Hate to see him go, but Jules not worth the $

We come before you today to say good-bye to perhaps the greatest 49er of the 21st century. Yes, everybody, that's what the Niners are losing after Julian Peterson skipped off to Seattle for the whopping sum of $54 million. And, just like his agent said he would, Peterson got nearly $20 million guaranteed. But, while there's reason to despair seeing a stand-up guy like Jules go, there's also reason to rejoice that the 49ers weren't knuckleheads enough to pay a damaged-goods LB that kind of coin.

But everybody knew somebody would. That somebody turned out to be the Seahawks, who dumped a truckload of cash into Peterson's coffers with the blockbuster seven-year deal the six-year veteran agreed to Monday, which included $18.5 million in guaranteed dollars, with a $10 million bonus to sign.

Even when it was evident a big contract was coming for Peterson – all that last week's apparent slow interest in the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker meant was that he was waiting for the biggest deal to come in – that is still staggering money for a player who was far off the dominant form he displayed during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Not coincidentally, those were the two seasons before Peterson tore his left Achilles tendon in Week 5 of the 2004 season against Arizona, ending his season that year and having a lasting effect on his performance throughout the 2005 season.

Don't get me wrong. Losing Peterson hurts the 49ers. He still is – or was – the closest thing to greatness on the San Francisco roster. It's no stretch to say – all things told and considered – that Peterson has been the Niners' best player over the six-season span since he was selected in the first round of the 2000 draft. And, judging on how other players were able to come back from a similar injury, it's realistic to believe Peterson will be much closer to top form in 2006 when he's one full season of playing time removed from such a devastating injury.

But being close and actually getting there are two different things. And if Peterson can only get close the rest of his career, he's not worth the big money the Seahawks threw at him to join the defending NFC champions.

If that is so – and you can see where I'm going with this – than the 49ers made the right decision in allowing him to leave San Francisco, and they have been making the right decision regarding the team's best player since Mike Nolan and Co. took over the operation last January.

It's tough – and, perhaps, unfair – to judge Peterson on his lukewarm (by his high standards) 2005 season, when he finished with 86.5 tackles, no interceptions, no forced fumbles and just 0.5 sacks over the season's final 15 games after recording 2.5 sacks in the Sept. 11 opener against St. Louis.

But that's all that Nolan and San Francisco's other decision-makers have to go on – the lone season they were around Peterson and coached Peterson. That, and old game film that showed a younger, healthier – and better – Peterson. As you make have noticed, Nolan spends a lot more time looking toward and believing in the future than he does looking back and believing in the past.

Before Peterson was injured in 2004 – before he turned down a six-year, $37.8 million offer from the 49ers that included a team-record $15.5 million signing bonus earlier that year – he was a tremendous talent who had a season for the ages in 2003, when Peterson was named first-team All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year.

Peterson had to be the best outside linebacker in the NFL that season – and we're including Derrick Brooks in that proclamation – when he finished second on the team with 144 tackles, had seven sacks, 14 passes defensed, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

He flew around the field like a runaway train. And he hit like one. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds of lean, sculpted muscle, he played bigger. And there wasn't a tight end in the league he couldn't cover. There were receivers that he could cover. He was phenomenal.

But something definitely was missing last year during Peterson's comeback from the torn Achilles, and there's no guarantee he'll ever get it back. He still showed flashes of the great ability, but he lacked the special explosiveness that made him great. He was missing that little something extra that separates players along that fine line above which the elite performers roam.

You can question the way he was used in San Francisco's transition to a 3-4 defense in 2005 – and I certainly question it at times – but the fact remains that scheme was designed in particular to highlight Peterson's skills and make him the centerpiece of the attack. Instead, he occasionally looked lost in the system and just ordinary in it at other times.

As they formulate their future, the Niners just weren't going to put that kind of money into one player with these issues. It would have smacked of irresponsibility – and nobody running the 49ers wants to be accused of than anymore. Sure, they wanted to keep Peterson and were willing to do so – for about half what Seattle paid him.

Which is another way of saying – despite Nolan's comments a week ago about having "a sense of encouragement because all the other things that have happened that (Peterson) might be back" – that the 49ers never had a chance at re-signing him. They were destined to be blown out of the water by a bigger, better offer from another team.

You can't blame Peterson for that. His interest in staying in San Francisco was genuine. But the 49ers were going to have to pay him. They were going to have to pay him too much – way too much.

Sadly, it means they must now part ways with a truly accountable, good-guy individual, a team leader who played a big part in defining the franchise since he joined the 49ers. Those characteristics and intangibles surely also are worth untold dollars.

But when you add it all up, the Seahawks overpaid. They overpaid by a lot. Curse the loss of Peterson, to be sure, but also know that the price of losing him may be well worth it to a rebuilding franchise in the long run.


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