49ers continue combing NFL waiver wire

Darius Butler's release from the New England Patriots after only two seasons dealt the latest blow to an already weakened 2009 NFL draft class.

Butler, chosen 41st overall that year, joined a growing list of disappointments from the class. The Patriots' division rival, Buffalo, already cut ties with Aaron Maybin, chosen 11th overall in 2009. At least six of the players drafted ahead of Maybin -- St. Louis' Jason Smith, Seattle's Aaron Curry and San Francisco's Michael Crabtree among them -- have yet to meet the high expectations that came with their draft status.

Back to Butler. His availability on waivers this week caught the San Francisco 49ers' attention. They were one of four teams to claim the third-year cornerback, ESPN's John Clayton notes. Carolina's claim prevailed because the Panthers had the worst record in 2010.

The 49ers put in a claim for former Patriots tight end Lee Smith earlier in the week. The team kept only two tight ends on its initial 53-man roster after losing Nate Byham to a season-ending knee injury.

San Francisco's needs at cornerback have been obvious since the team struggled against the pass last season. Addressing the position early in the draft wasn't a realistic option once the Arizona Cardinals, choosing two spots ahead of the 49ers at No. 5 overall, selected Patrick Peterson. The 49ers then took outside linebacker Aldon Smith. They're happy with Smith but could still use young talent at corner.

The St. Louis Rams could also use cornerback depth. Their corners are generally taller and heavier than the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Butler. Whether or not that was a factor in their restraint remains unclear. Every team grades players a little differently.