SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Dre' Bly didn't spend much time out of the NFL, and the San Francisco 49ers spent even less time without a veteran starting cornerback.
Bly signed a one-year deal on Thursday with the 49ers, who moved quickly to fill the vacancy created by Walt Harris' knee injury with perhaps the biggest name among defensive backs still available on the free-agent market.
The Denver Broncos released Bly in a salary dump in February after he spent two of his 10 NFL seasons with the club, starting all 32 games and intercepting seven passes. Bly was chosen for two Pro Bowls during his four years with the Detroit Lions, and he won a title during his first four pro seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
"At this point in my career, when I've been successful like I've been, it's not about money," Bly said. "It's about opportunity. I wanted to wait for the right opportunity for me to have a chance to compete. ... San Fran is a great place. I haven't been to, what is this, Northern California? Denver was the furthest (west) I've been, so it allows me a chance to view more parts of the United States."
San Francisco, which finished four days of organized team activities earlier in the day, signed Bly just a few hours after he arrived in town for a workout. After flying back home to Denver on Thursday night with a copy of the 49ers' playbook in his carry-on bag, he'll be back in Santa Clara in about 10 days for the next stretch of workouts.
"We lost a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Walt Harris this week, and we were able to fill that void with another Pro Bowler in Dre' Bly," 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. "It was important to get Dre' in here quickly so that he can get acquainted with our system, our coaches and his new teammates."
The 34-year-old Harris' career is in jeopardy after he tore a ligament in his right knee during workouts on Tuesday in a collision with receiver Dominique Zeigler. The 13-year pro has been a mainstay of San Francisco's defense since 2006, but almost certainly can't recover from his upcoming surgery in time to play this season.
San Francisco has missed the playoffs during each of its six consecutive losing seasons. Bly won a championship ring as a rookie, but he hasn't been on a playoff team since 2001, when the Rams lost to New England in the Super Bowl.
"I'd never been released, so that was humbling for me," Bly said. "I've never been told no in my football career. I'm just so hungry after that."
When Bly heard the 49ers were interested, he called receiver Isaac Bruce, who already was a star in St. Louis when Bly arrived as a rookie in 1999. Bruce, San Francisco's leading receiver last season, recently agreed to return for another year with the 49ers, although he didn't attend OTAs this week.
"Isaac Bruce took me under his wing and kind of guided me," Bly said. "He had a number of good things to say about this area."
Bly, who played with cornerback Champ Bailey in Denver, will line up alongside Nate Clements in San Francisco. San Francisco also has third-year pro Tarell Brown, a fifth-round pick who's expected to get more playing time this season.
"It's definitely a big loss because I know Walt knows this is definitely going to be a great year," Clements said shortly before Bly signed. "We're all confident in the goals we're trying to achieve, but guys have got to be ready to step up."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press