The 49ers, in essence, were called into the principal’s office today. Yes, the Bears tattled on them and now both parties – the 49ers were represented by VP of football operations Lal Heneghan -- are stating their cases in front of Commissioner Roger Goodell. As you all know, the issue is whether the 49ers illegally tampered with Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs last year when he was under contract with the Bears. The 49ers reportedly tried to acquire Briggs before the Oct. 16 trade deadline and nearly struck a deal. Briggs, however, was the Bears’ franchise player at the time, and franchise players can’t sign long-term deals until the new league year. The 49ers never acknowledged any interest in Briggs at the time and have said that the tampering charges are bogus.
Still, you have to believe that the 49ers are sweating just a tad. The Bears filed their grievance four and a half months ago, and yet the issue won’t go away. In fact, a report on profootballtalk.com this morning said that the Bears, who ended up re-signing Briggs this month, aren’t driving the issue. Instead, it’s the league that’s pushing the matter.
That’s not a good sign. In his short reign, Goodell has established himself as the Wyatt Earp of NFL Commisioners. His main agenda – and rightly so – is cracking down on bad behavior. Compared to SpyGate, steroids and the near epidemic of DUIs in the NFL, tampering charges may seem a little like jaywalking. Every team does it (Search: Justin Smiley and Dolphins) and they usually get away with it. But you have to wonder whether the new sheriff will tolerate it in his town and whether he aims to make an example out of San Francisco. (Picture the Gene Hackman-Morgan Freeman relationship in “Unforgiven”). If the heavy hand of the law indeed strikes the 49ers, they could be fined or they even could be stripped of a draft pick or two. Stay tuned.
I’m not saying the 49ers are a little slow on releasing information. But it took them until this afternoon to acknowledge that they had signed receiver Bryant Johnson. Johnson was in the building today, the first day of the offseason program, and inked his name to the one-year deal.
-- Matt Barrows