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AROUND THE NFL : Hanks Out, Newsome In for the 49ers

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From Associated Press

The San Francisco 49ers got younger Tuesday, but lost a team leader in the process.

After trading with the Green Bay Packers for cornerback Craig Newsome earlier in the day, the 49ers cut nine-year free safety Merton Hanks, a former Pro Bowl player known for his chicken dance after big plays.

The 49ers saved more than $1 million in cap room by releasing Hanks, who was an NFC starter in four of the last five Pro Bowls.

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He was coming off his worst season, however, and barely survived an off-season salary-cap purge during which General Manager Bill Walsh lopped off $28 million in player payroll to get the 49ers under the cap.

“Merton Hanks has been a terrific football player for us for nine years,” Walsh said in a statement. “He has been a Pro Bowl performer and a dynamic personality on this team. It’s truly one of the most difficult decisions we had to make. He’s one of those guys who will never completely be replaced.”

Hanks is expected to be replaced by Zack Bronson, a third-year pro who made the team in 1997 as a free agent from McNeese State. Bronson had four interceptions in spot duty last season.

Walsh, who traded away such veterans as guard Kevin Gogan in the cap purge, openly suggested he would deal or release Hanks because of the team’s economic concerns before the sides restructured his contract.

But the continued strong play of Bronson and a poor exhibition season by Hanks made his release more palatable to the 49ers.

The 49ers also were in a bind at cornerback. Their top three pass coverage players were all 5 feet 9 or shorter and the 49ers were concerned about mismatches when they play some of the bigger, tougher receivers in the league.

Newsome is a 6-footer with a solid coverage history and he’s remembered in San Francisco as the player who returned fullback Adam Walker’s first-play fumble for a touchdown in the Packers’ victory over the 49ers in a 1996 playoff game.

San Francisco acquired Newsome for an undisclosed future draft pick.

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The Carolina Panthers released punt returner Winslow Oliver after three years with the club and signed veteran Eric Metcalf in an attempt to bolster their wide receiving corps.

Metcalf, the NFL record-holder for regular-season touchdown returns with 11, also has 2,635 yards rushing and 5,420 yards receiving. He was released Sunday by Baltimore.

Oliver, a third-round draft choice of the Panthers in 1996, averaged 10.7 yards in 110 punt returns in three seasons.

Metcalf, a first-round draft choice from Texas in 1989, has played with the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, amassing 16,280 total yards, seventh on the all-time list.

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The New York Jets signed running back Bernie Parmalee, two days after the Miami Dolphins let him go.

To make room for Parmalee, the Jets released running back Keith Byars, who had been scheduled to be a backup in the club’s restructured offense.

Parmalee was a special-teams co-captain for Miami a season ago. But the Dolphins, overloaded with young, promising running backs, no longer had room for him.

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The Indianapolis Colts have become the first NFL team to start its own political-action committee, registering with the Federal Election Commission and state officials in August.

The committee was formed after the team found itself unexpectedly fending off a bill in the state legislature that defined as a public subsidy playing in a state-funded sports stadium.

“That one serious battle in the Indiana legislature educated the management of the Colts that politics can affect our business,” team lawyer Dan Luther said.

Lobbyist Daniel Seitz said, “We have been focused at the local level, and felt the need to follow what was happening on the state level. The NFL has been watching out for the league’s interests in Washington. We’ve been organized as a grass-roots group to keep our hand in what is pending in Congress.”

Also, the Colts signed free-agent defensive back Thomas Randolph, who was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals.

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The St. Louis Rams lost backup defensive tackle Corey Sears because they were late notifying the NFL on Sunday about two players who were waived with injury settlements. The league made the Rams waive two other players and keep running back June Henley and offensive lineman Jeremy McKinney on the active roster for another day.

So, the Rams waived Sears and cornerback Clifton Crosby, expecting to reclaim them.

Crosby cleared waivers, as expected, but Sears, who started two exhibition games, was claimed by the Cardinals.

The Rams filled Sears’ spot by signing defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis, who had spent three seasons with the Chicago Bears.


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