Niners part ways with two veteran leaders

The 49ers said good-bye Thursday to two of their most respected locker-room leaders when free-agent defensive end Marques Douglas agreed to contract terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer was given the heave-ho by the team, which terminated the remaining year of his contract.

Neither move comes as a surprise. Despite his career season with the team last year, when he led all San Francisco defensive linemen with 100 tackles and was fourth in the NFL with 12 tackles for a loss, the 49ers never made a serious bid to bring back Douglas after signing defensive end Justin Smith to a big-money contract on the second day of free agency.

The 49ers felt that Douglas peaked in 2007 and didn't believe it was wise to invest significant free-agent dollars in a player that turned 31 this month and whose round physique gives the appearance Douglas' days as an effective force in the defensive trenches might be numbered.

Douglas agreed in principle today to a four-year deal with Tampa Bay, where he is expected to play left end in a 4-3 front as part of the Buccaneers' Cover 2 defense. Douglas played right end in San Francisco's 3-4 system last year and was a key force in the 49ers' defensive line since coming to the team as a free agent in 2005. He started 47 of his 48 games in San Francisco.

The 49ers plan to replace Douglas with Smith, who signed a six-year, $45 million deal with the team earlier this month. The 49ers, who also lost starting left end Bryant Young to retirement after last season, have several other options on their roster to play end in both 3-4 and 4-3 sets, including young veterans Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ronnie Fields and Atiyyah Ellison.

Dilfer, whose season ended last year when he suffered a severe concussion in Week 14, pretty much played himself out of the backup job at quarterback last year when his opportunity came after starter Alex Smith was injured in Week 4.

In six starts in place of Smith, Dilfer went 1-5, completed only 51.6 percent of his passes and had one of the NFL's lowest passer ratings at 55.1. That was enough to convince the 49ers to seek other alternatives at quarterback and not bring back Dilfer, who was due a $500,000 roster bonus later this week and was scheduled to make a $1 million base salary in 2008.

"Trent Dilfer is a true professional in every meaning of the word," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He is one of the most respected players in the league for good reason. Trent has provided great value to our team over the past two years in terms of his leadership, knowledge of the game and play on the field."

The play of Shaun Hill in relief of Dilfer last December also helped hasten Dilfer's departure. Hill went 2-0 as a starter before being injured and had a quarterback rating of 101.3 in three games. The 49ers signed Hill, who could have become an unrestricted free agent this month, to a three-year, $6 million deal to compete for the starting duties at quarterback this season.

Dilfer's departure became even more imminent earlier this month when the 49ers signed free agent J.T. O'Sullivan to a one-year deal. Sullivan, who has experience in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system, is San Francisco's likely No. 3 quarterback and will compete with holdover Drew Olson for that role.

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