SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers, who watched well-liked Joshua Morgan depart soon after free agency opened Tuesday, hung onto another favorite, cornerback Carlos Rogers, at day’s end.
Rogers, who made his first Pro Bowl in his first season with the 49ers last year, agreed to a four-year deal worth approximately $30 million, according to various reports.
The 49ers’ mantra this offseason has been “keep the gang together,” and they made good on that goal on defense. Rogers’ deal means all 11 starters from a unit that last year ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and first against the run will return in 2012.
It was a different story on offense.
After Morgan broke his leg in October, coach Jim Harbaugh said the 26-year-old wide receiver would be a priority to re-sign. Instead Morgan agreed to a five-year deal with Washington worth $12 million, $7.5 million of it guaranteed.
Morgan was born and raised in the nation’s capital and played at Virginia Tech. As many as seven teams, including the 49ers, showed interest in Morgan, according to his agent, Joe Segal.
Meanwhile, Day One of free agency began and ended without a deal for quarterback Alex Smith, another offensive player the team wants back. For the first time since the 49ers drafted him in 2005, Smith has no formal contract or deal in hand with the team, although there is a three-year offer on the table.
Team president Jed York on Monday seemed confident the two sides would reach a compromise but said the “ball’s in his court,” an indication the 49ers feel Smith and his representatives are the ones holding up a contract.
The 49ers’ biggest need this offseason is wide receiver, and they began addressing that Monday with the signing of 13-year veteran Randy Moss. His contract is for one year for $2.5 million with another $1.5 million available in performance incentives. There is no guaranteed money in his deal.
As expected, pass catchers were quickly snatched up when free agency began with Tampa Bay getting Vincent Jackson, Buffalo close to a deal with Robert Meachem and Washington landing two receivers – Morgan and Pierre Garcon – and in contact with another, Eddie Royal.
The 49ers set up a meeting with Raiders free-agent receiver Chaz Schilens but were not in play for the more marquee names at that position. Schilens, talented but often injured, visited Arizona on Tuesday and also plans to meet with the New York Jets.
For the second straight year, the 49ers were active in the cornerback market. They made overtures to two starting-caliber free agents, Kansas City’s Brandon Carr and Detroit’s Eric Wright, before finalizing the deal with Rogers.
The 49ers began the day by signing cornerbackn Perrish Cox. Like Moss, Cox sat out the 2011 season, having been released by Denver before the regular season. In 2010, Cox, 25, was arrested and charged with felonious sexual assault. He was found not guilty earlier this month, and Cox spoke at length Tuesday about how the ordeal changed him.
“It was a nervous, scary situation,” he said. “But I don’t blame anybody but myself. I take responsibility for my actions. I’ll never put myself in that situation again.”
The 49ers believe that as well. “As an organization, from ownership on down, we have done our due diligence and are confident that Perrish will be a positive contributor to the 49ers, as well as our community,” general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the team signed one of their special-teams aces, Tavares Gooden, to a one-year deal. With Larry Grant testing free agency, Gooden for now is the top backup at inside linebacker behind Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
The 49ers showed little interest in re-signing another special-teams player, Blake Costanzo, who signed a two-year deal with Chicago, according to his agent.