In March of 2007, former Bills cornerback Nate Clements(notes) signed an eight-year, $80 million contract with the 49ers. NFL contracts are full of funny money, but the Niners guaranteed Clements $22.6 million upon signing. That is, by any standard (you'll pardon the expression) shutdown corner money. And by any other standard. Clements hasn't lived up to the price. It's not always a player's fault when he can't match the money he's paid -- what is he supposed to do, refuse the extra cash offered by a desperate or foolish team because he knows he's not elite? Not hardly. In his first year with the 49ers, Clements gave up 7.7 yards per pass play (stats courtesy Football Outsiders), which ranked 36th among NFL cornerbacks. In 2008, that YPP jumped up to 9.6, which ranked 75th.
It hasn't been any better in 2009. Through Week 7, San Francisco ranks 29th in Pass Defense DVOA against #1 receivers, the kind Clements usually covers. These top receivers have gained 7.8 yards per play and 91.4 yards per game (that stat is the highest in the NFL), and putting those potential defensive deficits against a Colts offense that could tear up any opponent in the league is just too risky.
So, the 49ers have announced that Clements will not start at left cornerback again when the Niners hit Lucas Oil Stadium tomorrow. San Francisco will start Tarrell Brown in his place. Official word is that Brown, who the team likes enough to sign him to a three-year extension just a few days ago, looks like a better matchup against Indy's smaller, faster receivers. Whatever the reason, this isn't good news for Clements, who turns 30 in December and may soon be seen as an financial albatross unless he renegotiates or moves to safety or something of the sort. After all, the Broncos, Raiders, and Jets don't bench Champ Bailey(notes), Nnamdi Asomugha(notes), and Darrelle Revis because of matchup issues. The best cornerbacks play on a no-matter-what basis. Clements will still see the field against the Colts' multi-receiver sets, but he's now a very expensive reserve.