Does Clements have a future with 49ers?

The 49ers made a big splash on the first day of free agency in 2007 with the signing of cornerback Nate Clements to a deal that was widely reported as eight years, $80 million. Less than three full seasons later, Clements' future with the 49ers is in question.

Clements was demoted from the starting lineup for last week's game against the Indianapolis Colts because the 49ers' coaching staff believed he did not provide the best matchup.

Instead, third-year player Tarell Brown started in Clements' place.

Clements was relegated to limited playing time when the 49ers went with extra defensive backs. He took over as the team's primary punt returner. And on his fourth return of the game, he sustained a broken right shoulder blade.

The 49ers decided not to place Clements on injured reserve even though he could miss up eight weeks with his injury. The 49ers expect to be in the playoffs, so they want Clements available for December and January games.

Clements said he was disappointed with the demotion from the starting lineup, but he vowed to remain a good team player.

Clements' future with the 49ers is murky because he is scheduled to earn $6 million in 2010. That appears to be too much money for a player who does not have the confidence of the coaching staff to be a good matchup against any player he faces.

There has been some talk inside the 49ers of moving Clements to safety, but the 49ers certainly would not experiment with a move like that with a player scheduled to earn $6 million.

The 49ers' options are to approach Clements with a reduced contract at a fair offer or release him.

If the 49ers do not make the playoffs, it could mean that Clements will not play again this season. And if he does not play again this season, it might also spell the end of the line with the 49ers.

The 49ers are scheduled to pay Clements $6.5 million in salary next year, and it seems unlikely that the 49ers would award him that kind of money.

"It was tough," Clements said of getting benched in favor of Brown. "It was tough, but I'm going to be professional about it and do anything to help my teammates and help this team get back on track."

Clements said he has not thought about his future with the team. He is focused on returning healthy this season.

"I'm just going to continue to be Nate and work hard like I've done my whole career," Clements said.

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