NFL hits Niners hard with tampering penalty

The NFL came down hard on the 49ers on Monday as commissioner Roger Goodell ruled that San Francisco is guilty of tampering with linebacker Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears and the team must forfeit a fifth-round selection in the upcoming draft and swap picks with the Bears in the third round.

After a hearing in New York that was attended by team officials from both the 49ers and Bears - with both sides fully cooperating with the investigation and hearing, according to a NFL statement - Goodell determined that the Niners violated the NFL anti-tampering policy by contacting Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the 2007 season without the Bears' permission.

Briggs was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this year after Chicago slapped him with the franchise tag in 2006, and there was speculation San Francisco was high on his list of potential suitors because he grew up in nearby Sacramento. But it's unclear exactly where Briggs would have fit in with the 49ers' 3-4 defensive scheme in the first place, and the team did not even pursue him when it had the opportunity at the end of February.

After being franchised last year, Briggs made a lot of noise that he wouldn't play for the Bears again after last season, but he re-signed with Chicago earlier this month, hitting the big money with a six-year, $36 million deal.

There had been reports of contact between the 49ers and Rosenhaus last season, and the Bears filed a tampering charge with the NFL.

When asked in late February about the Bears filing a complaint, 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said, "There's nothing to it. We have no response because there's nothing to respond to."

There was something to respond to Monday when the 49ers were forced to relinquish their fifth-rounder as a penalty - one of their scheduled seven selections in the April 26-27 draft. They also must give Chicago their third-round draft choice - the seventh overall in that round - and in return will take Chicago's third-rounder, five slots lower at the 12th overall position in the round.

"The 49ers organization respects commissioner Goodell's ruling today, however we do disagree with it," McCloughan said Monday afternoon in a statement released by the team. "This was not a malicious act; we believe that our intent was within the NFL guidelines. Going forward, we will take the necessary steps to ensure we are in compliance with the NFL's interpretation."

A lot of good that does the 49ers now, as Goodell took the opportunity to make an example of San Francisco for a rather innocuous act that goes on behind the scenes all the time in the NFL. Goodell apparently is sending a message that such team/agent contact during the season - something that is commonplace once the season is over - will not be tolerated during the season.

The irony is the 49ers ultimately had no interest in acquiring Briggs, and now they are paying a high price just for taking an interest in talking about that possibility several months ago.

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