49ers failed to cash in during free agency

Free agency began back in March with the 49ers in a unique situation. The club, which had regularly experienced salary cap troubles in the past, had more than $20 million in cap space. Yet free agency has not exactly produced a bounty for the 49ers, who have won only a combined six games the past two seasons.

The 49ers failed to re-sign starting linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. In return, the club added only two free agents who are considered starters: guard Larry Allen and receiver Antonio Bryant.

The 49ers have promised to remain active in free agency, but there is not a lot of talent available to them at this point. They signed fullback Moran Norris, a five-year veteran who has touched the ball on offense just 13 times in his 62 career games. Norris is likely to compete against journeyman Chris Hetherington for playing time this season.

The 49ers' biggest need two months before the opening of training camp continues to be in the secondary.

The 49ers signed 10-year veteran cornerback Walt Harris, who is currently atop the team's depth chart, earlier in the off-season. However, the 49ers would like to acquire another cornerback to compete with Harris and Mike Rumph for the starting job.

The only remaining top-flight cornerback available in free agency is Ty Law. But the 49ers do no appear willing to spend the kind of money it would take to sign Law. Moreover, the 49ers believe Law is exclusively a cornerback to be used in two-deep coverage.

The 49ers had hoped that some quality cornerbacks might shake free in June. But because of the large increase in this year's salary cap, most established players who might have been cut in June for cap purposes were jettisoned before the start of the new cap year.

--- Guard Larry Allen has split his time between Northern California and Texas since signing with the 49ers. He spends a week working at the team's practice facility and then travels to Texas to spend a week with his children.

After the Cowboys released him, it did not take Allen long to find a home with the 49ers. Allen finished high school in Napa, Calif., and played at Butte College in Northern California before transferring to Sonoma State in Rohnert Park, Calif.

But proximity to home is just one of the reasons Allen is feeling comfortable in his new environment, he said. The big reason is that he spent most of his career in the offense that new coordinator Norv Turner brought to the 49ers.

"I've been in this offense for about seven years, from when I first got to Dallas," Allen said. "(Offensive line coach George) Warhop was there two years ago. It's the same terminology. There are a couple new things, but it's cool."

--- Tight end Vernon Davis was the 49ers' first selection in the draft, but there might be more pressure on their second first-round pick to provide an immediate upgrade.

Outside linebacker Manny Lawson is about the only pass-rushing threat on a team that lost Julian Peterson and Andre Carter to free agency. Lawson, chosen with the No. 22 overall pick, is being counted upon to put up good sack numbers as a rookie.

"I think he can bring a three-down presence," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's a four-down player, because I think he can help on special teams also. As far as a pass rusher, he should be able to rush on all three downs. I believe that most of his rushes will come on third down because that will be the role that he plays."

--- When the 49ers selected Delanie Walker with their sixth-round draft pick, he had little idea what the team had in store for him. Although Nolan told the media that Walker would be converted from receiver to fullback, Walker said he did not find out until he reported to minicamp nearly a week later.

"I'm an athlete and a football player, so wherever they want me to play is fine with me," Walker said.

Walker was a 240-pound receiver entering the draft and teams suggested he might lose some weight to make for an easier transition to the NFL. On draft day, Walker weighed 228.

"They want me to put the weight back on," Walker said.

The 49ers plan to use Walker as the "F Back" in Turner's offensive system. The position is actually a combination fullback/tight end/wideout position. Walker's strength is making plays with the ball in his hands, so he gives the 49ers their only real offensive threat at the F Back.

Walker is an aggressive blocker, but his best attribute is his ability to turn upfield and run after the catch. The 49ers believe he could be exceptional at making big gains after catching short passes. The addition of free agent fullback Moran Norris gives the 49ers another veteran player who can compete for playing time with both Walker and incumbent Chris Hetherington. Hetherington, who won the starting job from Fred Beasley last season, played all 16 games for the 49ers last season, something he had done just three times in his 10-year career.

Norris has played five NFL seasons and is recognized for his blocking and special-teams play. He has carried the ball just one time for no yards in his 62 NFL games, which includes 18 starts. Both Hetherington and Norris also play the "F back" position in Turner's scheme.

--- Twenty to 24 employees of Kansas City-based HNTB Architecture Inc. will work on behalf of the 49ers' stadium project, a company spokesperson told Kansas City Business Journal. If the 49ers are able to build a new stadium, its cost could be as high as $700 million, according to the report.

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