NFC West News and Notes - 3/17/07

In today's News and Notes: The Seahawks and 49ers redefine their secondaries, Marc Bulger talks turkey with the Rams, and Ken Whisenhunt waves goodbye to a coach.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks have remade their secondary in more ways than one. After adding Jim Mora to coach the position, the team signed free-agent safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell to long-term contracts. Mike Green and Michael Boulware remain options at safety, but Grant will start and Russell looks like a favorite to be in the lineup with him.

As Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said before free agency, "We didn't play smart back there. How can we make this better? Is it something we can do in our mini-camps, coaching-wise? Does it mean we need to bring another player or two in at that position? The answer is yeah, all of the above."

Grant's six-year deal is worth close to $32 million, an obvious indication of his starting status. Russell's five-year deal checked in at $13.5 million. Both are known as smart players who prepare well, and both have starting experience. Green also fits the mold, but he'll have to prove himself again after missing last season with a serious foot injury.

Boulware will try to bounce back from an emotionally draining season. He struggled in pass coverage, leading to numerous breakdowns. The coaching staff benched him partway through the season, then went back to him near the end. Boulware was a second-round draft choice in 2004 and he remains under contract, but it's unclear how prominently he'll play into the team's plans.

The team expects Grant and Russell to improve communication in the secondary.

"I think we're going to be good together," Grant said. "I talked to Brian one time when he called me about preparing for Indianapolis. He saw a tape of how I had played against them and had a good game against them and how we held Peyton Manning to his fewest yards in his whole career.

"Me and him talked and just to see the interest that the guy had and he had tried to take some pointers from a situation, it really made me feel good and it really made me feel real positive about really working with this guy."

Grant and Russell are career free safeties. Grant has played strong safety within the Jaguars' scheme. Green and Boulware were competing for the strong-safety job when Green was injured last summer.

Neither Grant nor Russell appears concerned with which safety spot he winds up playing.

"I told them I'll play wherever they need me to play," Grant said. "Strong, free, I can play both. I've done both many years."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Marcus Pollard became one of the Seahawks' oldest players after signing a one-year deal. He turned 35 recently but said he feels younger because he didn't play college football. Pollard also said he keeps himself in top shape.

"You ask Roger Clemens, you ask Brett Favre, you ask some of the guys that are still playing," the former Detroit and Indianapolis tight end said. "To me, 35 is just a number. I don't feel 35. I keep myself in great shape. I watch what I eat. I work out. I just try and maintain everything that I've got."

--New Seahawks safety Brian Russell played quarterback for most of his college career. Seattle signed him in part because the team wanted safeties who could be like quarterbacks of the defense.

"For me, it's preparation, study time," Russell said of the keys to his game. "I think if you know how a team is going to try to attack you, especially deep, then you can anticipate some things and take those away. If you can take away the deep shots from an offense, you give yourself a heckuva chance because it's hard for offenses to not make mistakes and go all the way down the field."

--Jerramy Stevens' neighbors in the Seattle area hope the troubled free-agent tight end signs with another team or otherwise vacates the area. Neighbors in his condominium had called a meeting to discuss problems associated with his tenancy even before Stevens' recent arrest on DUI and marijuana charges, a Seattle Times news columnist reported.
"He's been gone for a month now," the columnist quoted a resident as saying, "and it has been like a vacation for us."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to get a championship and I think the things that these guys have been doing in Seattle the last couple years has been outstanding. I just want to be a part of that." -- TE Marcus Pollard after signing with the Seahawks.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks enjoyed some victories and suffered some losses during the first wave of free agency. There was disappointment after Kris Dielman and Daniel Graham signed elsewhere. The team felt good about adding a proven pass rusher in Patrick Kerney, and in bolstering the safety position with Deon Grant and Brian Russell. Marcus Pollard gives the team a proven tight end, although his age is a potential concern.

The Seahawks also re-signed veteran offensive lineman Floyd Womack. Re-signing Chris Gray is another option up front. Seattle might also have some interest in free-agent guards Ed Mulitalo and Cooper Carlisle, but with Womack back onboard, there's a chance the team will address the position in the draft. Finding a young tight end and a big defensive tackle would also make sense, but free agency offers few appealing options at those positions.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER
--PK Josh Brown: Tendered at $2.078M.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--WR Bobby Engram still has something left, but age and health issues are a concern.
--OG Chris Gray could return in a backup role and he has the potential to start if needed.
--S Ken Hamlin is a big hitter with very good range. He could flourish with the right system and coaching, but it won't be in Seattle after the additions of Deon Grant and Brian Russell.
--LB D.D. Lewis has a hard time staying healthy and that will hurt him in free agency.
--DE Kemp Rasmussen spent last season on injured reserve. He's a good special-teamer when healthy.
--RB Josh Scobey is a top-flight special-teams coverage player who can return kicks, but he is not a factor as a runner.
--TE Jerramy Stevens will have to overcome a history of injuries and inconsistent play wrapped around what was long-ago off-field troubles until an arrest March 13.
--DE Joe Tafoya can be a very good special-teams player, but injuries have taken a toll.
--CB Jimmy Williams is coming off ACL surgery, putting his future in doubt.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--S Oliver Celestin (not tendered as RFA) served as a backup all last season. He has some experience.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--DB Jordan Babineaux (tendered at $1.35M with 2nd-round pick as compensation) can play corner or safety, and he has a history of making plays. At some point he needs to focus on one position.
--WR D.J. Hackett (tendered at $1.35M with 2nd-round pick as compensation) has starting potential.
--LB Niko Koutouvides (tendered at $850,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation) is a core special-teams player but not a starting-caliber linebacker.
--OT Sean Locklear (tendered at $1.85M with 1st-round pick as compensation) got a higher tender even though he's coming off an injury-diminished season.
--DT Craig Terrill (tendered at $850,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation) is a good pass rusher with lots of energy and a great motor. He should be recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2006 season early.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Not available.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--TE Will Heller: UFA; $1.8M/2 yrs, $300,000 SB.
--DB Pete Hunter: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--FB Josh Parry: Not tendered as RFA; $1.52M/ 2 yrs, $120,000 SB.
--LS Derek Rackley: Potential UFA; $720,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB.
--OG Floyd Womack: UFA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--S Deon Grant: UFA Jaguars; 6 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Patrick Kerney: UFA Falcons; $39.5M/6 yrs, $19.5M guaranteed.
--TE Marcus Pollard: FA Lions; terms unknown.
--S Brian Russell: UFA Browns; $13.5M/5 yrs, $3M SB.

PLAYERS LOST
--LS J.P. Darche: UFA Chiefs; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Robbie Tobeck: UFA; retired.
--DE Grant Wistrom (released; post-June 1 designation).


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Having to fire wide receivers coach Richie Anderson before Anderson coached his first fly pattern had to be an embarrassment for new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt gave Anderson an opportunity. Although he had played 13 years in the league, Anderson had only one year of full-time coaching experience when he was hired to the new Cardinals staff.

Whisenhunt sent Anderson packing after Anderson was arrested on suspicion of soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute during a "customer apprehension program" at Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix, a Class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona.

"I gathered a lot of information ... and I've talked with Richie a couple of times," Whisenhunt said. "I just felt like at this point, it was in the best interest of Richie and the team that we went this direction."
Anderson, who posted bond and was released from jail, if convicted on a charge of solicitation of prostitution could face up to six months in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Meanwhile, Whisenhunt is scrambling to cover the loss on the staff. The Cardinals boast a strong receiving threesome in Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson. "I wanted the chance to review the details of the situation before making any decision," Whisenhunt said. "While it's disappointing, I've decided that this is clearly in the best interests of our team in this particular instance. Our focus is now on finding a replacement and I am confident we will be able to do that relatively soon."

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has coached receivers and likely will fill in until a receivers coach is hired.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Whisenhunt must be feeling like the human pinball. With his family still in the Pittsburgh area, he has visited as often as he can while on the new job. He just made it back for his daughter's birthday party. When his family joins him in Arizona after the school year, they'll arrive to impressive digs. Whisenhunt and his wife, Alice, paid $1.85 million for a lakeside house in the Ocotillo section of south Chandler, about a 15-minute drive to the team's training facility in Tempe.

He'll be within shouting distance of the rich and famous in the upscale area. Cardinals QB Matt Leinart recently closed on a $2.3 million home near Ocotillo. Former Cardinals LT Leonard Davis, who recently signed with Dallas and may soon have a for-sale sign in front of his mansion, also lives in the area.

Whisenhunt's 5,500-square-foot home has water from a man-made lake -- about the only kind there are in the desert -- on two sides. It has a basement with a game room, media wall and a 72-bottle wine cooler. "My wife and kids liked the house immediately so it wasn't a hard decision," Whisenhunt said. "Because of the hours you put in as coaches, it was most important that they felt comfortable with the house and the area."

Other Cardinals players who live nearby include K Neil Rackers, SS Adrian Wilson, and WR Anquan Boldin -- all of whom have been Pro Bowlers in the past two seasons.

--QB Kurt Warner landed a load of teammates and current and former players from other teams to help with his fourth-annual flag football tournament for Warner's First Thing's First Foundation. Among those lending a hand included Cardinals WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and QB Matt Leinart; and current and former QBs Josh McCown, Phil Simms, Trent Green, Warren Moon, Marc Bulger and Rudy Carpenter.

"It's never easy because these guys are so busy and there's so much going on, and they do great things on their own," Warner said. "You build relationships over the years. You try to pay guys back and say, 'Hey, I'll come and help you out if you come and help me out.'" Warner's First Thing's First Foundation helps those less fortunate.

--Retired Cardinals RB Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader who hasn't let having the two worst seasons of his career in the desert get him down, has signed with ESPN to work "NFL Countdown" and "Monday Night Countdown" as well as to do analyst work on ESPN Radio and ESPN.com.

Smith, who won the "Dancing with the Stars" TV-show competition last year, has remained active in the Phoenix area developing land that he purchased, most of it as shopping centers. At ESPN, Smith will work with host Chris Berman, analysts Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson and Ron Jaworski, and reporter Chris Mortensen on Sundays, and with Berman, Jackson, Mortensen and analyst Steve Young on Mondays.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We continue to look at opportunities. We view the free-agency period as really lasting right up until training camp." -- Rod Graves, Cardinals Vice president of Operations, on continuing to monitor the market despite the team having nearly shot its salary-cap wad with signings of high-level role players.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Although the team is down to its last couple of million dollars under the cap, it still desperately wants to sign a fullback. The Cardinals were discussing bringing back James Hodgins, once the lead blocker for Marshall Faulk in St. Louis on a Super Bowl title team. Hodgins was injured during most of his three-year tenure in Arizona thereafter. He moved on to the New York Jets last season. However, when Cleveland cut FB Terrelle Smith, who has Phoenix-area ties from his playing days at Arizona State, the Cardinals quickly shifted their focus to Smith. He played for the Browns under Maurice Carthon, new Cardinals running backs coach.

The only Cardinals FB used much the past three seasons is Obafemi Ayanbadejo, known as a receiver but not as a blocker. Whisenhunt wants a smashing blocker.

--Cornerback Roderick Hood, who has a strong track record as a nickel back and special teams player while with the Philadelphia Eagles, agreed to a five-year package that could be worth as much as $23 million if he becomes a starter. Hood, who made it in the league as an undrafted rookie, is expected to push Eric Green as the starter opposite Antrel Rolle and bolster the group of cornerbacks that did not get an interception from a starter in 2006 until the season was three months along.

--WR Sean Morey signed for three years. He is known for his special teams play, the area where he no doubt will be used most on a team that already is loaded with talented receivers. He appeared in all 16 games last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a reserve wide receiver and special teams player, collecting a team-high 21 special teams tackles. He returned eight kickoffs (25.3 yard avg.). He was a seventh-round pick by New England in 1999. He'll be playing for new Cardinals special-teams coach Kevin Spencer, who coached Morey in Pittsburgh.

--MLB Monty Beisel was re-signed as an unrestricted free agent for two years. He appeared in eight games, two starts, last season for the Cardinals after signing as a free agent Nov. 6. He made 14 tackles including a team-high eight in a start at San Francisco in place of injured Gerald Hayes. He also had one interception and six special-teams tackles. Beisel was New England's final roster cut last Sept. 1. He was a fourth-round pick by Kansas City in 2001.

--QB John Navarre, who was not tendered by the Cardinals as a restricted free agent and became unrestricted, signed with Indianapolis. He'd been the team's third quarterback most of his career, although he was given a start late in his rookie season and likely would have finished 2004 as the starter had he not suffered a fractured hand. He appeared in two games in three years, completing 32 of 64 passes for two touchdowns, but he had five interceptions.

--TE-OL Fred Wakefield, who started his career with the Cardinals as a DE, signed for one year with Oakland as an unrestricted free agent.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER:
None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Jack Brewer is worth having for depth but not likely to push for a starting job.
--DE Chris Cooper had moments when others fell to injuries but doesn't appear to be more than a mid-level backup.
--LB James Darling is a versatile veteran who has started inside and outside and is worth considering at journeyman pay despite his advancing years.
--FS Robert Griffith nearly retired a year ago and now very likely will after a fine career. He has just run out of gas.
--WLB Orlando Huff has been the starter, but a disappointing performer who likely will be replaced.
--OL Chris Liwienski found a starting spot when the line came together late in the year and at the very least is a competent, versatile backup worth keeping.
--CB David Macklin may be toast after being in and out of the lineup twice for inconsistent play. He brings a nasty demeanor but he is small.
--CB Robert Tate has started in spots but always by default -- injuries or poor play by players ahead of him.
--PR/WR Troy Walters is worth keeping as an effective punt returner and fourth receiver who has more experience than the young speedsters who annually try to dislodge him.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--TE Adam Bergen (not tendered as ERFA) has been a part-time starter and some think he has a future in the league.
--OL Rolando Cantu (not tendered as ERFA) was the first Mexican national in the league but has developed slowly, to the extent that his future is questionable.
--RB Roger Robinson (not tendered as ERFA) set NFL Europe rushing records but will need more time to develop before he's ready to challenge for playing time in the NFL.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--C Nick Leckey (tendered at $1.3M with 2nd-round pick as compensation) was the starter at the end of the year when the unit finally played efficiently.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--DE Antonio Smith has gotten his chances when others have gone down but hasn't shown that he's ready to challenge for starting job.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--LB Monty Beisel: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Hanik Milligan: UFA; $2.6M/3 yrs, $250,000 RB.
--RB Marcel Shipp: UFA; $5.75M/3 yrs, $500,000 RB; 2007 cap: $2.25M.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--S Terrence Holt: UFA Lions; $15M/5 yrs, $3.5M RB/$500,000 RB '08.
--CB Rod Hood: UFA Eagles; $15M/5 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
--C Al Johnson: UFA Cowboys: $17.5M/4 yrs, $3.5M RB; 2007 cap: $7M.
--WR Sean Morey: UFA Steelers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST
--OT Leonard Davis: UFA Cowboys; $49.6M/7 yrs, $16M SB/$18.75M guaranteed.
--QB John Navarre: Not tendered as RFA/Colts; terms unknown).
--C Alex Stepanovich: Not tendered as RFA/Bengals; terms unknown.
--TE/OL Fred Wakefield: UFA Raiders; terms unknown.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
==============


When Scott Linehan became coach of the Rams in Jan. 2006, the rumors began that he would try to bring quarterback Daunte Culpepper to St. Louis. Linehan had coached Culpepper as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings for three seasons.

Rams incumbent quarterback Marc Bulger had to wonder about the rumors, but he reacted by diving into the playbook and learning the new offense. There were some rocky times at the beginning of the season, but by the end of the year, Bulger was playing as well as any quarterback in the league. Little by little, he had earned the faith of Linehan, who wants Bulger to be around for a long time.

Entering the final year of his contract, there have been preliminary discussions with agent Tom Condon on a new contract. While nothing substantive has yet occurred, the Rams are confident a new contract will be forthcoming.

"It's a no-brainer that we want Marc to be our quarterback - as long as Marc wants to play quarterback in this league," Linehan said. "But we're doing it in logical phases. I visited with Marc at the end of the season and we talked about getting together with his representative and having him finish his career as a Ram.

"That will take care of itself. We know it's a priority, he knows it's a priority and we just let the guys that get that stuff done do their job as we go through this. It won't be a distraction, I know that. Marc understands that, we understand that and when the time comes, we will address it."

Asked about a new deal happening before the start of the 2007 season, Linehan said, "I think before would be great. If you do it during the season it makes sense. I don't think you need to rush into it. There is always a time and place for everything, but before the season or during the season I still think it's something where you don't want to go into the last year of a guy's deal, especially at that position." After passing for 4,031 yards, throwing just eight interceptions and being selected for the Pro Bowl, Bulger is eager for next season to get here.

"Being 8-8 and missing the playoffs, you could think that the season was all for naught," he said. "But I think we found out a lot about our team and where we're headed."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Linehan was one of two head coaches (Mike Tomlin of the Steelers was the other) along with several defensive coordinators that attended the University of Arkansas' recent pro day. Said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, "You don't send your head coach or coordinator to look at third- or fourth-round picks. We're all here because Arkansas has guys that are going to be first-rounders." Most notably, defensive end Jamaal Anderson and cornerback Chris Houston will likely be No. 1 picks. The Rams could use both.

Linehan said of Anderson's workout, "Jamaal Anderson helped himself today. But what helps him the most is how he plays when you turn on the (game) tapes. You can see he's a prototypical NFL defensive end. He's a guy who can play every down. He can play the run because he's got the size, and he has pass rush ability. That's a rare combination and maybe as hot a commodity as a (franchise) quarterback in a lot of ways."

Anderson, 6-6, 284, did not work out at the combine because of an injured hamstring, and ran the 40 in 4.79 at the pro day.

Of Houston, Linehan said, "All of his measureables are outstanding, but his audition was against all of those big-name receivers he played so well against. You're going to have to play against those guys every week in the NFL, and he proved last season he could do that."

Houston has played against several receivers expected to be first-round picks this year, including Tennessee's Robert Meachem, Dwayne Bowe of Louisiana State and Southern Cal's Dwayne Jarrett.
Concluded Linehan, "It's a pretty big decision when you're looking at the first-round guys, and we're probably going to be looking at one of them. There's no doubt they're both first-rounders."

--The Rams still project Will Witherspoon as their starting middle linebacker, but with only four linebackers under contract, they are looking for dept. That group of four includes Tim McGarigle, a rookie in 2006 that spent the entire season on the practice squad, but does not include strong-side linebacker Brandon Chillar, a restricted free agent.

Visiting the week of March 12 were Chris Draft, who has played all three linebacker positions with Carolina and Atlanta, and special-teams standout Ike Reese. Both left without signing contracts.
Reese visited on the same day that coach Scott Linehan was Arkansas' pro day.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"They just didn't think too highly of me, I guess. They never put an offer that was anywhere close to what the Rams were offering. If they don't think I am worth a certain amount, then that's their prerogative. I can be successful somewhere else. They made it very clear that I had a different opinion of myself of what quality of receiver I was and I'm OK with that. I'm excited about where I am heading." - New Rams receiver Drew Bennett on what he was offered by the Tennessee Titans.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MEDICAL WATCH:
No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Jamal Brooks made the roster, was cut and then brought back because of injuries. He can contribute on special teams.
--RB Stephen Davis helped the development of Steven Jackson but bad knees make his return unlikely.
--RB Tony Fisher will be coming off a knee injury, but if healthy can provide solid special teams play and a receiving threat on third down.
--DE Brandon Green is a high-motor player who just doesn't have great ability. Might be back if the contract is reasonable.
--LB Isaiah Kacyvenski helped improve special teams coverage, but will probably be looking for more than a one-year, minimum-value contract.
--WR/KR Willie Ponder didn't upgrade the kickoff return game as the team hoped. Still, it might make sense to bring him back unless the Rams know they have someone better.
--LB Raonall Smith proved himself to be a versatile player in situational defenses and on special teams.
--P Matt Turk was consistent all season, and the Rams should ensure that he's back for another year at least.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--S Dwaine Carpenter (not tendered as RFA) did a decent job on special teams, and could return for lower salary than tender.
--C/G Larry Turner (not tendered as RFA) is a competitor, and might be back at lower salary than tender.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Brandon Chillar (tendered at $850,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation) was solid as the strong-side starter, and played better than has been given credit for.
--G/T Adam Goldberg (tendered at $850,000 with no compensation) is an excellent swingman to have around, with the ability to play every position on the line.
--TE Aaron Walker (tendered at $850,000 with 5th-round pick as compensation) showed decent blocking ability and will return to compete for backup job again.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:
None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--T/G Todd Steussie: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--WR Drew Bennett: UFA Titans; $30M/6 yrs, $7.5M SB/$10M guaranteed.
--DE James Hall (trade Lions).
--S Todd Johnson: UFA Bears; $4M/4 yrs, $700,000 SB.
--DE Trevor Johnson: Waivers Saints.
--TE Randy McMichael: FA Dolphins; $11M/3 yrs, $3M SB; 2007 cap: $2.5M.
--RB Travis Minor: UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--P B.J. Sander: FA; $435,000/1 yr.
--DT Tim Sandidge: Waivers Chiefs.

PLAYERS LOST
--LB Dexter Coakley (released).
--WR Kevin Curtis: UFA Eagles; $30M/6 yrs, $2.5M SB/$5M RB '07; $1.5M RB '08.
--CB Travis Fisher: UFA Lions; $2.25M/1 yr, $1.25M SB.
--NT Jason Fisk: UFA; retired.
--WR Shaun McDonald: UFA Lions; $2.8M/2 yrs, $1.5M guaranteed.
--FB Paul Smith: UFA Broncos; $2.55M/3 yrs, $300,000 SB.
--OG Adam Timmerman (released).


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
===================


Cornerback Walt Harris proved to be the bargain pickup of the year, as the 49ers lured him to their team with a $1 million signing bonus after the Redskins released him following the 2005 season. The 49ers finalized a two-year contract extension for Harris after he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his 11-year career.

"We're just taking care of a guy who did a nice job for us," 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said. Harris sustained a broken hand in the Pro Bowl and had surgery to insert a screw, but he is not expected to miss any time in the club's off-season program.

The 49ers signed Harris to an extension after the team signed cornerback Nate Clements to an eight-year, $80 million contract on the first day of free agency. The 49ers now have some depth at the cornerback position, as Harris and Clements join Shawntae Spencer, who started 39 games in his first three seasons.

The 49ers feel extremely lucky, and partly responsible, for even getting a chance to sign Harris in the first place. The Redskins released Harris last off-season to create salary-cap room to acquire receiver Brandon Lloyd from the 49ers in a trade for a third-round pick last year and a fourth-rounder this year.

The 49ers were thrilled to get rid of Lloyd, who had rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way with his attitude and poor work ethic. When Harris became available, the 49ers jumped at the opportunity sign him.

Harris responded with a strong season. He was immediately voted as a team captain on defense because of the leadership he supplies in the locker room, but he also produced the best season of his career. Harris tied for the NFC lead with eight interceptions, including one of which he returned for a touchdown in the 49ers' upset victory that knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs in the season finale. Harris also defensed a team-high 17 passes, forced five fumbles, recovered two, had 71 tackles and the first sack of his NFL career.

Harris, who'll turn 33 in training camp, credits his commitment to an off-season training program as the reason he played his best season of football last year. Although he has not been guaranteed a starting position for next season, he is heads into the off-season as the favorite to win the job over Spencer.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--The 49ers hope outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain can help give the team's pass rush a spark. It doesn't matter how he gets there, as long as he can put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
And it doesn't matter to Banta-Cain, either. He can be used in pass-rush situations as a defensive end or a linebacker. "I was a defensive end in college, so I'm comfortable being in a three-point stance," Banta-Cain said. "Playing a 34 with New England we rush our linebackers from the outside all the time. That's something I got comfortable doing. Whether my hand's in the dirt or I'm standing up, I can do both."

--The 49ers were on the verge of adding reserve linebacker Colby Bockwoldt as a free agent pickup, and much of the reason rests with new special teams coach Al Everest. Everest coached Bockwoldt for two seasons with the Saints before Everest was not retained on coach Sean Payton's staff and Bockwoldt ended up with the Titans. Bockwoldt started 23 games his first two seasons with the Saints. Last year, he led the Titans with 20 special-teams tackles.

--Defensive end John Syptak of Rice was one of just 13 players the 49ers brought into their training facility for pre-draft visits. Syptak went undrafted but spent time with the Seahawks and Saints organizations last season. The 49ers signed him and allocated him to NFL Europe. Receiver C.J. Brewer is not going to play in NFL Europe, as planned, and therefore he no longer counts as a roster exemption.

--The 49ers begin their off-season program on March 19 with workouts geared mostly to weight-training and conditioning. It'll also be the first opportunity for quarterback Alex Smith to spend time with new quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti. Jim Hostler, Smith's quarterbacks coach his first two seasons in the NFL, was promoted to 49ers offensive coordinator to replace Norv Turner, the Chargers' new head coach.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now, I know that they're a young offense. After talking to the coaches and watching a little film I can see that Alex Smith is a great young talent who needs some extra help around him. Hopefully, I'll be able to provide that for him." -- Newly acquired receiver Ashley Lelie on what he knows about the 49ers' offense.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers spent the first week of free agency strengthening some of their positions of need. After releasing embattled receiver Antonio Bryant the day before free agency, the 49ers signed Ashley Lelie to take his place.

The 49ers never showed much interest in free-agent receivers Donte' Stallworth or Drew Bennett, so it appears they hope to bolster the wideout position via the draft. Because the 49ers did a nice job of filling some needs on defense through free agency, it is wide open what they could do with the No. 11 overall pick. If they decide to invest that pick in a wideout, Tennessee's Robert Meachem would likely be their selection.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER:
None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--DT Anthony Adams does not fit the style of defense the 49ers hope to play. Team will make no effort to re-sign him after significant drop in playing time.
--S Deke Cooper was added to the roster for final two games of season, but does not figure to return.
--LB Jay Foreman was a late-season addition who injured a knee in his second game. Could return to fight for a roster spot.
--FB Chris Hetherington is a vested veteran who saw no action on offense after losing his starting job to Moran Norris in the third week. Does not figure to return.
--LB T.J. Slaughter's finger surgery ended his season in November. He could return to compete for a roster spot.
--S Chad Williams saw plenty of action in the team's sub packages, and there's a good chance he'll be back to compete for a roster spot.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--S Mike Adams (not tendered as RFA) turned down an extension early in the season, then lost his starting job.
--LB Andre Torrey (not tendered as ERFA) sustained torn ACL in training camp and his return this season is in question.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RB Maurice Hicks (tendered at $850,000 with no compensation) turned down a contract extension.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--WR Bryan Gilmore: UFA; $595,000/1 yr.
--P Andy Lee: RFA; 49ers matched Steelers offer $7.1M/6 yrs, $1.66M SB.
--S Keith Lewis: Potential RFA; $2.935M/3 yrs, $650,000 SB; 2007 cap: $776,667.
--LB Hannibal Navies: UFA; terms unknown.
--FB Moran Norris: UFA; $3.285M/3 yrs, $915,000 SB; 2007 cap: $1M.
--S Mark Roman: Potential UFA; $4.5M/3 yrs, $2M SB; 2007 cap: $1.417M.
--CB Donald Strickland: FA; had been released by 49ers; $595,000/1 yr.
--G/C Tony Wragge: ERFA; $1.34M/2 yrs; 2007 cap: $600,000.
--DL Bryant Young: Potential UFA; $4.25M/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--LB Tully Banta-Cain: UFA Patriots; $8.9M/3 yrs, $2.9M SB; 2007 cap: $2.17M.
--CB Nate Clements: UFA Bills; $64M/7 yrs, $10M RB/$10M OB 2008; 2007 cap: $11.1M.
--DT Aubrayo Franklin: UFA Ravens; $6M/3 yrs, $3M SB; 2007 cap: $1.416M.
--WR Ashley Lelie: UFA Falcons; $4.3M/2 yrs, $2M SB; 2007 cap: $3.2M.
--S Michael Lewis: UFA Eagles; $30M/6 yrs, $9.8M guaranteed; 2007 cap: $4.195M.

PLAYERS LOST
--WR Antonio Bryant (released).
--CB Sammy Davis (released).
--TE Eric Johnson: UFA Saints; $2M/1 yr, SB unknown.
--DT Lance Legree: UFA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--C Jeremy Newberry: UFA Raiders; $1.5M/1 yr, no SB.


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