Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Take Your Hat off to 49ers: They Found Way to Beat Cap

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Take Your Hat off to 49ers: They Found Way to Beat Cap

Article excerpt

If the San Francisco 49ers do in fact win the Super Bowl, it will be as much a triumph of dollars and cents as X's and O's.

And what happened in December 1993 will be just as crucial to that victory as what transpires Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"We were the No. 1 payroll in the league," team President Carmen Policy recalled. "The cap was $34.6 million. Our basic salary in 1993 . . . was $47.8 million."

Oops!

"That's not like taking a little pen knife to a budget," owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. said. "That's like taking a machete to a budget."

For years, the 49ers had prospered - won championships - through deficit spending. They outspent their opponents, then outscored them. Turning a profit in football wasn't of paramount importance to DeBartolo.

But it looked as if the joy ride was over when the collective bargaining agreement implemented a salary cap - a limit on the player payroll for each team.

Many observers predicted an inevitable decline for the 49ers. Opposing general managers couldn't wait.

But when your name is Carmen Alfred Policy - that's C.A.P. - it's all but written in the stars that you will master the salary cap.

In typical 49ers style, Policy attacked the problem by . . . spending a lot of money. He committed about $11 million worth of payroll in December 1993, locking up key offensive players such as wide receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor, tight end Brent Jones, and tackles Harris Barton and Steve Wallace.

Signing bonuses agreed to that December didn't count against the '94 salary cap. So the strategy, Policy said, "was sign the veterans, now. Secure as many of them as you can into the long term."

The next phase was payroll trimming. Policy and the 49ers coaching staff attacked this like Steve Young goes after a prevent defense.

Linebacker Mike Walter and defensive end Kevin Fagan retired. Linebacker Keith DeLong was released. Offensive guard Guy McIntyre, a free agent, was encouraged to look elsewhere. He eventually signed with Green Bay.

Quarterback Steve Bono, linebacker Bill Romanowski and defensive lineman Ted Washington were traded.

None of these guys were working cheaply.

Then came the amazing final stage. The 49ers rebuilt their defense by signing one free agent after another - many of whom were perennial Pro Bowlers.

Defensive end Richard Dent of Chicago, and linebackers Ken Norton (Dallas) and Gary Plummer (San Diego) came aboard during the offseason.

"You win Super Bowls with defense," Rice said. "That's something we had been lacking for a while. So when they got those players in here, I was all excited. I went to camp early, and I knew we had the players to get us over the hump."

It was only the beginning.

During the preseason, linebacker Rickey Jackson and cornerback Toi Cook, both salary cap casualties in New Orleans, came aboard.

Jackson, a proud 14-year veteran and an accomplished player, signed for the veteran minimum wage of $162,000. …

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