Donte Whitner will sign with his home-town Cleveland Browns shortly after the 1 p.m. start to free agency, according to Cleveland.com. Citing a source close to Whitner, the web site said that Whitner, who played at Cleveland's Glenville High under coach Ted Ginn, Sr., is eager to join the Browns and help turn the city around.
Whitner, 28, has been a veteran leader for the 49ers for the last three seasons. He's missed one of a possible 56 starts in that span and was instrumental in mentoring first-round pick Eric Reid last season. He's finished with more than 100 tackles in the last two seasons and has built a reputation as one of the league's most ferocious hitters.
Whitner wanted to re-sign with the 49ers and San Francisco wanted him back. However, the team has been rigid when it comes to assessing and evaluating free agents - including their own - and they evidently would not match Cleveland's offer. The Browns are more than $50 million below the salary cap; the 49ers are now a little more than $15 million after tendering Demarcus Dobbs a one-year, $1.4 million contract.
Should Whitner indeed sign with Cleveland, the 49ers would then turn their attention to signing cornerback Tarell Brown. They also have been in contact with veteran safety Mike Mitchell, who has played for both the Raiders and Panthers.
-- Matt Barrows