49ers building for future in midst of season

First it was Terry Jackson. Then Paul Smith and Jeff Ulbrich. Those aren't exactly three of the biggest names on the 49ers, but they are solid young players who each play a significant role on the team. And it says a lot about the direction and focus of the franchise that the Niners have used some of their spare 2002 salary-cap room to extend the contracts of these players and make sure they'll remain part of the team's future.

The Niners extended the contract of Jackson - the valuable fourth-year running back and special teams captain - for two years last week. On Monday, the team reached agreements on extensions for fullback/special teams standout Smith and starting linebacker Ulbrich, two key players from the team's blockbuster 2000 draft.

"We're excited about all of it," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "We're trying to extend more and more of our young players because we think we have good young players, and we think they're the kind of players that represent the organization extremely well in the community, but also can play in the National Football League and have contributed to the successes that we've had the last couple of years."

Smith and Ulbrich both would have been restricted free agents when their first NFL contracts expired at the conclusion of this season. Now, Smith is locked up to a contract that will pay him $450,000 next season and $535,000 in 2004. Ulbrich signed a four-year, $5.1 million extension that included a $1.2 million signing bonus and 2003 salary of $450,000.

Both deals are examples of how Donahue and team management continue to work behind the scenes to build the team for the future. Donahue has approached the agents of other young players whose contract situations will need to be addressed either after this season or in the near future. The Niners' GM said, "there's absolutely nothing on the burner right now," as far as getting any other extensions done before the end of 2002, when the team can use some of its remaining space under the salary cap this season to complete those deals.

"I think one thing you can take out of this is just the approach," Donahue said, "which is we just kind of go, and if there's some interest and the parameters fit economically, then we kind of work quietly and pursue it, and if there's not interest, or if the parameters don't fit economically right now, then we can't pursue it and we just have to move on to something else."

The Niners are showing considerable foresight in getting these kind of deals done, which will leave them more room to work with for some of the larger deals they'll face in the 2003 offseason, and also displays to everyone how committed management is to keeping this team together, and also taking care of their own.




Niners Digest Top Stories