May 20 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
In the past week the 49ers re-signed two players from last seasonsí roster. Neither player is guaranteed a roster spot though. Special Teamster, Vinny Sutherland who was the teams primary kick and punt returner last season signed a one year deal with the club. Chike Okeafor also signed a one year deal.
Vinny Sutherland was an exclusive rights free agent. That meant that because he was sent a qualifying offer by the 49ers, he could only negotiate with the one team. Sutherland will compete for the returning job again this year. His greatest competition will come from undrafted free agent Ken Simonton, NFL Europe standout, Jamal Robertson, and seventh round pick Teddy Gaines. The team will be happy to award any one of these three with a roster spot, but the sure handed Sutherland isnít likely to roll over easily.
Chike Okeafor was a restricted free agent, and by signing a contract tender with the team earlier this off-season, the 49ers had right of first refusal, and would be awarded compensation if he signed elsewhere. Okeaforís position on the roster is much more secure than Sutherlandís but not guaranteed. He will compete with John Engelberger and Sean Moran for a starting position, but if he is out played by some younger players in camp, Okeafor may have a hard time making this years roster.
Both signings were somewhat inevitable for the team. Neither signing was a surprise, but are each beneficial in their own ways. The signing of Okeafor is more important - as he was coming off his best season as a 49er, before suffering an injury setback.