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49ers Move To Add Cap Space

July 13, 1999

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) _ With running back Garrison Hearst’s future still in question, the San Francisco 49ers are moving to clear salary cap room and add another running back.

Even as the team opened contract talks Tuesday with a representative for free-agent running back Charlie Garner, Hearst was in the midst of a three-doctor, cross-country sojourn seeking opinions on how best to treat career-threatening complications clouding his recovery from a broken lower left leg.

``We’re in negotiations with (Garner) but we have not reached an agreement at this time,″ general manager Bill Walsh said through a team spokesman.

Garner’s agent, Scott Crawford, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The 49ers were trying to create cap room by reaching a long-term agreement with wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is signed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.

A multiyear pact would allow the 49ers to spread the economic impact over the life of the deal and thus create the up to $2 million in cap space they need to add a free-agent back and sign their eight draft picks.

The two sides are close to a deal _ only a few incentive clauses remain to be worked out _ and Owens’ agent, David Joseph, is expected to come to the team’s Santa Clara headquarters later this week to finalize it.

Garner, a former first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, played in 10 games with three starts last season, rushing 96 times for 381 yards and four touchdowns.

He was among three free-agent backs worked out last week by the 49ers. Lawrence Phillips and Harvey Williams were the others. The 49ers also visited with former Washington running back Terry Allen.

Hearst, whose game-breaking running style made him San Francisco’s top offensive threat last season, hasn’t been able to take part in the team’s offseason workouts because of his slow recovery.

He was injured on the first play from scrimmage during San Francisco’s loss at Atlanta in the NFC title game last January, his leg twisting grotesquely at the ankle when it grabbed on the artificial turf.

The 49ers medical personnel believe a circulation problem has arisen near Hearst’s ankle, depriving bones in the area of a sufficient blood supply. If the condition, diagnosed as avascular necrosis, isn’t alleviated, the affected bones could die. A similar problem in Bo Jackson’s hip forced him to quit football. He continued playing baseball despite undergoing hip-replacement surgery.

Hearst, who had four touchdown runs of 70 or more yards last season, including a team-record 96-yarder in overtime, met Tuesday in New York with Dr. Bill Hamilton. He’s also scheduled to fly to Birmingham, Ala., where he will consult with another leading orthopedic specialist, Dr. James Andrews.

Hearst did get some encouraging news in his visit Monday with Seattle doctor Pierce Scranton.

Scranton believes a relatively minor procedure aimed at stimulating blood flow to the ankle could allow Hearst to return to football in eight to 10 weeks. Even under that scenario, Hearst would miss more than a month of the regular season.

While the 49ers are cautiously optimistic about Hearst, they also moved ahead with plans to shore up their running back corps.

The 49ers lost Hearst’s backup, Terry Kirby, when he signed with Cleveland. San Francisco added former Green Bay running back Travis Jervy but he, too, is coming off an ankle injury.

Walsh was most taken with the workout by Phillips, the troubled NFL washout who again is drawing interest from teams after being named offensive MVP for NFL Europe. Phillips hasn’t played in the NFL since 1997 and remains subject to suspension for violating the league’s violent-crime policy.

The 49ers still have some interest in Phillips, who has a meeting scheduled Wednesday with commissioner Paul Tagliabue to discuss the parameters of his potential return to the league.

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