The Cota quotient

Should the 49ers sign safety Chad Cota? It's a question the team is asking itself today after the eighth-year veteran had a brisk morning workout with the team at the same time rookie Kevin Curtis was undergoing knee surgery in the Bay Area that possibly could end his season. "The 49ers are definitely interested in a safety," said Frank Bauer, Cota's agent. "And Chad's very interested. He's always wanted to be with the 49ers."

The Niners only have three healthy safeties with veteran experience currently in training camp at the University of the Pacific. Curtis, the team's fourth-round draft pick, was winning a roster berth as the team's third or fourth safety, but he injured his left knee in Saturday's exhibition loss to Kansas City.

Coach Steve Mariucci said the severity of the ligament damage in Curtis' knee wouldn't be known until after the surgery. "We won't know until they go in there and see what sort of damage is done. And then after the surgery, (team doctor) Mike Dillingham will give us a report. And then we'll know if it's a matter of eight week or 16 weeks or whatever that range is going to be (for Curtis to recover)," Mariucci said.

With young veteran safeties John Keith and Al Blades also hampered with injury problems, the Niners brought in Cota, who visited with the team during the free-agency period this spring before the team opted to sign Tony Parrish as a replacement for Lance Schulters.

"I'm pretty comfortable here," Cota said. "I really had a good meeting (in the spring) with Terry Donahue and (Steve) Mariucci, and I know (defensive coordinator) Jim Mora and I played with (secondary coach) Brett Maxie (in Carolina)." Of his workout, Cota said, "I moved around pretty well and I'm in pretty good shape. I feel pretty good about it."

The 31-year-old Cota, who has started every NFL game the past five years for three teams, expected to be able to find a starting opportunity in free agency this year. Now that that hasn't materialized, he said he'd have no problem "coming in and backing up and just helping out," with the Niners.

With the status of Keith and Blades uncertain, the Niners must seriously consider if Cota's experience and his veteran's salary will fit into their team structure for 2002. And consider it fast. "We have to decide if we're going to do that," Mariucci said.

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