If it wasn't clear before, it's up in neon lights now: The 49ers aren't going to sign their starting nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, to a contract extension this year. This despite A.) the fact that Franklin had his best year as a professional in 2009 and B.) the fact that the 49ers have no surefire replacement waiting in the wings. Why wouldn't the 49ers extend a good player at a pivotal position? I'm engaging in a little mind reading on this, but I'll give you two reasons.
The first has to do with what we've been talking about all offseason - the uncertainty heading into 2011 when the rules regarding player salaries might be rewritten. Those question marks are compounded when it comes to the 49ers because they have so many key players reaching the end of their original contracts. They have to think about the most important position on the field, quarterback, because Alex Smith is in the final year of his deal. And they want to extend young, rising players like Vernon Davis, Dashon Goldson and Josh Morgan.
Which brings us to the second reason the 49ers are hesitant to extend Franklin: He's not so young anymore. He turns 30 next month, and while he may have avoided wear and tear early in his career, the 49ers have to wonder whether he's reached his peak.
They also have to wonder why Franklin had his best season in his contract year. The 49ers had no qualms about extending Patrick Willis and want very much to do the same with Davis because they know that hard work is ingrained in those two players. Willis' and Davis' desire to excel and their desire to win supersede their desire for money and for comfort. With Franklin, team officials are not convinced. Franklin arrived at training camp 15 pounds lighter last season than he had in previous years. Why? Franklin had his best season right before he became an unrestricted free agent. Why?
The 49ers have their doubts. Which is why they'd rather have him play under the pressure of a one-year contract with the franchise tag rather than with the reassurance of a multi-year deal.
-- Matt Barrows