The 49ers on Thursday placed restricted free-agent tenders on three defensive players, but did not do the same with Troy Smith, a signal that that they have cut ties with the quarterback who started six games for them last season.
The 49ers tendered linebacker Manny Lawson, safety Dashon Goldson and defensive end Ray McDonald. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire at 9 p.m. tomorrow, those three players would be restricted free agents because none has six or more years of service. Lawson is a five-year player while Goldson and McDonald have been in the league for four years.
As restricted free agents, those players would have difficulty finding suitors in a free-agent market. The 49ers would have the right to match any contract offers they received, and they would be compensated - with a first-round draft pick in Lawson's case - if those players signed elsewhere.
However, that six-year threshold - unfavorable to players - is not expected to remain when a new labor agreement is finalized. Instead, many of the players designated as restricted free agents, especially five-year veterans like Lawson, likely will be unrestricted free agents under a new deal. The 49ers still can negotiate with their own free agents until 9 p.m. Thursday. After that, player movement will cease until there is a new labor agreement.
The 49ers could have designated Smith, another four-year player, as a restricted free agent but chose not to. He won his first two starts last season but struggled in his next four, going 1-3 in that span. Mike Singletary tapped Smith to start the team's most important contest of the season, a Dec. 26 game in St. Louis that would, if they won, keep alive their playoff hopes. Smith was 7-19 in the 25-17 loss and was replaced by Alex Smith
at halftime in the fourth quarter.
Lawson and Goldson started all 16 games for the 49ers last season. McDonald was a backup to Justin Smith at right defensive end last year but has been an integral part of the team's third-down package the last three years. In addition, the 49ers made special teams ace C.J. Spillman an exclusive rights free agent, which means he cannot negotiate with other teams.
Many of you have asked via Twitter (@mattbarrows) and other means whether the team will cut ties with cornerback Nate Clements before the league year ends as the Packers did today with linebacker A.J. Hawk. In Hawk's case, he was set to earn a $10.5 million bonus on the first day of the new league year. Clements also is scheduled for a huge salary in 2011, but unlike Hawk there is no trigger point -- aside from the start of the season -- that would prompt an early release.
-- Matt Barrows