Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Monday, February 23, 2004
Barlow gets five-year extension

ESPN.com news services

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 49ers named All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson their exclusive franchise player on Monday, keeping him with San Francisco for next season -- and practically guaranteeing Terrell Owens' departure.

The 49ers also agreed to terms with running back Kevan Barlow on a five-year contract extension, the first deal in what's sure to be a difficult offseason for a team with 14 unrestricted free agents and plenty of uncertainty.

Barlow's contract is worth $20 million and includes a $1.5 million signing bonus and a $6.5 million option, ESPN.com's John Clayton reports.

Peterson, a two-time Pro Bowler, will be offered a one-year deal worth between $5.8 million and $7.2 million -- whatever turns out to be the average salary of the NFL's top five linebackers after various contracts are restructured.

The 49ers had hoped to sign Peterson to a contract extension before the March deadline to place the franchise tag, but general manager Terry Donahue and Peterson's agents quickly realized it wouldn't be possible.

"We're just so far apart that there was no point in using up any more energy on trying to get it done," said Donahue, who hasn't met face-to-face with agents Kevin and Carl Poston for weeks.

"When you put the franchise tag on somebody, it isn't like they aren't going to be paid handsomely. I think players love to play, and I think Julian loves to play. I think he'll come to camp at the appropriate time."

Peterson earned his first All-Pro selection last season, making seven sacks and two interceptions while playing several positions. The 49ers credited him with 144 tackles, second on the team.

With Peterson under the franchise tag, Owens will be free to sign with any team if he chooses to void the final two seasons of his contract next month. The 49ers won't get anything higher than a third-round draft pick as compensation for losing Owens, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who has spent all eight of his NFL seasons in San Francisco.

Owens' departure has been expected since Donahue named Peterson the 49ers' top priority shortly after their 7-9 regular season ended.

Barlow was a restricted free agent after rushing for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns last season. After sharing time with Garrison Hearst in his first 2 NFL seasons, Barlow took over as the full-time starter late last season, averaging 108 yards over the last four games.

Hearst, an 11-year veteran, probably must agree to a dramatic salary reduction to stay with the 49ers. Donahue and Hearst's agent, Pat Dye Jr., were negotiating in Indianapolis on Monday.

Hearst resurrected his career with the 49ers in 2001 after missing all of the previous two seasons with a serious leg injury. The 33-year-old has rushed for 2,946 yards over the past three seasons.

"We're hopeful that there's a possibility that we can get to where we're comfortable and Garrison's comfortable, and he'll remain with the team," Donahue said.

The 49ers also are hoping to restructure the contract of quarterback Jeff Garcia, who's entering the fourth season of a six-year contract. Donahue admits the process has been difficult, but he still expects Garcia to return.

"Certainly, Jeff has the right to be concerned about his own career, short-term and long-term," Donahue said. "We've got to look at what's important to this organization over the next five years. It's very important that we choose cap health over cap hell. We can't make short-term decisions."

But Donahue said the 49ers haven't received any offers for Garcia, and they haven't allowed the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback to talk to other teams about a possible trade.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.