Once upon a time, back in 2006, Norris was actually an asset for this offense; a powerful lead blocker who took pride in serving as Frank Gore's personal valet through the line of scrimmage. With a compact 6'1, 250lb. frame, he was a human pile drive - and someone linebackers across the league dreaded having to face on Sunday afternoons.
Unfortunately for Norris, fullback in the NFL is a brutal, thankless job. The physical toll it demands - basically having to ram your head at full speed against the equivalent of a brick wall 30 times a game - is downright cruel, and as a consequence careers at that position don't last long.
Gore had his best seasons with Norris leading the way, so one can understand why he all but demanded for the team to re-acquire Norris once he was on the street as a free agent prior to the 2009 season.
Of course, Gore had no way of knowing that Norris was simply no longer the same guy anymore, though the fact that he was cut loose by a Detroit team that went 0-16 in 2008 should've been a telltale sign.
At 31 years of age, Norris was a shell of his former self last year. He missed a slew of blocks, was sloppy on many others, and sometimes, he just didn't have the speed to get to the edge in time.
Like the 49ers running game itself, it just wasn't very pretty to watch.
What hurt the offense even worse than Norris' ineffective blocking was how predictable they were with him on the field. Because Norris is so one-dimensional in his skills (he had just 14 carries and 7 receptions on the year), opposing defenses knew a running play to Gore was in the offing whenever he was out there. They would line up with eight or nine guys in the box and Gore was stuffed before he could even get started.
Though most of the off-season discussion has focused on which tackle the team will draft in the first round, they desperately needs an upgrade at fullback as well.
In a perfect world the team would be able to throw a truckload of money at multi-dimensional free agents such as Leonard Weaver of Philadelphia or Le'Ron McClain of Baltimore, but because the owners and players union haven't agreed to a Collective Bargaining Agreement, both of those guys are restricted free agents instead of unrestricted, and their teams will protect them with second round level tenders, meaning that not only do they have the right to match whatever offer other teams make, but if they decide not to match, the players' new teams will have to surrender a 2nd round pick for their trouble.
A 2nd round pick for a fullback? That's not happening.
There are other guys out there though. Justin Griffith, formerly of the Seahawks, is two years younger than Norris and an unrestricted free agent. John Kuhn of the Packers and Naufahu Tahi of the Vikings are a couple of young bruisers who got tendered at the $1.01 million level and since neither was drafted, teams don't have to cough up any draft picks to sign them. They simply have to offer more money than the Packers or Vikings can afford to match.
The best option, however, might be Rashawn Jackson out of the University of Virginia. He led his team in rushing last season, caught 25 passes, and is a solid blocker as well. He looks like Leonard Weaver Jr. and it would be quite a coup for the team to draft him in Round 3 or 4.
Norris has had his day in the sun, but it's time to go in a new direction.