49ers put $$ to good use to begin free agency

Cornerback Nate Clements said he relishes the pressure that comes with the $80 million contract he signed with the 49ers on the first day of the free-agent signing period.

Clements said he likes facing the opposition's top receiver - a task he performed often during his first six seasons in the league with the Bills. He said becoming the league's highest-paid defensive player does not place any additional pressure on him.

"I don't allow that type of pressure to get to me, especially at the position I play," Clements said. "There is always going to be that pressure, going up against that No. 1 guy. Can he do it this week? Can he do it the following week? I accept it as another challenge."

The 49ers followed through on their promise to make some significant defensive moves in the offseason, as they began putting their favorable salary-cap situation to use.

The 49ers, who entered free agency with approximately $30 million in cap room, wasted little time in awarding Clements an eight-year, $80 million deal with $22 million in guaranteed money.

The 49ers also signed strong safety Michael Lewis, who joins the 49ers after five seasons with the Eagles. Clements and Lewis spent much of the day together and they got familiar with the surroundings at the 49ers' team offices.

"I feel we can make a difference," Clements said. "We bring a lot of intangibles to the table. We can run, cover, and we're not afraid to hit. ... Together, we can do a lot of damage."

Lewis said he is eager to prove that he belongs among the top safeties in the league. He has been known as a player who was much better in run support than in pass coverage. His playing time diminished last season with the Eagles, as he started just six games after starting every game the previous three seasons.

"This was the perfect place for me. It is an up-and-coming team with a great group of guys like Frank Gore on offense and what Nate and I can bring to the defense."

Even with the acquisition of two defensive starters on the first day of free agency, Nolan said the 49ers are not finished adding players to the roster. They still have plenty of areas to address, including pass-rusher as well as wide receiver.

"We'll stay on top of things as we go along," Nolan said. "We're not there, yet. We're still the '06 team. We got a little better today, which is a good thing. But we still have work to do between now and training camp."

On Saturday, the 49ers signed nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin away from the Baltimore Ravens with a three-year, $6 million deal. The 6-foot-1, 320-pound Franklin is expected to immediately bolster the interior of San Francisco's defense.

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As free agency was set to begin, the 49ers parted ways with their most explosive wide receiver.

Nolan decided to dump receiver Antonio Bryant, who led the 49ers with 733 yards receiving in his only season with the 49ers. Bryant was considered a risk when the 49ers signed him as a free agent. He lived down to his reputation with some ill-timed outbursts on the field, an arrest for reckless driving and resisting arrest, and a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

"After an evaluation period we determined that Antonio was not the best fit for the 49ers," Nolan said.

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Veteran defensive lineman Bryant Young decided to return to the 49ers for a 14th season because he believes the team is on the right track and he didn't want to miss out on a good season.

He also said he is excited about the overall improvements that are likely to be made to the entire roster this season, as the 49ers opened the free-agent signing period with more than $30 million in salary cap room.

"It gives me a lot (of optimism) because I think this is really the first time since I've been here, other than the Super Bowl year (1994), that we've been able to really be active in the free agent market and go out and get the people we need to help us win games," Young said.

"It's exciting when we're able to be in position to do some of the things we need to do. I'm excited to see who's going to be here."

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When asked about his philosophy as an offensive coordinator, newly promoted Jim Hostler deferred to the head coach.

"The philosophy has been set by coach Nolan on how we're going to try to win football games. We're just one part of that formula," Hostler said. "Obviously running the football is very important to me. I understand what it means to have balance in this league and I understand that you want to have your best players to be in a position and have an opportunity to do what they do on game day."

The last time Hostler called plays was in 1999 when he was offensive coordinator at Indiana (Pa.) University. Last season, the 49ers had Norv Turner calling the shots.

"Obviously no one is experienced in calling a game like Norv," Hostler said. "He has a tremendous amount of experience -- a lot more than I have. What I've learned from Norv, how he balances the game, how he understands and can react to what the game is asking him to do, what has to change, all the situational things that happen, you get a feel and understanding from a knowledge standpoint exactly what's going on during a game."

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