Schulters on his way out?

These could be the final days of Lance Schulters as a 49er. SFI has learned San Francisco's starting strong safety is disgruntled with the 49ers' latest offer and may sign this week with the Atlanta Falcons or Tennessee Titans, both of which Schulters has visited with this week.

Schulters, the veteran leader of San Francisco's young secondary, is looking for top dollar in his first foray into free agency now that his original four-year deal with the Niners has expired. Schulters was the team's fourth-round draft pick in 1998, and he moved into the starting lineup the next season, when he was named to the Pro Bowl as an NFC starter. But the going rate for top strong safeties doesn't appear to be what Schulters and his agent, Brian Levy, had hoped for.

Schulters has been looking for a contract bonanza averaging as much as $3 million a year, but he certainly won't get that from the Niners, who are either unable or unwilling to pay that kind of money, considering the way they now are structuring their roster.

Schulters was an important element in the outstanding team chemistry the Niners displayed last season, and also was a vocal - and sometimes outspoken - presence in the locker room. But of the four unrestricted free-agent starters the Niners have actively pursued in free agency - the team already has signed center Jeremy Newberry and fullback Fred Beasley - Schulters appears to be the lowest priority. Niners general manager Terry Donahue said the deal the team offered Schulters on Friday is similar to the one he rejected last summer.

Meanwhile, the team's other top free agent - Pro Bowl tailback Garrison Hearst - appears close to making a decision, according to his agent Pat Dye. Hearst has made visits with the Falcons and Cleveland Browns and also has an offer on the table from the 49ers. Hearst is awaiting offers from the Falcons and Browns and, if he doesn't visit with any other teams, he could make a decision in the upcoming days, according to Dye.


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