesday as teams scrambled with no new CBA in sight before Friday.

Here's a look at some of the veterans released Wednesday, along with analysis on the moves and the interest the 49ers might have in some of the particular players:

Buffalo Bills: Released TE Mark Campbell, DT Sam Adams and S Lawyer Milloy.

Analysis: Campbell wasn't a surprise as new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild will run a version of the Rams offense which didn't use the tight end position much. The team is hoping that second-year TE Kevin Everett will be a major contributor at the position. Adams was at odds with the team over playing time/role last year so the move to release him was expected. The team is very light on talent and depth at the position so look for that position to be addressed in the draft. Milloy was the one surprise as there wasn't a strong indication that he was going to be released. He should find a starting job elsewhere. For now, backup S Coy Wire, whose job Milloy took in the first place, steps back in with the first team defense.

49ers interest: Nolan said the 49ers are looking to bring in starters in free agency, but Campbell might work as a nice backup at the right price. Adams and Lawyer both could fill starting spots for the Niners, but it's debatable how they'd fit into San Francisco's system, and the Niners are looking to get younger – not older – at their positions.

Denver Broncos: Released RB Mike Anderson, TE Jeb Putzier and DL Trevor Pryce.

Analysis: Anderson was a minor surprise but believe it or not, the team believes veteran RB Ron Dayne could have a major role in the running game next season along with RB Tatum Bell. This move gives credence that they were interested in trading for RB Ricky Williams. As for Putzier, the team was leaning toward not picking up his roster bonus and that's essentially what happened. They'll look for a more complete TE who blocks better. Still, Putzier is a terrific athlete who is a good fit for a West Coast offense. It isn't as though Pryce was very old (turns 31 in August) but his play waned in recent seasons and he was part of a deep defensive line rotation so he became expendable. Still, the versatile veteran can play inside or outside and should find interest in free agency.

49ers interest: The 49ers have had reported interest in Putzier for months, and he could be a definite FA target for the Niners at the right price. The Niners also could find a place for Price in their defense as an edge rusher, but they won't bring him in just as a situation player.

Miami Dolphins: Released OT Damion McIntosh, CBs Reggie Howard and Sam Madison and S Tebucky Jones.

Analysis: Some point to a recent off-the-field issue as part of the reason for McIntosh's release. Fact is, he was an underachiever and not up to starting caliber for a left tackle. He would be best suited as depth for a team, not a starter. Howard turned out to be a major free agent bust for the team and got relegated to a dime role at one point last season. He'll find a roster somewhere in a backup capacity. The signs were there in recent seasons that Madison wasn't the player that he once was plus he was making too much money ($3.4 million in base salary).

49ers interest: Madison may be an upgrade for the 49ers, but at this point in his career, the team likely will look elsewhere to fill its void at cornerback.

Carolina Panthers: Released RB Stephen Davis, RB Rod Smart, DT Brenston Buckner.

Analysis: The Davis moves comes to no surprise (he was set to make $1.85 million) as the team is hoping second-year RB Eric Shelton can take over at least the short-yardage role. Davis is clearly at the end of the line and probably will only play another year if that. Smart is a decent special teams player but the team was deep at running back and he wasn't really needed. The team is high on young defensive tackles Jordan Carstens and Kindal Moorehead so Buckner and his $1.85 million salary became expendable. The team badly wants to re-sign UFA WLB Will Witherspoon so Buckner's cap space should help.

49ers interest: Negligible, if any at all.

Other moves around the league Wednesday:

The Cleveland Brown re-signed UFA DL Orpheus Roye and signed DT Ethan Kelley to a one-year extension. Roye proved to be a terrific fit for head coach Romeo Crennel's version of the 3-4 defense and Roye put up career tackle numbers. At 32, he should have at least two good years left. While he won't ever be an All-Pro, Kelley is a young player with a little upside and has extensive experience in Crennel's defense as the two were with the Patriots together. Kelley will be used in a rotational basis again which is the best role for him.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers re-signed RFA QB Chris Simms. Unable to get him signed to an extension, they were still able to get him under contract for another season and it's not out of the question they get him signed longer should a CBA get done soon.

The Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed UFA DL Rob Meier and RFA LB Tony Gilbert. The versatile Meier is a good rotational player that can give the starters a breather inside or outside. Gilbert one of their best special teams players plus he backs up starting MLB Mike Peterson.

The Baltimore Ravens re-signed RFA TE Daniel Wilcox to a three-year extension. Wilcox is a nice story and finally found a home as one of their key backup players on offense. The 49ers will be keeping a close eye on what the Ravens decide to do with some of their other veteran players.

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