'Bloody Thursday' is on - to 49ers' benefit?

NFL owners met for less than an hour on Thursday morning and voted - supposedly with a single unanimous voice - to break off further talks with the NFL Players Association on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The move effectively shatters the image of labor peace that the NFL has enjoyed over the last decade, and puts in motion a free agency period that could result in some of the most draconian player cuts in recent memory - a situation that actually could benefit the 49ers.

In line with Scout.com's news-breaking reports last weekend, the salary cap will remain at $94.5 million, leaving many NFL clubs in the position of having to shed veteran players in order to be under the cap by midnight Thursday. Many around the NFL had placed the nickname of "Bloody Thursday" on such a turn of events.

The 49ers, however, are not among the teams that will have to cut veterans. San Francisco, in fact, is approximately $19.9 million under the new cap - the fifth-best figure in the NFL among teams with room under the new $94.5 million figure.

Notable players such as Chad Pennington and Terrell Owens - among many other high-profile names - could be the subject of cuts. Veteran standouts such as DT Trevor Pryce, RB Mike Anderson and CB Sam Madison have already been released.

The 49ers are one of the few NFL clubs that are in are in a position to take advantage of the talent windfall. Other teams, such as the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, are in a position where they will need to release a significant amount of payroll to get under the cap.

"It changes a couple of things," Nolan said of going forward in free agency without a new CBA. "One is it changes the competition - you have some competition (for free agents) if (a new CBA) is signed and some different competition if one is not, if that makes any sense, because some people will be out of the running right away, and some people will be in the running very heavily based on whether there is (a new CBA) or not."

Without the higher salary cap figure that would have come with a new CBA, the 49ers could become significant players in free agency because of the cap room they enjoy that other teams don't.

"It could (have that effect). Yes, it could," Nolan said. "I do not want to say for sure, because it could appear that way and then somebody jumps in and you don't get somebody that you wish you had.

"Say you stay involved with the first, second and third guy on your board and then you don't get one of them, and then all the sudden you run to the fourth and he is already gone. You (then) are down to the fifth or sixth. There are things like that which occur sometimes. So you have to be smart in the player you go after and how certain you are that you can get something done. (No new CBA) does (affect things), but it still doesn't take everyone out of the running."

Nolan indicated the 49ers were well prepared for such a scenario, but the team likely will have to re-adjust its draft board after more veterans are ostensibly cut throughout the league by midnight Thursday.

"If players are let go (because of no new CBA), then that will be the case," Nolan said. "That also adds a new dimension because anticipation of who those players might be is a big part, because who you have on the board at one, two, three, four or five - whatever - could change if someone comes on the market that you think, 'Wow, we would pay that same amount for that player, we think that player is better.'

"It could change your board. So, as much as we have done on the guys that we knew would be free agents, the complexion of the whole thing could change dramaticaly if all the sudden someone becomes a free agent that you had not expected that is a good player."

Nolan said the 49ers already "are in contact" with some free agents who already have been released by other NFL teams.

"You try to position yourself in different ways and you always have to have a plan," Nolan said. "If anyone is sitting around thinking, 'Let's wait and see what happens,' they are going to miss out. Everyone has to be revving their engines right now. Certainly, there is a lot of communication for us with our current free-agent people that we want to keep on our roster as well as the anticipation of communication about some other guys later."

While short-term attention is focused on the impact to this year's free agency period, long-term impact is likely to be be more significant.

The prospect of serious labor strife is now very real, and the NFL's concepts of guaranteed contracts, limited free agency, and even the NFL draft could be significantly changed.

At present, the 2007 season will take place without a salary cap, a situation which may cause a significant change in the level of competitive balance the NFL has enjoyed in recent years.

But those are issues for the future. As things stand as of Thursday morning, the 49ers are sitting pretty in free agency as the NFL world rocks tumultuously around them.

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