Niners preparing to part ways with Clements

When the 49ers made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history in 2007, cornerback Nate Clements was celebrated in San Francisco as the first player at his position to earn a contract that paid $10 million per season. On Thursday, he'll be unemployed, the Sports Xchange is reporting.

Clements has been told by the 49ers that he'll be released, a move that was predictable and essentially forced by the $17.36 million salary cap value Clements carried for the 2011 season.

Clements confirmed Thursday morning that he has been released by the team with these two comments on his Twitter account:

"I wud like to thank the 49ers organization for giving me the opportunity to play for a team with history and tradition." And, "BIG s/o to my former teammates and the fans for all of their support...i enjoyed playing for the 49er Faithful"

The 49ers can't officially announce they have waived any players until Thursday at 4:01 p.m., New York time.

By cutting Clements, the 49ers free up about $15 million from their 2011 salary cap. When he signed as a free agent and left the Buffalo Bills in 2007, Clements' eight-year, $80 million deal with $22 million guaranteed at the time made him the highest-paid defender in history, a distinction he didn't hold for long.

After a solid 2007 season, Clements has failed to live up to that contract that past three seasons, with his coverage skills eroding perceptibly the past two seasons.

Reports have linked the 49ers to the top free-agent cornerback on the market, Nnamdi Asomugha, who is also negotiating with the New York Jets. Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network, a former Oakland Raiders executive, said earlier today of the 49ers, "they are strong," in the running for Asomugha. Lombardi later went on to say via twitter, "it sounds like SF and NY are in the lead right now," in the competition for Asomugha's services.

Releasing Clements not only creates cash to spend on a replacement, it creates a vacancy in the starting lineup. If not Asomugha, the 49ers would still need to add a veteran cornerback ready to man the left cornerback spot opposite incumbent starting left cornerback Shawntae Spencer.

San Francisco drafted South Carolina product Chris Culliver in the third round of the April draft and have a capable veteran in Tarell Brown, the team's third cornerback last year, but neither appears to be a lead option for a starting role this year.

The 49ers could look at Cincinnati Bengals star Johnathan Joseph or Richard Marshall, who is unlikely to return to the Carolina Panthers. Marshall played collegiately at Fresno State. The 49ers' pass defense was 24th in the NFL last season and Clements' base salary would have been $7.25 million this season.

While a final-hour renegotiation of Clements' contract still is possible, it's unlikely, particularly if the 49ers get a commitment from another top cornerback on the open market.

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