Trouble in paradise as stars test 49ers' resolve
Updated On: Jun 18 2014 10:51:34 AM EDT
As they moved into their second day of minicamp Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers were trying to reconcile coach Jim Harbaugh's team-first mantra against two top players obviously intent on proving there is a capital "I" in team.
Harbaugh's famous "the team, the team, the team" adage is being put to the test as the 49ers go through their mandatory three-day minicamp without two starters on offense: tight end Vernon Davis and right guard Alex Boone.
Both players are holding out with two seasons remaining on their contracts and are not practicing with the team.
"I'm disappointed in that decision, for them not to be here," Harbaugh said. "(It's) not the decision I envisioned being the 49er way."
Davis and Boone became the first players to hold out since Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2011. Since then, the 49ers have had little difficulty with team finances in regards to players. Most of their veterans are earning less than market value, a key reason for the team's three-year run of success since Harbaugh became coach.
However, after quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year deal that could pay him as much as $126 million, with $61 million guaranteed, the team's financial future suddenly looks tougher to forecast. Gone are the days when the 49ers wouldn't have to pay a quarterback franchise-type money, meaning the pie for the rest of the players just shrunk significantly going forward.
Even so, San Francisco insulated itself from problems caused by absent veterans, as the team has other talented players ready to step in.
In Davis' stead, second-year player Vance McDonald began work as the team's No. 1 tight end during organized team activities and minicamp. The 49ers selected McDonald in the second round in 2013, indicating that they believe he has the skill set to be a starter with or without Davis around.
McDonald, however, was a virtual non-factor in the passing game last season, making just eight catches for 119 yards. He was primarily used as an extra blocker, and he excelled in that department as the season wore on. He would have a very hard time replicating the downfield threat of Davis, who had 13 touchdown grabs in 2013 for the second time in his career, becoming the first tight end in league history to do so.
When Davis signed his five-year, $37 million deal in 2010, he became the highest-paid tight end in football. With a $7.4 million average annual salary, he remains the third-highest paid tight end behind the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten. Davis' deal was frontloaded, and he will make just $4.7 million and $4.35 million, respectively, over the remaining two seasons.
At 30, Davis will never again possess as much leverage as he does at this point in his career. The question becomes whether the 49ers are willing to give Davis even more money with wideout Michael Crabtree and left guard Mike Iupati entering the final years of their rookie contracts.
Boone signed a five-year, $8.04 million deal while he was a backup tackle in 2011. Since then, he became one of the league's best right guards, far outplaying his contract. His financial dispute is understandable, but San Francisco has Marcus Martin, Jonathan Martin, Joe Looney and Adam Snyder available to play in Boone's place.
Davis and Boone weren't the only players absent from the start of minicamp Tuesday. Cornerback Eric Wright wasn't there either, but his decision was a little more concrete.
Wright announced his retirement from football.
"As I prepared for the coming season, I realized that I no longer had the same passion I once had for the game," Wright said in a statement. "The San Francisco 49ers have given me an amazing opportunity to play for the team I grew up rooting for, and I owe the York family, my coaches, and my teammates tremendous gratitude. I will be forever grateful to all of the franchises I was lucky enough to play for, and look forward to beginning the next phase of my life, and spending more time with my family."
Said safety Eric Reid, "It's a little surprising. Maybe he's dealing with some personal issues. I'm going to leave that up to him. I'm not going to invade his space."
Wright was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2012 season following his second DUI arrest in as many years. The second charge was ultimately reduced to reckless driving, to which Wright pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 36 months probation, including six months of drug treatment with testing, according to reports.
"After a lengthy discussion, it was evident he put a great deal of thought into his decision," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. "Eric has our full support, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best."
Wright came back to the 49ers on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum last year to compete for a job within the team's depleted secondary, and he wound up playing in seven games. The 49ers lost three of their four starting defensive backs from 2013, making Wright a viable candidate to contribute in the coming season. Now that he is gone, San Francisco is expected to rely more heavily on players such as Chris Cook, Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris and rookie Dontae Johnson than originally anticipated.
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