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Antoine Bethea signs with 49ers

Antoine Bethea signs with 49ersAntoine Bethea (top) will try to replace Donte Whitner in San Francisco. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Shortly after the NFL free agency market opened on Tuesday afternoon,  a flurry of signings led to San Francisco 49ers free agent safety Donte Whitner signing a four-year deal worth $28 million with the Cleveland Browns.

Wasting no time, the 49ers began actively searching for a replacement for Whitner, eventually settling on former Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea. Per the Sacramento Bee, the 49ers signed Bethea to a four-year deal.

Bethea was expected to be one of the top priorities for the Colts during the free agency period, but the buzz began to build earlier in the day that the 49ers could be a potential destination.

The 49ers will miss Whitner's physicality, but Bethea is more polished in coverage and could improve the ball skills of the San Francisco unit. He also will be counted on to provide some veteran leadership for the young players that will be brought in as the team retools and rebuilds its secondary.

Last season, Bethea had 110 tackles, one sack and two interceptions.

Grade: C+. The 49ers let Donte Whitner walk and will try to replace him with Bethea. The rub is that Bethea is not as dynamic a safety as Whitner. He's also coming off a worse season than Whitner delivered -- Pro Football Focus graded Bethea as the 53rd most effective safety, with Whitner at No. 6. Even if that's overshooting Whitner's effectiveness some, Bethea has some big shoes to fill. Considering his deal (four years, $26 million) was not far off what Whitner landed (four years, $28 million), consider this a so-so move. -- Chris Burke

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