Here's Johnnie

Desperate for veteran help at wide receiver, the 49ers scored one of the best available on the open market Tuesday when they signed Johnnie Morton to a two-year deal. Contrary to veteran options such as Jerry Rice, David Boston and Koren Robinson – all of whom the team decided to pass on in recent months for various reasons – Morton brings a blend of top-shelf ability, character and leadership that should fit right in with what the Niners are trying to accomplish.

And, to top it all off, he may just be good enough to step into the starting lineup for a team that lost two of its three leading wideouts from 2004 during the offseason.

That won't be determined until deep into August, and the fact is, the Niners would rather see Morton contribute as a complementary threat to young projected starters Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd. But if that pair of third-year veterans can't keep the heat on opposing secondaries on a consistent basis, Morton now is on the scene to give the Niners another bona fide legitimate threat.

Or, perhaps, he already is San Francisco's top threat, and the team's current list of young and unproven receivers should be prepared to get in line behind the 12th-year veteran with 603 career receptions to his credit.

Morton – whose career totals also include 8,431 receiving yards, 43 touchdown catches, 410 first downs and 116 receptions of 20 yards or more – immediately becomes the most accomplished receiver on the San Francisco roster. And, though he'll turn 34 before the fifth game of this season, he still appears to have something left as a top receiver after averaging 14.5 yards on his 55 receptions in 13 games last year with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Morton – who signed a five-year, $25 million deal with Kansas City in 2002 – was released by the Chiefs on June 2 when he refused to take a cut from his $3 million 2005 salary. After looking into acquiring Morton after he was released, 49ers coach Mike Nolan originally said Morton was looking for more money than the Niners were willing to afford. Apparently, Morton ultimately put other factors first in deciding to come to San Francisco.

"I'm ecstatic, all the way around for many reasons," Morton said early Tuesday evening. "Walking into the (49ers) facility you see five Lombardi trophies, five Super Bowl rings and it's just something that I want to be a part of. Even though they had a temporary setback, just talking with everybody in the building you feel all the positive energy. I feel they are on their way back to prominence."

Morton should be a big help in that pursuit, particularly if his presence can help raise the play of Lloyd and Battle and nurture along the development of the other young receivers on the roster. The 49ers lost veteran receivers Cedrick Wilson and Curtis Conway, and their combined 85 receptions from 2004, during the offseason.

Morton also gives the Niners a third quality receiver the team needed to have entering training camp. The 49ers couldn't take a chance that P.J. Fleck, Rashaun Woods, Jason McAddley and a handful of rookies would be ready – or good enough – to step into that role once the regular season began.

There's no question Morton is good enough. And being re-united with 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan – who groomed and mentored Morton during his best seasons in Detroit – could bring out the best in the twilight of Morton's career.

"The main attraction for coming here was coach Sullivan," Morton said. "I have had great success with him, (and) he is the one that I really owe my career to because he basically taught me everything that I know."

When Morton and Sullivan were together in Detroit from 1997-2000, Morton had four of the finest seasons of his career, averaging 73 receptions and 1,001 yards each year during that stretch, including two 80-reception seasons and three 1,000-yard seasons.

Morton, who has 146 career starts in 169 NFL games, also has a 14-yard average for his career, and his ability to stretch opposing defenses is a sorely-needed dimension the Niners didn't have with their other receivers.

"Johnnie is our kind of guy," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He is a hard-working professional who will be a great example to our young receivers."

Morton realizes that element will be another important factor in what he brings to the 49ers. And he embraces the role.

"I would guess that I have more playing experience than all the other receivers combined because they are so young," Morton said. "That is something that I can bring to the table. If the younger guys have questions, I will be able to answer (them). There are going to be situations in games and in practices where I will be able to draw on my experience and pass on to them what I have learned over my career in the league."

That is, if he isn't passing them on the depth chart first.

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