49ers part ways with Plummer

The 49ers didn't waste any time pulling the plug on Ahmed Plummer, releasing the six-year veteran cornerback Thursday even though he still has three years remaining on the five-year, $25 million contract he signed with the team in 2004. The Niners also released veteran defensive lineman Chris Cooper and wide receiver Johnnie Morton as they begin to shape their roster and get their salary-cap situation in order with the approach of free agency next month.

Releasing the three veterans will save the 49ers approximately $2.4 million against their 2006 salary cap.

Plummer, the second of the team's two first-round picks in its superb 2000 draft class, fell out of favor with the 49ers' new regime last year when he failed to make it back onto the field after relatively minor surgery to remove bone particles from his left ankle in September.

Plummer was expected to miss a maximum of five games after the procedure, but he instead experienced pain and discomfort in the ankle and never played another down after the 49ers' Week 3 loss to Dallas.

Coach Mike Nolan often displayed disdain when asked on a regular basis about Plummer's status over the final seven weeks of the season, when Plummer remained on the 53-man roster but was in uniform only one game. He was inactive every other week.

The 49ers take a considerable cap hit by releasing Plummer now, as the remaining amortized portion of his $11 million signing bonus comes due against the cap upon his release. But that $6.6 million cap hit in dead money actually is a savings of more than $1 million over what Plummer – who had a scheduled 2006 base salary of $5.5 million – would have counted against San Francisco's cap this year had he remained on the roster.

The 49ers could have waited until after June 1 to release Plummer and lessen the hit on this year's cap, but Nolan opted to clear the books of the once-promising cornerback who played in just nine of the team's 32 games since signing his mega-million contract in March of 2004.

Plummer immediately locked down the starting position at left cornerback in his rookie season after becoming the 24th player taken overall in the 2000 draft. He started 62 of the 64 games in which he appeared over his first four NFL seasons, and had established himself as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks by his sophomore season, when he had a career-high seven interceptions.

But Plummer had only five interceptions combined over the next three seasons and never continued his development into a shutdown-type corner. Injury problems surfaced last year, when he suffered a bulging disk in his neck and missed the final 10 games of the season. After his ankle problems in 2005, the 49ers opted not to wait around to see what Plummer could offer the team during the spring of 2006.

With Plummer on the shelf, the 49ers moved forward with a collection of young, unheralded cornerbacks at his position, including rookie Derrick Johnson and second-year veterans Bruce Thornton and Mike Adams.

"We made the decision to make these moves at this time because we have quality players who we think are the future for the 49ers," said Nolan, who obviously didn't view Plummer as part of that future. "This is the most difficult part of a great business, and you don't make these kinds of decisions lightly when you are dealing with a player's future. The reality of the current NFL economic system is that you are forced to make some tough decisions that are not based entirely on the football field."

The 49ers also have loads of young, unproven talent at wide receiver and, although Morton was a stabilizing force on a weak WR unit last year, there was no place for the 12-year veteran with the Niners as the team moves forward. Morton, who was scheduled to make $770,000 this year, started 10 games in 2005 but finished with just 21 receptions for 288 yards.

Still, that was enough to move Morton – the oldest player on the San Francisco roster at 34 – among the top 33 on the list of the NFL's all-time leading receivers with 624 catches, and there was some sentiment that the 49ers might want to keep him around because of his veteran presence on a unit that is seriously lacking in that area.

Cooper, a five-year veteran, spent the entire 2005 season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and also didn't figure in the team's future plans. Cooper was scheduled to receive a base salary of $545,000 in 2006.

"We wanted to give these guys every opportunity to find the right situation for themselves and felt it was best to do these moves now," Nolan said.

As expected, the 49ers did not designate a franchise or transition player by Thursday's deadline to do so, meaning all of their veterans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents will hit the open market March 3 if they don't come to terms on a deal with San Francisco before then.


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