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Remember back in October when Mike Nolan admitted he still thinks about Antonio Bryant and would consider re-signing Bryant if he was convinced the tempestuous receiver had cleaned up his act? Well, Bryant has done precisely that. This, according to agent Peter Schaffer, who said his client has been working out like a mad man in recent months with the hope that some team will grab him when free agency begins.

Bryant, of course, didnít play at all in 2007. The last game he participated in was on Dec. 14, 2006 when the 49ers beat the Seahawks in rainy Seattle. He was suspended for the final two games of the 2006 season after his well-documented wild ride (search: Bryant + Lamborghini + leather restraints) in November of that year left him facing charges of reckless driving and resisting arrest.

Bryant encountered more roadblocks in 2007. The Dallas Cowboys wanted to sign him but lost interest when the league notified them that Bryant faced a one-year suspension for failing to comply with the random drug test policy. Bryant didnít fail the tests. He simply refused to take them, arguing that since he wasnít a member of the league and received no benefits, he didnít have to be subjected to its drug testing policy. In October, Bryant asked a Denver judge for a temporary restraining order to keep the NFL from administering the tests and notifying teams that he is out of compliance. Schaffer declined to talk about the lawsuit, saying only that Bryant is free to join any NFL team when free agency begins.

Bryant certainly will attract attention. Heís big, aggressive and knows how to get open. As far as sheer ability, he is surpassed by only Randy Moss and perhaps Jerry Porter when it comes to wide receivers who could hit the open market in coming weeks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly also showed interest last season. They and the Cowboys are expected to be among Bryantís strongest suitors.

The question is whether the 49ers are interested. Lord knows they have a need for someone like Bryant Ė something that Nolan admitted back in October. But the official word out of the 49ers is that theyíre not interested. Maybe theyíre targeting another receiver in free agency. Maybe they donít believe Bryant, no stranger to controversy, is worth the headache. Maybe their denial is a bit of gamesmanship. Who knows? Whatís clear is that Bryant will be an interesting guy to follow when free agency begins Feb. 29.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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