(Sports Network) - The San Francisco 49ers were doing their best to attend to their laundry list of offseason needs as the franchise enters a critical free agency period for both Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue when a fumble of a different sort muddled the team's outlook.
As Terrell Owens broke the huddle ready to do his best to fly pattern out of the Bay Area, he got jammed at the line of scrimmage and never got into the play. In a strange turn of events, Owens' representatives failed to file the proper paperwork that would have triggered an opt-out clause in the receiver's contract. Instead of becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 3, Owens remains under contract with the 49ers through 2006.
"I have spoken to the NFL Management Council and they have confirmed that Terrell Owens will not be among the players listed as an unrestricted free agent," 49ers general manager Terry Donahue said.
Owens, a four-time Pro Bowler, finished with 80 receptions for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He missed the final game of the season after suffering a broken left clavicle at Philadelphia on December 21. The eight- year veteran has registered four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has scored 51 touchdowns since 2000.
With Owens back in the fold, at least for the time being, Tai Streets is the most significant offensive standout set to hit the open market. The club might be able to work out a trade including Owens, and must address the void in the receiving corps in the coming months. There will also be changes along the offensive line, which will likely include mammoth right tackle Scott Gragg now that he agreed to restructure his contract.
The Niners retained the services of OLB Julian Peterson and RB Kevan Barlow before the opening of the free agent period. Peterson, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent, would have been one of the premier defenders on the market if the Niners didn't use the franchise tag on him. By doing so, Donahue assured himself of having the rangy impact linebacker on the roster in 2004, but at a cost that could rise above $7 million for one season. The club can also work out a long-term deal with Peterson at a later date.
Barlow, who rushed for a career-high 1,024 yards and six touchdowns in 2003, agreed to a five-year $20 million deal. Such a deal ensures Barlow, who could have become a restricted free agent on March 3, of finally moving to No. 1 on San Francisco's depth chart at running back. Garrison Hearst was released instead of taking a pay cut from his $2.5 million base salary.
The secondary is another area of concern, as starting cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster are unrestricted free agents. Rashad Holman and Jimmy Williams are both restricted.
Donahue has resumed negotiations with Jeff Garcia in an effort to restructure a contract that calls for him to earn nearly $10 million in 2004. The Niners would like to have Garcia back, but only at a cap-friendly price. Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey remain on the roster, while Brandon Doman, a former fifth-round pick out of BYU, re-signed with the team.
KEY UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR-Terrell Owens, WR-Tai Streets, TE-Jed Weaver, C-Brock Gutierrez, DE-John Engelberger, DE-Chidi Ahanotu, DT-Travis Kirschke, LB-Julian Peterson, CB-Ahmed Plummer, CB-Jason Webster, S-Ronnie Heard, S-John Keith, K-Todd Peterson, OL-Derrick Deese, RB-Garrison Hearst, DL-Sean Moran.
KEY RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB-Kevan Barlow, TE-Eric Johnson, WR-Cedrick Wilson, CB-Rashad Holman, CB-Jimmy Williams.