Parrish reaches the end with 49ers

Everybody knew Tony Parrish wasn't going to be a 49er much longer, but his departure from the team came even sooner than expected. The ninth-year safety - one of the team's best players for three seasons running after joining San Francisco as a free agent in 2002 - was released by the 49ers on Tuesday, completing Parrish's rapid downward spiral after he started the first five games of this season.

Parrish, who had been inactive on game day each of the past three weeks, was waived to make room on the San Francisco roster for linebacker Jay Foreman, a seven-year NFL veteran. Foreman will help bolster a linebacker corps that now is without leading tackler Derek Smith, who will be out this week - and potentially the rest of the season - with a hamstring injury suffered in last week's loss at New Orleans.

Parrish - named All-Pro by the Associated Press after leading the NFL with nine interceptions in 2003 - fractured his fibula and suffered other damage in his left leg during San Francisco's ninth game last year, ending his season and a streak of 121 consecutive starts to begin his career, the longest such streak by a defensive back since Herman Edwards assembled a 135-game string.

Parrish never was the same player after returning from the injury this summer. He struggled to hold onto his starting position at strong safety during the preseason, then finally lost it to veteran newcomer Mark Roman in October. Parrish started the first 126 games he played in during his NFL career.

But he became a liability in coverage this season and - after making a season-high six tackles in a reserve role during a Week 9 victory over Minnesota - slipped to the bottom of the team's depth chart among all defensive backs.

"This was a tough decision to make at this time," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "But with the injuries we had at linebacker, we needed to bring in a player at that position. To make room on the roster, we had to make this move since we do have depth at the safety position. Tony is a model professional, and he influenced a lot of younger players with his work ethic. I know Tony will work with the same passion and dedication in his next endeavor with the same resolve as he did with the 49ers."

And that was a lot of resolve.

Parrish was a team leader and defensive force from the moment he arrived as an unrestricted free agent in 2002, leading the 49ers with seven interceptions to go along with 17 passes defensed and two forced fumbles that season.

A strong presence in the locker room, Parrish followed that auspicious debut with the finest season of his career in 2003, when he had nine interceptions, 15 passes defensed and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after a two-interception game against Philadelphia in December. Parrish led the 49ers with four interceptions in 2004.

Parrish completed his five seasons in San Francisco with 69 games played (including playoffs), 318 tackles, 22 interceptions, 44 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one sack. He returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown last season against the Dallas Cowboys.

Foreman (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) has 82 games of NFL experience - including 62 starts - with the Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans and New York Giants. Foreman started in 42 consecutive games for Houston at inside linebacker and had back-to-back seasons of 141 and 135 tackles in 2002-2003.

Foreman played in only one game with the Giants last year, but he comes to San Francisco with 522 career tackles and 4.5 sacks. He also has had some success as a coverage linebacker with 14 career passes defensed.

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