Lelie looking out for No. 1
"A chance to be a No. 1 receiver and to compete for that spot," Lelie said late Monday afternoon after signing a two-year deal to join the 49ers as an unrestricted free agent. "I don't think I've had a fair shot before, and I think the 49ers are giving me that shot." To be sure, the 49ers are on the lookout for a legitimate No. 1 target to lead the team's receiver corps into the 2007 season. San Francisco feels it may have just found that man in the lithe, 6-foot-3, 200-pounder whom the team was interested in acquiring last year before Lelie wound up with the Atlanta Falcons. The team's attempt to acquire a legitimate No. 1 wideout in free agency last year didn't quite work out. The Antonio Bryant experiment went up in flames after one season during which Bryant displayed No. 1 talent on the field but a lack of discipline, maturity and discretion off it. But Lelie, after four seasons with the Denver Broncos and one with Atlanta, offers the same kind of game-breaking talent that just needs to find the right place where it can reach its full potential. Lelie thinks that place can be San Francisco. "I think before in my career I haven't really played well consistently," Lelie said. "Now I think 49ers fans will get to see me at my best level when the ball is thrown in my direction. I can make a lot of big plays, and I haven't really shown that yet." That's not to say he hasn't shown it at all. Lelie has averaged an impressive 17.5 yards on his 196 career receptions, and he brings the kind of down-field dimension the 49ers' vertical passing game needs to make it go. "The signing of Ashley Lelie addresses a need for us at wide receiver," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He gives us a playmaker and certainly strengthens us by giving our team a playmaker that has proven ability to stretch the field. He is excited about joining the 49ers organization." Lelie, the Broncos' No. 1 draft pick in 2002, was on the verge of a career breakout in 2004 when he had 54 receptions for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a NFL-best 20.1 yards a catch. But despite averaging 18.3 yards on his 42 receptions the next season - Lelie led the NFL in yards per reception as a rookie in 2002 (17.5) and again in 2004 and 2005 - Lelie watched as the Broncos brought in Javon Walker as a free agent, hastening Lelie's departure to one unfulfilling season in Atlanta, where he never developed much of a rapport with quarterback Michael Vick. Lelie comes to San Francisco realizing the 49ers likely will bring in another receiving prospect - probably through the draft, possibly in free agency - to challenge him for the right to be the team's No. 1 receiver. Happy to be in a new home on the West Coast, the University of Hawaii product says bring it on. "I wouldn't be upset about that at all," Lelie said. "I welcome it. I just want to have an opportunity to fight for that spot and be on the field. (The 49ers) are eager to make that team better and they want to win. This is an opportunity for me to get a fresh start." In other 49ers news Monday: --- The Niners officially re-signed six-year veteran fullback Moran Norris, who had agreed to terms on a three-year contract extension near the end of last season. Norris could not sign the contract until free agency began this year because of the terms of the one-year contract he signed with the 49ers as a free agent last spring. --- Two-year veteran offensive lineman Tony Wragge re-signed with the team. Wragge had been tendered a one-year, $510,000 offer by the 49ers as an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he could only negotiate with the 49ers on a 2007 contract.
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