Erickson: It's Garcia's job when he's healthy
With quarterback Jeff Garcia's sprained left ankle still not sufficiently rehabilitated, fourth-year veteran Tim Rattay will get a second straight start for San Francisco when the 49ers face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
San Francisco coach Dennis Erickson said that while Garcia has demonstrated progress in recovering from the injury, he isn't 100 percent healed yet. And the 49ers coaches and players seem to have developed confidence in Rattay, who threw for three touchdowns in his first regular-season start two weeks ago, a 30-10 rout of the St. Louis Rams.
Garcia suffered a high ankle sprain in an Oct. 26 loss at Arizona.
Erickson also made it clear, amid a smoldering quarterback controversy, that Garcia will return to the starting lineup when he is fully recovered. Garcia hopes to dress on Monday night, could be available to fill the primary backup job, and he seems confident he will return to the lineup on Nov. 23, against the Green Bay Packers.
While his sprained ankle has improved, compliments in part to a bye last week in which he did little but rest and have treatments for the injury, Garcia allowed Wednesday that he is hurt by suggestions it might be time for Rattay to permanently replace him.
Some in the Bay Area media have suggested that Rattay should perhaps remain the starter even when Garcia is healed. Earlier this season, wide receiver Terrell Owens, expected to play Monday despite a groin injury, heaped praise on Rattay for his ability to throw the deep ball. Other veterans have indicated some support, although more tepid than Owens, for Rattay, a seventh-round choice in the 2000 draft.
After testing his mobility during Wednesday's practice, Garcia acknowledged that he is upset by the perceptions he performed poorly in the first half of the season, and wondered aloud why some people seem to have so quickly turned on him.
"It's ridiculous, is what I think," said Garcia, who has appeared in three straight Pro Bowl games and whose numbers over the first four seasons of his career rank among the best in league history. "I've proven myself time and time again. The fact that it is so easy to push someone aside, yeah, it bothers me."
Garcia, 33, has suffered through a tough stretch, physically and performance-wise, over the first half of the season. He has completed 129 of 235 passes for 1,523 yards, with eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His passer rating of 72.0 is a career low, after posting a 89.9 efficiency mark in his first four NFL seasons.
In his defense, Garcia has endured a spate of physical setbacks, which included a back injury sustained just before the start of training camp, and which some observers feared might sideline him for the entire season. Garcia has also played behind an offensive line that has been forced shuffle nearly every week because of injuries.
Garcia on Wednesday reiterated his support for Rattay but emphasized he believes that the starting job still belongs to him.
As previously reported on ESPN.com, the 49ers could face a tough financial decision at the quarterback position after this season. Garcia's contract stipulates that the 49ers must pay him a 2004 base salary commensurate to the qualifying offer for a "franchise" player at the position. That numbers was about $8.3 million this year and could go higher. And Garcia already has a salary cap value of more than $9 million for 2004.
In addition, Garcia has the right to void the final three years of his contract after 2004.
Rattay recently signed a contract extension, his numbers are clearly more palatable, and he has a salary cap charge of just $1.025 million for next season.
With the 49ers facing decisions on a number of pending unrestricted free agents -- Owens, strongside linebacker Julian Peterson and cornerback Ahmed Plummer among them -- Garcia's contract status could become an issue.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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