Will B.Y. be back?

The 49ers say they're putting the decision on Bryant Young, and B.Y. says he's putting it aside until the season is over. The four-time All-Pro certainly has been playing like he has another year or two of quality performance to give, and since he's still the team's best defensive lineman, the Niners need Young back. But it's now obvious that will only happen amid a certain set of circumstances.

First off, Young has to want to come back for a 14th season in 2007. With two games remaining in Season 13 for one of the greatest 49ers defenders of them all, Young still sounds like a man who hasn't quite settled that issue in his mind.

In fact, whether Young decides on hanging them up after this season or playing on could depend on how much the 49ers feel he is worth to have on their roster next season. If the price is right, Young will play, because he indicated he has no desire to finish his career in another city.

When SFI asked Young on Wednesday if there was any reason why he wouldn't want to end his career in San Francisco, Young replied with a chuckle, "I'm going to finish my career here."

So, it's either stay and play with the 49ers or retire?

Young hemmed and hawed before answering that one.

"At this point, I mean, I don't … I just … I haven't thought about either, how long it's going to be or either playing with another team," Young said. "I just haven't given it a whole ton of thought. I'll address all those things when the season is over with. At this time, I'm not going to think too much about it. My focus has really been taking each game one at a time and trying to be as effective as I possibly can and help us win games."

Once again, Young has been very effective at that, beating constant double-team blocking for 54 tackles and five sacks this season, an effort good enough to bring him Pro Bowl consideration as a NFC alternate this season.

Young turns 35 in January, but there has been very little decline in his play over the past few seasons after he made the Pro Bowl in both 2001 and 2002. And he has appeared reinvigorated with what is going on around him with the 49ers, as the team finally is on the rise again after spending the past two seasons at the bottom of the NFL.

Young now has been around for two tear-it-down-and-build-it-back-up projects in San Francisco, and it might be worth sticking around a while longer since he is such an integral part of the latest reconstruction, which seems destined to make the 49ers a playoff team again as soon as next season - if not this season.

"I've been very happy in terms of the progress that we made, particularly starting last year with the new environment that's been created and that start pointing point to where we are now," Young said. "We went through some bumps as well this year, but overall, just the direction this organization is going, I really like that. I'm just happy that I'm still able to be a part of that."

Coach Mike Nolan made it clear the 49ers still want young to be a part of it.

"He's the consummate pro," Nolan said. "He certainly still has the skill level to play. What I would like to see is B.Y. want to do it again. One of my big reasons for that is not just because of what B.Y. brings to the playing field, but I am anticipating us having some youth on that side of the ball and veteran leadership is imperative to young players getting better."

But then Nolan said, somewhat cryptically, "If that can work out, it would be good for both parties. At the same time, that's a career decision he'll be making in a couple of weeks."

What's to decide? Young still is a beast in the defensive interior and, while he's not the beast he once was during his 1990s heyday, he's still an impact force on a good day and a solid performer on an average day. The 49ers, as you may notice, still have too few of those kind of players on their roster.

And the fire still appears to burn within Young, who answers the call on game day just as he always has, and remains a leader-by-example during the work week and in the locker room.

No, the issue here appears to be what price will be right for both sides for Young to play further in San Francisco.

This season, Young became one of the rare NFL veterans to play out a blockbuster contract. He signed a six-year, $38 million deal with the 49ers in 2001 that included a team-record 12.5 million signing bonus. After the 49ers play their regular-season finale in Denver on December 31, Young will have earned every penny of that deal.

Young said on Wednesday that he has a contract extension in place with the team that includes two voidable years after this season, which came as a surprise to some. But according to NFL Players Association records, Young indeed has a contract that is scheduled to pay him a base salary of $2.25 million in both 2007 and 2008 - the same base salary he received in 2006.

When asked if he could still play on the voidable years, Young replied, "Yeah, it's set up that way. So we'll what happens with that. But it's the team's option as well. They could chose to go a different direction."

And that appears to be the sticking point. Even with a projected surplus of $41.2 million under the cap in 2007, the 49ers still are very cap conscious, and they certainly have their own ideas how Young should fit into their cap structure.

But a base salary of $2.25 million for an aging veteran leader and revered 49er who still can crank it up to play at Pro Bowl-level performance? That sounds like a bargain. Perhaps, at this stage of his life and career, Young would want more to continue selling his body in the NFL wars.

Nolan said there has been virtually no discussion regarding Young's return in 2007. Yet.

"We've exchanged some words briefly, but it has always been, ‘We'll talk about it when it's time,'" Nolan said. "It's on his terms when we'll talk about it. We'll probably talk in a month or in a couple of weeks, but it will be on his terms when we talk, which is the way it should be."

On the surface, that statement seems logical, but it's a little confusing when you consider how aggressive the new regime has been in identifying players it wants to remain with the team and then signing them to contract extensions to keep them around.

Perhaps that approach is just reserved for the team's younger players, and Young definitely isn't one of them. But as the longest-tenured 49er, Young has kept his body in excellent condition and has remained virtually injury-free this season. And both Young and the 49ers talk about mixing new talent into a defensive line rotation next year that will help keep Young fresh and playing at a peak level.

"You know, everything (figures into his decision)," Young said. "You have to look at that, and your health, the direction of the team, your passion and your wanting to continue. You have to put all of them into the equation, and I'm going to certainly look at all those things and make a decision."

Young has a few other things to consider. With a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame, Young might owe it to himself and his legacy to return for another season or two if he can maintain the level of the play he has demonstrated this year.

"Those are things that you have to think about," Young said. "I mean, do you leave the game on one limb, or do you leave while you're able to leave healthy? You feel like, is there more? I think about that. I'm like, OK, we're headed in the right direction, and often you wonder, is there still more out there to be accomplished? And maybe there is, and maybe there isn't. But you won't know until you cross that bridge."

The 49ers are about to cross that bridge with Young, and there is strong hope they both end up on the same side.

"He's a great example on and off the field," Nolan said. "There's not a thing about B.Y. that I don't think sets the standard for a young player. That's very unique. I don't know that I would say that about anybody else on our team. B.Y., having been a 49er for such a long time and standing for so many good things, (having him back) would be a plus. If it doesn't work out, then I understand also."

Which is a good thing for Nolan, because if it doesn't work out, he'll be left explaining why to everybody else.

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