49ers' Free Agents Frustrated

Two starters for the San Francisco 49ers joined the team in the offseason thinking they could be the final pieces to the team's playoff aspirations. Instead, the 49ers are out of the playoff race and the 2007 free agents are frustrated.

Safety Michael Lewis and cornerback Nate Clements arrived at the San Francisco 49ers' facility together on the first day of free agency.

Both signed lucrative deals with the 49ers, certain that the team was heading in the right direction.

But as San Francisco prepares to face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the club has turned into one of the league's biggest disappointments.

"This is just a bump in the road," Lewis said. "We have to learn from our mistakes."

It's been a season filled with bumps and plenty of mistakes for the 49ers, who have lost nine of their past 10 games.

When asked if it's difficult to keep a positive attitude during the team's problems, Lewis admitted that it is.

"But we're all professionals," he said. "We all have jobs to do, and everybody has to take care of himself and ask, ‘Am I doing my job?'"

Clements was one of the marquee free agent signings in the offseason, as the 49ers awarded him an eight-year, $80 million contract. After never getting a sniff of the playoffs while with the Buffalo Bills, Clements figured he was coming to a team that would be relevant in the NFL.

So far, that has not been the case.

"This is very disappointing," he said. "It's definitely not what I expected or what the team expected. But you just have to roll with the punches."

Clements said his motivation to perform does not change because of his team's record. He said he enjoys playing football, so he will continue to play hard whether or not the 49ers' final four games have any relevance in the NFL standings.

The 49ers are 3-9 and have been mathematically eliminated from the NFC West race. The division-leading Seattle Seahawks own a five-game lead with four weeks to play.

The 49ers have guaranteed themselves a franchise-worst fifth consecutive losing season. The club has won back-to-back games only three times in five seasons, including this season when it began the year with a 2-0 record.

Coach Mike Nolan this week expressed anger with the way things have gone this season. Some of that emotion came spilling out in the second quarter of last week's game against the Carolina Panthers. Nolan gathered the team around him on the sideline for a spirited talk.

"I speak for the players, the fans and everyone," Nolan said. "It has started to leave the frustrating point. It is becoming angry to lose and to lose like that, although they are a good football team and have been underachieving."

The 49ers will have veteran backup Trent Dilfer in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game. Quarterback Alex Smith was cleared to resume light throwing this week but is unlikely to be available for action against the Vikings. Smith's return this season remains questionable.

Smith sustained a right shoulder separation Sept. 30 when the Seattle Seahawks' Rocky Bernard sacked him. Smith sustained a forearm strain from overzealous workouts in the weight room, and has not been healthy since. He tried to return to action for three games in November, thinking his shoulder and forearm conditions would improve.

Smith sought an opinion from noted orthopedist James Andrews, who recommended two weeks of rest. Smith did not throw a pass for more than two weeks.


LB Jeff Ulrich performed so well on special teams and in practice through the early potion of the season that he continued to find more and more of a role on defense. Ulbrich was a starter throughout his career before getting replaced in the starting lineup in the middle of last season. However, now he has carved out a significant role for himself in the team's "big sub" defensive package. The alignment is generally used on second downs when the yardage is medium range. It is used when the offense has the option to run or pass.

The 49ers figure to use that defense a lot this week against the Vikings because of their threat of a run game. Even in long-yardage situations, the 49ers will need to keep an eye on RB Adrian Peterson.

The 49ers added rookie LB Steve Dildine to the practice squad after the Miami Dolphins signed Mark Washington off the 49ers' practice squad.

  • WR Darrell Jackson has experienced a disappointing first season with the 49ers with dropped passes and a lack of involvement in the offense. Jackson has just 29 receptions for 332 yards and one touchdown this season.

  • QB Trent Dilfer is coming off another poor performance. He threw four interceptions last week against the Panthers, the most interceptions he has thrown in a game since the 1996 season opener while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the season, Dilfer has completed 53 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His passer rating is 58.4.

  • CB Nate Clements showed his versatility last week against the Panthers. While covering the Panthers' best receiver, Steve Smith, Clements recorded eight tackles and added an interception and two passes defensed. He also returned a punt 41 yards to set up a 49ers touchdown.

  • TE Delanie Walker, the 49ers' No. 2 tight end behind starter Vernon Davis, has not gotten much action in the passing game, though he has gotten onto the field an increased number of times in recent weeks. Davis caught his first career NFL touchdown last week against the Panthers. For the season, Walker has nine catches for 58 yards.

  • S Michael Lewis has been a good acquisition for the 49ers this season off the free agent market. Lewis is second on the team with 107 tackles. He has also recorded two tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced two fumbles (recovering one of them) and broken up six passes.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 5 — Times the 49ers offense has been held to fewer than 200 yards of total offense this season. The 49ers average a league-low 231.7 yards per game.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got an opportunity with four to go, to play Minnesota, and hopefully we can bounce back this week. That is the bright side of looking forward for our players as well." — 49ers coach Mike Nolan.

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