NFL: Ulbrich, other 49ers ready to say goodbye
By Matthew Barrows
ST. LOUIS — Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams likely will be the last for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Isaac Bruce, and it promises to be the final time two longtime 49ers dress in red and gold.
Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, a former Hawaii star, announced he’ll retire after dealing with a severe concussion this season, and wide receiver Arnaz Battle doesn’t think he’ll be back with the 49ers next season, although he’d like to continue playing elsewhere.
“I definitely can’t see it happening here,” said Battle, who will be an unrestricted free agent. “The way things have happened this year I don’t think there’s any room.”
Other 49ers who will enter the offseason not knowing if they’ll be back include cornerbacks Dre’ Bly and Walt Harris, safety Mark Roman and offensive tackles Barry Sims and Tony Pashos. Sims will start at left tackle on Sunday.
Left guard David Baas and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks were scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. If the NFL owners and players don’t settle on a new collective bargaining agreement, however, both will be restricted free agents and likely will be retained by the 49ers. The team is prepared to hold onto nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, an unrestricted free agent, with the franchise tag.
Ulbrich was a third-round draft pick in 2000 and, with long snapper Brian Jennings, is the longest-tenured 49er. Battle was a sixth-round draft pick in 2003. He led the 49ers in receiving yards in 2007.
Battle was healthy throughout training camp this season and at one point became the team’s No. 3 receiver. But the arrival of wide receiver Michael Crabtree in October brought a youth movement to the position.
Battle has been the team’s punt returner in recent weeks but hasn’t caught a pass since Oct. 11. The No. 3 wide receiver is now Jason Hill, and Brandon Jones is next in line. The team appears prepared to enter 2010 with a nucleus of four young wide receivers: Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Hill and Jones.
Battle said he had a sitdown with coach Mike Singletary about his role in November.
He’s not bitter about the situation. Like Bruce, Battle said he understands the 49ers have talented young wide receivers they want to see play. But Battle also believes he still can be a receiver especially a possession receiver in the league.
Although he was drafted by former coach Dennis Erickson and then-general manger Terry Donahue, Battle has managed to stick around through a regime change because of his combination of smarts he played quarterback at Notre Dame and toughness.
Former coach Mike Nolan once drew a comparison between Battle and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Battle turns 30 in February, and he drew interest before the trade deadline this season. Battle said he wants to play another three or four years.
Ulbrich, meanwhile, sustained a concussion on the opening kickoff of the 49ers’ first meeting with the Rams on Oct. 4 and then made the difficult decision to retire the following month.
“At times, I think I’m ready to retire,” Ulbrich said. “And at times, Sundays are really, really hard. I loved to play. I’m not one of those guys who stressed out about the game or worried about the game. I really enjoyed it. It’s going to be hard.”
Ulbrich wants to get into coaching. One possible landing spot for him is on Singletary’s staff.