Niners release tight end Clark

Greg Clark is the 49ers' latest example of how quickly things change in the NFL. Ostensibly San Francisco's tight end of the future after a career year in 2000, Clark didn't play at all with the team in 2001. He won't be playing for the Niners in 2002, either, as he was released by the organization on Wednesday.

Clark missed the entire season last year with hamstring problems that originally were only supposed to keep him out a few weeks into the season. A series of surgeries never corrected the problem enough to get him back on the field, though the Niners kept him on the 53-man roster the entire season with the hope that he would return. In Clark's absence, rookie Eric Johnson emerged as both a receiving threat and capable blocker to make Clark and his 2002 salary of $1.95 million expendable. Clark's release saves the Niners $2.67 million against the salary cap - Clark's 2002 salary and the remaining prorated bonus of the three-year, $6.7 million contract Clark signed in 2000.

The move is one of several the team is expected to make in the next few days at it attempts to shave about $4 million from its salary cap to get underneath the NFL-mandated $71.1 million cap limit by Friday. Clark established himself in 2000 with a career-high 38 receptions for 342 yards and two touchdowns while contributing powerful blocking to San Francisco's topflight rushing attack. Clark only missed one game to injury in 2000, but he couldn't avoid the injury bug that had plagued him throughout his career.

Clark, San Francisco's third-round draft choice in 1997, never played a full season in his five years with the team. With Clark on the sidelines, Johnson - San Francisco's seventh-round draft choice in 2001 - got his chance and prospered. Johnson took over as the starter from Justin Swift in the second week of the season and started the final 15 games, finishing fourth on the team with 40 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Swift also contributed 11 receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown.

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