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Junior Bryant Re-Signs With 49ers

February 18, 2000

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ Hurt in the past by high-priced free-agent busts, the San Francisco 49ers zeroed in on keeping one of their own.

San Francisco re-signed defensive linemen Junior Bryant, a rising star and a versatile player capable of playing either end or tackle, on Thursday

``He can play any one of the defensive line spots across the board and that’s why he was our A-No. 1 priority from day one,″ coach Steve Mariucci said. ``He had a lot of places to go, a lot of interest in him and understandably so. He’s a good player, a good guy and a hard worker.″

Mariucci said the team continues to talk with the agent for Jerry Rice in hopes of reaching a new deal that would be more salary-cap friendly. The possibility remains that the NFL’s greatest receiver, who counts $5.5 million against next season’s cap, could finish his career elsewhere if the sides fail to reach agreement. Mariucci did say there’s still plenty of time to work out a new contract.

``It would be nice if it could get cleared up quickly but I don’t know that it will,″ Mariucci said.

The signing of Bryant signifies a new emphasis by team on retaining its own marquee free agents. San Francisco also tendered a contract last week to tight end Greg Clark.

In the past, the 49ers let go rather than pay big money to such stars as defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and running back Ricky Watters.

But in the last two years, they committed millions to acquiring such players as defensive ends Gabe Wilkins and Charles Haley, cornerback Antonio Langham, and fullback Tommy Vardell on the open market only to see their investment go sour.

Langham was traded in a cap-driven deal to Cleveland a year ago, Haley and Vardell retired last month after disappointing final seasons and the nonproductive Wilkins remains a weight on the 49ers’ salary cap.

Bryant, who joined San Francisco in 1995 as an undrafted free agent after playing at Notre Dame, agreed to a seven-year contract with a clause that can void the deal after four years.

He visited Denver on Monday and declined an offer from the Broncos. His agent also fielded proposals from several other teams but Bryant said he never considered them because by then he had decided to stay in San Francisco.

``It’s nice to be done with it,″ Bryant said. ``It was an interesting experience being a free agent for a few days. I’m just glad to be back here. This is where I started my career and where I look to finish it.″

The 49ers and Bryant declined to release the terms. Bryant’s agent, Don Yee, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Bryant had a career-high 55 tackles to go with 4.5 sacks while splitting time at end and tackle last season. He also is the only 49ers defensive lineman to start every game over the last two years.

Mariucci, meanwhile, said the 49ers might try to add one or two more players through free agency but continue to be hamstrung by cap constraints. Indeed, the team auditioned free-agent defensive end Keith McKenzie but he left the workout Tuesday without getting an offer.

``Being in this free-agent market is like shopping at Nordstrom’s and you’ve lost your credit card,″ Mariucci said.

The coach said the 49ers need to save the cap room they have now in order to have enough money to sign their draft picks. San Francisco has the third overall selection after finishing 4-12 last season, their first losing campaign in a non-strike year since 1980.

Bryant said he hopes to be part of a turnaround.

``Going through what we did last year wasn’t fun for anybody,″ Bryant said. ``And for me, it was the first time I’d been in a situation like that. I don’t want to revisit that any time soon. I hope we can get it turned around. It’s hard to do worse than we did last year so obviously I look for everything to being an improvement.″

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