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Mar 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM

He was a top end elite cornerback prospect back in the 2000 NFL draft just six years ago. And he had three years remaining on his contract when the axe fell and Mike Nolan released him.

Cornerback Ahmed Plummer, who had been courted and applauded by signing a five-year, $25 million dollar contract back in 2004, was suddenly released by the San Francisco 49ers with two others.

The San Francisco 49ers also released veteran defensive lineman Chris Cooper and veteran wide receiver Johnnie Morton for various reasons, most notably to reshape the current roster and clean house to keep their salary-cap situation in good order. In fact by releasing all three veteran players, the 49ers saved about $2.4 million against their 2006 salary cap. Of course the most high profiled was and still is cornerback Ahmed Plummer, who at many times in his first four years with us was considered our shutdown corner hands down.

Ahmed Plummer was the second of the team's two first-round draft picks in its outstanding 2000 NFL draft class. However those high-five days suddenly came to an end when Mike Nolan was brought in to resurrect life back into this franchise after the failures of both General Manager Terry Donahue and head coach Dennis Erickson.

Mike Nolan was often asked about why Ahmed Plummer was not on the field at various parts of the season and he bristled at the question almost every instance in which it was presented.

Early in the season last year, Ahmed Plummer went and had surgery to remove some bone particles from his left ankle. He was only expected to miss a maximum of five games following the procedure according to medical professionals. What happened instead was an Ahmed Plummer that claimed he felt discomfort while playing on it and never played another down for the team following their Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

This physical, and some would call it psychological, setback for Ahmed Plummer regarding his left ankle would cost him his job as a San Francisco 49er. In fact, the 49ers in perspective could have waited to release Ahmed Plummer until after June 1st, and it would've lessened the hit on this year's salary cap by doing so. They are taking a considerable hit on their salary cap by releasing him now, since the remaining amortized portion of his $11 million signing bonus becomes due against the cap upon his release.

But on the other side of the coin when you look at it again, the $6.6 million cap hit in dead money is actually a savings of more than $1 million over what Plummer would have earned (he had a scheduled base salary of $5.5 million this year). This would've counted against the San Francisco's salary cap this year had he remained on the current roster, in essence for doing nothing as indicated from his performance and inability or indifference to help his teammates last year.

He abandoned ship in many aspects and refused to make personal and physical sacrifices for the team in order to get back out on the field and play. Mike Nolan became increasingly aware of this as the season wore on and grew even more frustrated as his secondary began falling apart.

Mike Nolan was determined to clear the books of Ahmed Plummer once and for all by releasing him now. Plummer fell from grace as a cornerback by playing in just nine of the team's 32 games since signing his mega-million dollar contract back in March of 2004.

Back in the start of the new millennium Ahmed Plummer, after being drafted as the 24th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft, essentially locked down one side of the playing field effectively for the San Francisco 49ers for four straight seasons. He started 62 of the 64 games in which he made an appearance over his first four NFL seasons, and on top of that he made a name for himself as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks by his sophomore season, when he accumulated a career-high seven interceptions.

It is what happened after that though, following the mega-deal contract back in March of 2004, that irritated fans the most. Ahmed Plummer, who long sought to resume his stellar performances of the past, especially after signing such a ringing endorsement from the franchise with this new contract, suddenly deteriorated.

Plummer only manufactured five total interceptions over the next three seasons and lost his status as a well-known shutdown type of cornerback in the NFL. In fact, opposing quarterbacks began to feast on his side of the playing field with positive results. Back in 2004 his injury problems suddenly became a quagmire of endless instances in which he was unable to perform and play. He suffered a bulging disk in his neck and missed the final 10 regular season games of 2004.

Then came the ankle matters in 2005, which Mike Nolan believed to be repairable and, with some durability to pain, he believed Ahmed Plummer would still be able to contribute in some positive manner. Plummer's tolerance for pain became an issue, in Mike Nolan's head, as the season wore on and Plummer stood on the sideline inactive for all but one game in uniform.

Had Ahmed Plummer been on the field alongside Shawntae Spencer who had played injured on many occasions throughout the 2005 NFL season, the end result of the San Francisco 49ers might have been relatively different in many aspects. Instead Mike Nolan had to turn to a collection of very raw and young athletes to fill that critical void in the secondary.

He had to turn to unheralded cornerbacks at Plummer's old position, including seventh-round pick rookie Derrick Johnson and second-year veterans Bruce Thornton and Mike Adams. Heck, there were even times where linebacker Julian Peterson was forced to stand inside at that position.

Judging on these three, I feel all of them did a pretty decent job at this particular position throughout the season based upon their playing experience and raw skills. I was very impressed with Mike Adams and consider him someone worth making (if not the starter) the top nickel cornerback position.

I can still recall very nice memories of Ahmed Plummer at his position back in the 2001-2002 seasons in which he showcased his talents and abilities and even made some special open field tackles that made huge differences in the games' final outcome. He was revered by many 49er fans for his specialized type of abilities in which he met each wide receiver stride for stride out on the playing surface.

The former Ohio State star, who turns 30 this month, convinced then San Francisco 49er General Manager Terry Donahue that he was worth re-signing based upon his impressive credentials in four straight seasons of playing.

But the injury bug came and claimed him in more ways than one and his durability and tolerance to playing in pain came under heavy scrutiny among the new coaches, including Mike Nolan himself.

"Durability is part of the kind of player you have," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "You don't evaluate guys just when they're on the field. You evaluate them when they're not on the field, too."

Plummer's injuries, starting with his bulging disk in his neck back in 2004, irked the prior 49er hierarchy when he chose treating it not conventionally but opting instead for a holistic approach.

Then his ankle injury which he incurred in September of 2005, which was supposed to be healed within the time limits of one month, clearly frustrated Mike Nolan to no end as Plummer remained out of action for the entire season.

One has to wonder if Ahmed Plummer really wanted to stay a San Francisco 49er or not with the realization that his absence from the field was due to his irrational attempts to seek faster and more reliable means of treatment for his injuries. So many other examples can be put forward as to players that have overcome worse injuries and had been out on the field participating through pain on a weekly basis. I have a hard time believing that Ahmed Plummer was genuine in his convictions of being a San Francisco 49er. If so he would've made more attempts to get better faster and would've been sincere to Mike Nolan and the coaching staff in wanting to get back out on the field.

They never saw that and neither did we as fans. Instead, we saw a secondary fall apart and self-destruct right before our very eyes and a season pass us by again submerged in mediocrity. The true heros of yesterday were standing on the sidelines, some more validated than others, of course, as this is a perfect example.

Chris Cooper, 29, a defensive lineman was placed on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp. Johnnie Morton, a 13-year veteran, was signed last year as a free agent to serve as a mentor and tutor to the young receiving corps. On this team he was often featured as the No.#3 wide receiver on the field.

However Morton, 34, started 10 times as the primary replacement for the injured Arnaz Battle, who was in and out of the lineup with knee problems. Morton caught 21 passes for 288 total yards. Morton never was able to make a breakthrough and establish himself as a top tier wide receiver again because his role was defined for him from the very beginning. It was also a result of the quarterback seesaw we witnessed throughout the season and the inability to find consistency or chemistry between the passer and the receiver.

His absence breaks the chain for a veteran presence in this wide receiving formation, but Mike Nolan may feel that Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle are ready to assume larger roles now based upon their many experiences so far into their careers as a whole.

The San Francisco 49ers need to identify and target another possible candidate that will take the left cornerback duties seriously. If it will be Derrick Johnson, Bruce Thornton or even Mike Adams is anyone's guess. But one thing is paramount and that is improvement and consistency as a whole on this unit that struggled each and every game to limit an onslaught of points against them.

Tough decisions are already being made and Mike Nolan's plate is full. Some of his decisions won't be popular by any means, others will be. But cutting Ahmed Plummer is one I think we have to be comfortable with based on the evidence that stood in front of us.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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