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NFLJoe Montana's days with the San Francisco 49ers are dwindling. The team has given his agent permission to shop Montana around the league, The Chronicle learned Monday night.

The agent, Peter Johnson, reportedly also asked NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to void the year remaining on Montana's contract and declare him a free agent.The two moves clearly mean that Montana has not budged in his refusal to return to the 49ers as a backup to starting quarterback Steve Young. Montana wants to compete for a starting position, and to get one he will have to go to another team.

So far, no team has stepped forward with a firm offer, although one source familiar with Montana's situation said "some teams are flirting around the edges." If Johnson could get Montana released from his contract, Montana would become more attractive to other teams, because they would not have to compensate the 49ers for his rights.

Carmen Policy, the 49ers' president, was in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday night for what were described as weeklong economic-planning meetings with club owner Ed DeBartolo Jr. Neither man could be reached for comment. Johnson did not return a telephone call to The Chronicle.

Montana's contract situation is unusual, because he and the 49ers agreed in 1990 on a four-year deal but did not settle on a firm amount of pay for the 1993 season. At one point last year, Montana said he did not even have a contract for 1993, but both the 49ers and Johnson later agreed that he did.

Now, according to a league source, Johnson has asked Tagliabue to rule that the contract is not valid. The reason would be that, in the absence of a negotiated salary, the contract is incomplete.

Coach George Seifert has said repeatedly that he wants all three of his veteran quarterbacks - Young, Montana and Steve Bono - with the team in 1993. But Seifert also has acknowledged the difficulties that would cause, and it seems likely that even he does not really believe that all three men will return.

Neither Young nor Bono are signed to contracts, but Young has been named the team's "franchise player," thus eliminating him from free agency. Bono is a free agent and is trying to solicit offers, which only makes it more urgent for the 49ers to settle Montana's situation. Montana's departure would improve Bono's status on the depth chart and free up more payroll money for him, too.

Seifert has been firm in his comments supporting Young as the starter and refusing to throw open the quarterback job to competition, as Montana wants. The coach believes that Young, last year's Most Valuable Player in the NFL, has earned the right to continue in the job, and that a quarterback competition would be divisive on the team.

At one time, the 49ers considered a plan to drop the year remaining on Montana's contract and make him a free agent. In that way, they hoped to skirt the so-called Rooney Rule and replace Montana with a free agent, but NFL labor officials said they could not do that.

Nonetheless, it is still considered likely that DeBartolo and Policy would honor a request from Montana to simply release him from his contract, rather than wait for a trade. But first, Montana must find a new team for himself.

Despite his history, that is not as easy as it seems. Montana will be 37 in June, commands a big salary, has hardly played since the 1990 season and has a surgically repaired throwing elbow with no guarantee that it can withstand the rigors of another season. All of that, combined with the need to tailor an offense to Montana's skills, to work out a contract with him and possibly a deal with the 49ers, is a package that gives many teams pause.