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S.F. signs special-teams ace

Published: Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 - 12:10 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 11:20 am

A 49ers team that finished near the bottom of the NFL in kickoff coverage last season addressed its leaky special teams by signing Dan Skuta to a two-year deal Thursday.

Skuta, a 250-pound inside linebacker, led the Bengals in special-teams tackles in two of the last three seasons.

The 49ers had one of the best coverage units in the league in 2011, one that was led by energetic and charismatic Blake Costanzo. The 49ers, however, allowed Costanzo to sign with the Bears in free agency a year ago, and their 2012 special-teams units weren't the same.

They surrendered an average of 26.9 yards per kickoff – only the Raiders were worse – in the regular season. That number doesn't include the postseason, which was marked by a Super Bowl-record 108-yard touchdown return by Baltimore's Jacoby Jones to open the second half.

Skuta was one of three free agents the 49ers hosted Thursday.

The group included ex-Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who left the team facility without a deal but who could sign one today.

The former Cal star hit the open market this week after being cut by the Eagles. Asomugha was the biggest catch in the 2011 free-agent period, and Philadelphia landed him that year with a five-year, $60 million deal. That contract, however, became far too unwieldy, especially after Asomugha, 31, failed to play to expectations.

After struggling to contain Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and Baltimore's Anquan Boldin in the postseason, the 49ers entered free agency in search of tall, physical cornerbacks who could stifle big-bodied receivers. The long-limbed, 6-foot-2 Asomugha was perhaps the league's best cornerback when playing press coverage for the Raiders, but he had trouble in the Eagles' more diverse, zone schemes.

San Francisco showed interest in Asomugha when he was a free agent two years ago. However, he never visited 49ers headquarters like he did on Thursday afternoon. It was his first free-agent visit this offseason, which usually indicates mutual interest between team and player.

San Francisco would be a better fit for Asomugha than Philadelphia, and the expectations – as well as the price tag – would be considerably lower. The 49ers play sides when it comes to their cornerbacks – one either plays on the left or right side and doesn't switch during the game. They also like to play press coverage, although there are plenty of the zone schemes that seemed to vex Asomugha in Philadelphia.

The 49ers also had shown interest in 6-3 free-agent cornerback Sean Smith, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Chiefs on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are contemplating a couple of older, veteran safeties – Charles Woodson and Ed Reed – but on Thursday they met with Louis Delmas, who is 25.

He was the 33rd pick in the 2009 draft by the Lions and played immediately.

Delmas started 15 games as a rookie, finishing second on the team with 94 tackles, breaking up eight passes and coming down with two interceptions.

He's never been able to duplicate those numbers, however, mainly because he's been injured.

Delmas missed 13 games in the last two seasons with knee injuries. In 2011, he suffered a partially torn ACL, and last year he dealt with tendinitis in his left knee.

On Wednesday the 49ers hosted Woodson, 36, and they had tentative plans to visit with Ravens free agent Reed. Woodson left without a contract, and Jim Harbaugh said Thursday the team was "still evaluating" the former Raiders and Packers defensive back. Reed, meanwhile, is expected to sign a deal with the Texans today.

Et cetera – The 49ers lost their fourth free agent when the Colts signed defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to a four-year, $22 million deal with $8.5 million guaranteed. Francois also had visited the Eagles.

• Wide receiver Mario Manningham, who is not expected to recover from a knee injury in time for training camp next summer, accepted a pay decrease from $3.6 million to $1.8 million, NinersNation.com reported. Manningham, who was injured in a Week 16 game in Seattle, is heading into the final year of his contract with the 49ers.

• Free-agent wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. visited the Bengals on Thursday. Cincinnati also hosted free-agent quarterback Josh Johnson, who spent the 2012 offseason with the 49ers.

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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