Linebacker Julian Peterson, knowing his one-year pay was increasing to the point where it could do harm to the 49ers' salary cap, conceded after the season that he would not be the team's franchise player for a third consecutive year.
And, indeed, 49ers coach Mike Nolan has confirmed that the organization has no plans to pay Peterson $8.7 million to retain him as the club's franchise player.
"I know we'd love to have him back but when 31 other teams are out there, it's hard to say," Nolan said when asked if the club will make a big push to re-sign him. "As I always say, no one player will be bigger than the team. I've made that comment before when talking about character or selfish issues, but that goes for cap involvement, too. If the (salary) number takes us out of the realm where it hurts the football team, we have to be smart about how far we go."
Peterson was not his usually disruptive defensive presence last season, his first year back after returning from a torn Achilles' tendon that ended his 2004 season after just five games. Peterson recorded three sacks on the season, but 2 1/2 of them came in the season opener.
"I thought he made significant strides," Nolan said. "A lot of people will be very interested in J.P. because of player he's been over the years. I don't think people will see his health and think it's not an issue."
The 49ers, under the previous management regime, offered Peterson a six-year, $38 million contract that included a $15.5 million signing bonus prior to the 2004 season. He earned more than $14 million the last two years while tagged as the 49ers' franchise player.
He is not expected to attract a signing bonus in that range this off-season when he becomes a free agent. Peterson, a six-year pro, has said he wants to return to the 49ers. In the days after the season, Peterson said he knew the 49ers would not make him their franchise player again because of the 20 percent wage increase the club would be obligated to pay him.
"They might have to cut a couple guys to fill the depth chart if my (salary) number was so high," Peterson said. "I don't think that would be a smart move to do something like that because we have a lot of talent on the team. You don't want to start over from ground zero."
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