DE McDonald Wants to Start, Test Free Agent Market

49ers defensive end Ray McDonald hasn’t started an NFL game since midway through his second season, but the former Florida Gator will be looking for that opportunity in 2011.

“I know I’m an every-down player, a starter,” McDonald said according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday. “And that’s what I’m looking to do this year. I’m not looking to back up anybody. I’m looking to start this year.”

A third-round pick (97th overall) in 2007, McDonald has 57 tackles and five quarterback sacks in 56 career games. Last season, McDonald intercepted his first NFL pass, which he returned 31 yards for a touchdown in the 49ers’ 23-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Prior to the lockout, the 49ers extended a restricted free agent tender to McDonald. A new collective bargaining agreement would grant him unrestricted free agency.

“That’s great news. I’ve been waiting four years for this,” McDonald said when informed he’ll likely be a free agent. “That would make my life. That would change everything as far as me going ahead with my future in my NFL career. … So that’s some good news – no, excellent news – for me.”

McDonald signed a four-year, $2.257 million rookie contract, which he maximized by reaching playing-time incentives that increased his $550,000 2010 base salary to $1.101 million.

While he’s played defensive end in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound McDonald could be viewed as a solid “Plan B” for a team looking for a penetrating “3” technique tackle in a 4-3 system. Two teams that might have interest in McDonald as a “Plan B” are the St. Louis Rams, who are likely to initially target New York Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield, and the Seattle Seahawks, who may lose four-year starter Brandon Mebane to free agency. (Mebane was chosen 12 picks ahead of McDonald in ’07)

The Seahawks added former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan to their personnel department last June.

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