The excitement of a playoff hunt is over for the 49ers. Now comes the ugly realization that the league is heading into an uncertain offseason, one that may include a lockout. The players, especially those on the defensive side of the ball, spoke today about the prospect of not seeing each other for an extended period.
Some players won't be back next year even after a new collective bargaining agreement is struck. Defensive starters like linebackers Manny Lawson and Takeo Spikes, safety Dashon Goldson and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin are scheduled to become free agents as is role player linebacker Travis LaBoy. Meanwhile, starting cornerback Nate Clements' salary will rise again next season - he's scheduled to earn $7.25 million in base salary alone. Here's a list of pending 49ers free agents.
Spikes is the team's player representative. "I think anything is possible," he said when asked about a time table for a new collective bargaining agreement. "But my honest opinion about it - I don't see it getting done before the end of the league year. I don't." The league year ends March 3. Normally, that's when free agency will begin. However, there will be no free agency period until a CBA is finalized.
Spikes said his job is to make sure players prepare for the offseason, including the prospect that they could miss games in the fall. That means saving money and finding their own insurance.
"You're kind of forced to get bad rates," Spikes said. "We've all got some type of injury, or something that's lingering from the game of football. So imagine what your premiums are going to be. ... We're trying to prep the guys and prepare them: this is what you have to do until the deal is done."
Spikes also advises to wait out the CBA deal in a part of the country other than the ultra-expensive San Francisco Bay Area. He'll head back to the Atlanta area. "As much as we like the weather - I love the weather here, it's mild - but at this point you have to do what makes sense," Spikes said.
Odds & Ends
Patrick Willis said he had more screws inserted into the fourth metacarpal of his right hand to realign the broken bone there. X-rays taken after Sunday's game showed that the bones had become displaced and would not heal correctly. Willis said the healing process would take 6-8 weeks and he didn't know if he could play in the Pro Bowl. The last time Willis missed a game due to injury was his junior year at Ole Miss when he had screws inserted into the middle finger of his right hand.
Spikes will be 34 and entering his 14th season next year, but if Patrick Willis were the GM (and, no, he's not a candidate ... I think) he'd sign Spikes on Monday. "If they were to ask me at this very moment (I'd say), what do I need to do to make that happen? He's a guy that still has football left in him. I mean, you all have seen him - the guy plays unbelievable."
The 49ers players voted Justin Smith as their Ed Block Courage Award winner. Spikes was voted the Garry Niver Memorial Award by the local media. The award is named for the late Garry Niver who covered the team for the San Mateo Times and is given to the player who is most professional with the media.
-- Matt Barrows