Niners set at tight end after signing Swift

Little more than two weeks after terminating the contract of their erstwhile tight end of the future, the 49ers now appear virtually set at the position. Third-year tight end Justin Swift, an exclusive rights free agent, accepted the Niners' tender offer on Friday and signed a one-year, $375,000 contract to return to the team.

Swift, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound product of Kansas State, became a reliable backup to promising rookie Eric Johnson during the 2001 season after veteran Greg Clark - San Francisco's starter the previous three seasons - was lost for the season with hamstring problems.

Clark was signed through the 2003 season and had a career year in 2000 with a career-high 38 receptions and two touchdowns. But a series of hamstring surgeries put him on the shelf for 2001, giving Johnson and Swift an opportunity to move into the position, where both developed nicely.

The Niners released Clark on Feb. 27. Swift started the season opener against Atlanta before giving way to Johnson as the starter the remainder of the season. Johnson, a former college receiver at Yale who was the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2001, developed into a top complementary receiving threat in San Francisco's high-powered offensive attack. The rookie finished as the team's fourth-leading receiver with 40 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns, and also developed as a blocker as the season progressed.

Swift - who had one career reception entering the 2001 season - also developed as both a receiver and blocker while seeing time behind Johnson. Swift finished with 11 receptions and also scored his first career touchdown, displaying an ability to make the tough catch.

The Niners will go into training camp this season with Johnson and Swift 1-2 on the tight end depth chart. They may look to sign a third tight end this spring, though they were able to get by fine last season with just Johnson and Swift on the active roster. Long-snapper Brian Jennings was listed as the team's third tight end, but he was an emergency alternative who never entered a game at tight end during the season.

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