49ers sign Lelie to a 2-year deal
The former UH star is getting a fresh start with San Francisco
Ashley Lelie is getting his second fresh start in 6 1/2 months, and the talented receiver believes he has finally found a home with the San Francisco 49ers.
Lelie signed a two-year contract with San Francisco yesterday, the fourth prominent free agent to join the 49ers during a four-day spending spree that included re-signing several of their own free agents.
The 49ers reached a tentative agreement during the weekend with Lelie, a fleet deep threat who had a disappointing season with Atlanta in 2006, catching just 28 passes for 430 yards after being traded by the Broncos late in training camp.
But San Francisco is again in need of a top receiver after cutting troubled Antonio Bryant on Thursday. Coach Mike Nolan believes Lelie can return to the form he showed during four strong seasons in Denver, when he had 3,003 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns while twice leading the NFL in yards per catch.
Lelie said he chose the 49ers over Houston and other suitors because of "the opportunity to start and be a player in this league."
"This team gave me the best chance to go after that," Lelie said. "It's definitely a great organization. I get to try to fill the shoes of one of my favorite players of all time, Jerry Rice."
Lelie is the third former University of Hawaii player on the 49ers' roster, joining linebacker Jeff Ulbrich and defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga.
San Francisco also re-signed fullback Moran Norris and offensive lineman Tony Wragge yesterday.
The 49ers released Bryant after one tumultuous season with San Francisco that began with a hefty signing bonus and ended with Bryant on a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Lelie joins receivers Arnaz Battle and Bryan Gilmore and tight end Vernon Davis to augment an unimpressive group of targets for quarterback Alex Smith.
The 49ers will attempt to add another receiver through free agency or the draft. Although Lelie intends to be San Francisco's No. 1 receiver, he has no problem with other pass-catchers coming to town.
"It's a chance to be the No. 1 receiver, a chance to compete for that spot," Lelie said. "I didn't think I had a fair chance at the other two places I was at, and the 49ers are giving me that opportunity. ... I wouldn't be upset at all. I welcome the opportunity to compete."