'Warm and fuzzy' will have to wait

The 49ers have a favorable salary-cap situation, and they're expecting seven picks in the first four rounds of the 2007 NFL Draft. So the team has the capability of making some dramatic improvements to the defense next season.

But next season is next season. That doesn't do much good now for a team that is 2-5 after a 41-10 blowout loss to the Bears, a game that saw the San Francisco defense at its worst.

The 49ers return to the real world this week to face the Vikings at Monster Park.

"It's a way to escape, even for me to say, 'I know what we got out there, and I know there's a time when we can do this and this and this and help this football team,'" 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "But that's an escape that's only temporary. I resist that temptation because I'm here today and living now and what I do now will affect that football team.

"That's all warm and fuzzy, but that's not today. Today is not warm and fuzzy."

Nolan has got that right. The 49ers have regressed since a promising start and now again look like one of the NFL's worst teams, which their designation throughout Nolan's first season with the team last year.

The 49ers currently have approximately $7.5 million in cap room. They did not pull the trigger on a trade that could have brought some help. They also did very little to upgrade the defense via free agency.

When Nolan was asked if he passed up opportunities in the offseason to improve the team, he answered, "Intentionally, yes."

The 49ers did not make much of a push to re-sign outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter, who both signed for big bucks elsewhere quickly in the free-agent process last March.

Peterson signed a seven-year, $54 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks that included $18.5 million guaranteed and his having a stellar season with a team the 49ers have been looking up at in the NFC West for the past three seasons. Carter signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Redskins for $32.5 million, including $9 million guaranteed.

Nolan said retaining Peterson and Carter was not worth the cost of doing business because it would have hamstrung the potential to build the roster in other areas.

"Personally, I think they're both good players, but $30 million for the two of them? No," Nolan said.

But the 49ers certainly could use either as their sagging linebacker unit has played poorly. The 49ers also are getting weak pressure in their pass rush from the edges, an area in which both Peterson and Carter have excelled during their careers.

San Francisco's defense ranks next-to-last in the league, allowing 367.7 yards per game, and it has managed only two sacks over its past four games. The 49ers also have allowed an NFL-high 235 points - no other team has given up more than 200 - and surrendered 41 or more points in three of their four October games.

That has put San Francisco on a pace to allow 537 points this season, which would break the NFL record of 533 set by the Baltimore Colts in 1981.

The 49ers figure to make major changes to their defensive personnel in 2007, and could have new starters at half the positions on that side of the ball next season. But that won't help them this year with nine games remaining.

The 49ers plan to retain players a couple years before they become free agents with contract extensions, something the previous regime failed to do. They have already used that strategy the past two seasons to lock up such players as linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder.

But Ulbrich and Spencer have not played up to their standards of last year, and the defense has suffered as a result. Those players were viewed as strengths entering the season on a unit that's now filled with holes and has more questions than answers.

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