Lelie learns to let sleeping dogs lie
SANTA CLARA, Calif. » Ashley Lelie grew up in a military family, so moving around the country is nothing new to him.
Yet, after two moves and three teams in the last 12 months, the San Francisco 49ers' new receiver is eager to settle down -- and to stay away from controversy for a little while.
"Everybody here has been honest to their word," Lelie said yesterday at the 49ers' training complex. "I'm just getting more comfortable and better every day."
Though he's known to fans and quarterbacks as a big, speedy deep threat, Lelie has made another mark on the league in the last year -- one he'd rather forget.
A year after his acrimonious departure from Denver led to an arbitration battle with reverberations throughout the NFL, he's preparing to face the Broncos for the first time in the 49ers' exhibition opener tomorrow night.
When Lelie is asked whether he'll be tempted to give coach Mike Shanahan a piece of his mind at Candlestick Park, he laughs.
"I already gave him a piece of my bank account, so that's enough," Lelie said. "Right now, it's all over. It's been a year."
Several clubs have wrangled with their first-round picks this summer because their agents want to guarantee their clients' second-year option bonuses, including the Raiders and No. 1 choice JaMarcus Russell. Teams have shown trepidation about guaranteeing these common, salary cap-friendly bonuses for players who could conceivably walk away from the team, as Lelie did.
Just last August, Lelie was sitting home in Denver while he waged a bitter holdout against the Broncos, his team for his first four NFL seasons. Lelie, who twice led the NFL in yards per catch for Denver, felt disrespected and marginalized after the Broncos' acquisition of Javon Walker to start opposite Rod Smith.
The Broncos finally traded Lelie to the Atlanta Falcons, where he never got into a rhythm with Michael Vick. He played one disappointing season before signing a two-year deal with San Francisco in March.
After arbitration, Lelie was allowed to keep his $220,000 option bonus, but lost about $500,000 in fines and other bonus money. Though he felt partially vindicated by the ruling, he quickly realized he needed to alter his public image if he hoped to extend his career.
"I'm just more experienced with the game now," he said. "I've got a couple of years under my belt. I've been through some adversity, and that builds character. I'm definitely a little wiser now than before."
After missing the 49ers' minicamp in May because of a strained quadriceps, Lelie still faces hard work to earn a significant role in San Francisco. He's listed as a third-stringer on the 49ers' depth chart behind fellow newcomer Darrell Jackson, returning starter Arnaz Battle, rookie Jason Hill and much-improved Taylor Jacobs.
"I've had some good days out there, made some good plays," Lelie said. "I don't hurt any more. Everything is healthy, so that's a good thing."