49ers release Nate Clements

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Four years ago, the San Francisco 49ers landed the most coveted free agent cornerback on the market. Now they've cut that player in hopes of luring another.

The 49ers released top cornerback Nate Clements on Thursday, clearing salary cap space while also leaving the secondary even more short-handed in the interim.

The 10-year veteran started every game for the Niners during a disappointing 6-10 campaign last season. He returned in 2010 after missing the final nine games in 2009, when he broke his right shoulder blade in San Francisco's 18-14 loss at Indianapolis on Nov. 1 that year.

Parting ways with Clements gives San Francisco flexibility to sign another high-priced free agent.

The player sure to get the most attention from fans in the Bay Area is Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who spent his first eight seasons across the bay with the Oakland Raiders. Asomugha signed a $43.5 million, three-year deal with the Raiders following the 2008 season but the deal voided itself out because he didn't reach certain performance targets.

The 49ers, New York Jets and Houston Texans have naturally been mentioned among potential suitors because of the salary cap space and the need for another cornerback. Asomugha is one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, a tag that was once reserved for Clements.

San Francisco was eager to see more big plays from Clements last season after giving him an $80 million, eight-year contract in March 2007. The former first-round pick by Buffalo was among the most prized players available in free agency that year and often matched up with top opposing receivers.

Clements finished with 82 tackles, one sack, three forced fumbles and three interceptions last season. He also had a major gaffe that led to San Francisco's fourth straight loss to start the year, fumbling after making a key interception late in a 16-14 loss to Atlanta.

Calls to Clements and his agent were not immediately returned. After being released from the 49ers ahead of Friday's first training camp practice, Clements thanked the franchise in a tweet "for giving me the opportunity to play for a team with history and tradition."